Happy? Happy? Happy? or Why Ain’t I Happier?

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We all feel that we are entitled to be happy.  The Bill of Rights lists happiness as one of our inalienable rights.  Actually, it lists the “pursuit of happiness.”  Just like chasing a rabbit or health or winning the lottery, you are assured of no guarantee that you will catch happiness.  But that won’t stop most of us from trying.  The sad part is that most of us will probably fail.

Failure in any endeavor is always assured if you don’t know what you are doing or if you don’t have a strategy.  But voila, that is where John and his Magic Blog come in.  I am here to give you six methods for catching happiness.  Furthermore, I will not charge you one cent for learning how you can be happy for the rest of your life.  So, listen closely, pay attention, and take notes if you have to.  I may only keep this blog up for a week, just in case I get inundated with requests from Fox News, MSNBC, the Today Show and/or Jimmy Kimmel.  Fame is not really conducive to happiness regardless of what they try to tell you.

Let’s start with one basic fact.  There are multiple theories about happiness.  What this means to me is that there is more than one road to happiness.  I have identified six different secrets or theories for obtaining happiness.  I will share each one of these secrets with you and give you the pros and cons as I see them.

Ooops, I almost forgot.  Some things will not make you happy even if the experts tell you that they will.  The following is a list of things that “ain’t necessarily so” when it comes to finding happiness. I list these so you can stay on track and not get seduced by what so many of your friends and neighbors think will make them happy.

  • Money
  • Good health
  • Fame
  • Power
  • Lots of friends
  • Family
  • Gourmet food
  • Long life
  • Sports
  • Reading
  • Taking naps
  • Sex
  • Children

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 1.  Absolute Theory of Happiness 

This theory says that happiness is a permanent trait that you too can find or acquire if you only try hard enough.  Happiness is an attribute like integrity or honesty.  Once you find it or get it, all you have to do is hold onto it.  It exists like a pot of gold somewhere buried and if you search long enough and hard enough you can find it.  People in search of happiness try many of the items on my above list in the hope that one of these will give them happiness.

Pros:

  • Treats happiness as a journey or quest.
  • Looks at happiness as a trait that can be acquired.

Cons:

  • Endless searching for something that is usually a dead end.
  • Happiness is not usually outside but more often inside.
  • Happiness is seldom if ever permanent.
  • Having things will not make you happy.

 2.  Contingency Theory of Happiness

imagesThis theory says that happiness is dependent on other things happening in your life.  You must have these other things going on or you will not be happy.  If you have a good family, or good job or you have meaningful work, you will be happy.  Contingency is like a correlation in statistics.  The process of having a good family correlates with happiness but having a good family does not make you happy.  Some things have a higher correlation with happiness than other things.  Some people believe that having less things is more conducive to happiness than owning a bunch of things.

Pros:

  • There is some correlation between happiness and living or doing the right things.
  • Doing the right things may result in some temporary happiness.

Cons:

  • Finding happiness is more complex than simply doing the right things.

3.  Outcome Theory of Happiness

downloadThis could also be called the “Cause and Effect” theory of happiness.  This theory says that certain things or activities will lead to the outcome of happiness.  For instance, becoming an Olympic Gold Medalist may lead an athlete to happiness.

Pros:

  • Great achievements and meaningful accomplishments can lead to happiness.

Cons:

  • No matter how much you have accomplished or how great your accomplishments are, the satisfaction you will receive and the happiness you may derive will only be temporary.

4.  Relative Theory of Happiness

xKgn9039You will always be happy in proportion to how happy others are around us.  If I have a great deal of money but my friends have more, I will be unhappy.  However, if I have a bigger office than anybody else in the company, I will be happier than they are.  The state of being happy will always be relative or in comparison to some other standard that I mark my happiness by.

Pros:

  • Humans have a great propensity to compare themselves to others.  If you are better, you may achieve a sense of happiness from your pride at being better.

Cons:

  • Pride and comparisons will always change. You may be on top for awhile but soon you will be on the bottom.  When you are on the bottom your happiness will disappear.

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5.  Average Theory of Happiness

Happiness is viewed as an average state of being.  You can never be beyond some mean of happiness.  Perhaps your mean will be different than mine, but you will not be able to go much above or below your limits.  Just as everyone has different physical limits, everyone has different limits to their happiness.  Some people are just happier than others and there is nothing that you can do or change to alter your happiness mean.  You are just going to be average happy and that is that.

Pros:

  • It may be more realistic to be satisfied with life as you know it.  Satisfaction and gratitude will convey a sense of happiness even if you are never the happiest person in the world.
  • You may never be exceptionally happy but you may never be exceptionally unhappy.

Cons:

  • Life may never have peak experiences for you in terms of being happy, happy, happy.

6.  Exceptional Theory of Happiness

bigstock-jumping-happy-young-man-12752945This theory views happiness as something that has no limits.  The sky is the limit.  Extraordinary happiness awaits anyone willing to go for it.  Every day will bring more and more happiness if you only believe it is possible.

Pros:

  • A joy that exceeds all others may come from feeling exceptionally happy.  The best day of your life may be one that you will remember forever.

Cons:

  • Best days are inevitably followed by worst days. Nothing stays up forever.  Or whatever goes up will go down and the further up you are the further down you will fall.

Conclusions:

You are probably thinking about now “Well, I don’t get it.”  Where is the secret that will give me perpetual ecstatic happiness?  Frankly, I have not found it.  Most of my journey through life has taught me that everything has its ups and downs.  There are no absolute truths that exist for all time.  There is no one path to happiness or samadhi.  Life is a cycle.  Today I find happiness, tomorrow my mother or best friend dies.  Can I be happy when they die?  I may not go out and commit Hari-kari, but I doubt that I will be feeling joyous for the next few weeks or perhaps even months.

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I think one mistake we make starts at the very beginning.  We assume or treat life as though it were about the pursuit of happiness.  I don’t think it is.  But I do believe we can be happy for cycles or minor periods in our life when things just seem to be going right.  My formula for achieving these brief periods of happiness is as follows:

  • Live each day the best that you can
  • Do the most that you are able to spread joy and peace in the world
  • Treat everyone you meet and know with love and respect
  • Respect yourself and your accomplishments
  • Do not look for never-ending happiness
  • Never pursue things or accomplishments as a means to happiness

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy. — Guillaume Apollinaire

PS:

One of the comments by a reader noted the “Bluebird of Happiness.”  This reminded me of the famous song by Jan Peerce.  I had not listened to this song in ages and I just went back and listened to it.  The lyrics are wonderful and if my blog has not inspired you to “happiness” maybe the lyrics from the song will.

The Bluebird of Happinesscomposed in 1934 by Sandor Harmati, with words by Edward Heyman and additional lyrics by Harry Parr-Davies. Click the link to hear Jan Peerce sing this wonderful song. 

The beggar man and the mighty king are only different in name,
For they are treated just the same by fate.
Today a smile and tomorrow a tear, we never know what’s in store.
So learn your lesson before it is too late.

So be like I, hold your head up high ’til you find the bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind, knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.
And when he sings to you, though you’re deep in blue
You will see a ray of light creep through
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

The poet with his pen, the peasant with his plow,
It makes no different who you are, it’s all the same somehow.
The king upon his throne, the jester at his feet,
the artist, the actress, the man on the street.

It’s a life of smiles and a life of tears It’s a life of hopes and a life of fears.
A blinding torrent of rain and a brilliant burst of sun,
A biting tearing pain and bubbling sparkling fun.
And no matter what you have, don’t envy those you meet.
It’s all the same, it’s in the game, the bitter and the sweet.

And if things don’t look so cheerful, just show a little fight.
Fore every bit of darkness, there’s a little bit of light.
For every bit of hatred, there’s a little bit of love.
Fore every cloudy morning, there’s a midnight moon above.

So don’t you forget, you must search ’til you find the bluebird.
You will find peace and contentment forever, if you will be like I.
Hold your head up high, ’til you see a ray of light appear.
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

Good Days and Bad Days

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It is a well-known fact, perhaps the only “fact” that is not disputed anywhere by anyone in the world.  This fact is that we all have “good days and bad days.”  Now some people might argue that there is a normal bell-shaped curve for humans that applies even to this fact.  You probably learned in science that almost all human traits and characteristics follow the “Normal” bell shaped curve.  If this is true, then some of us have more bad days than others and some of us have more good days than others.  That would not seem to be very fair though.  This raises the primordial question “Is life fair?”  We all know the answer to this question because we have heard it from our parents many times and at a very early age.

curveI suppose in one sense, “life is not fair” means that life is indeed following a bell-shaped curve and some of us are on the undesirable end.  In other words, some of us are too short, too fat, too unappealing, or any number of other less-desirable traits that we find on the extremes of the bell-shaped curve.  Last night I was watching a 3-year-old do stunts on a sized down motorcycle.  I could not do these stunts if my life depended on it.  This young boy was a natural on the motorcycle.  He took to it like a fish to water.  We have all seen and perhaps envied some of the more fortunate on our bell-shaped curve who can do things we only dream about doing.  For those of us on the wrong end of the bell-shaped curve, life will never seem fair.

Well, does this “unfairness” also apply to “good days and bad days?”  Are some of us destined to have more bad days than others?  I woke up this morning thinking about this question.  Lately, I seem to be having more than my share of bad days.  Is it my attitude?  Is it just the run of the draw?  Is it something I am doing or not doing?  Can I change my bad days to good days by working harder or smarter?  Should I see a doctor or a shrink?  Is there a pill I can take to overcome the bad days or to change myself in some ways so that I have more good days than bad days?  A pill like this might be very popular.  Of course, some would argue that we have enough artificial chemicals to help alleviate “bad” days, but these chemicals or drugs only lead to worse days in the long run.

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I have spent a lifetime, seventy-five years seeking wisdom.  I have looked for nirvana in high and low places.  I have read the books of the great philosophers.  The writings of the greatest thinkers of all time.  I have looked for satori in meditation, life everlasting in prayer, enlightenment in contemplation but still I seem to remain stuck on this loathsome bell-shaped curve.  Some days are good and some bad.

Aging seems to bring more bad days than good.  Each day the phone rings, I pick it up wondering who or which of my friends have died now.  I admit I have a hard time with death.  I wonder if it is my death I fear or the death of so many people that I have loved or admired.  I read and read about how to conquer death.  How to accept death.  How death is inevitable.  How everyone I see walking around will die eventually.  How death is the “next great adventure.”  Will death find me starting a new life?  Will it find me greeting old friends?  Or will death simply be a deep sleep that nothing can disturb me from?

unnamedI understand why so many people want to believe in heaven and hell.  It would be much easier to go on living peacefully if I could really believe that there was someplace better to go to than this earth I now reside on.  Too many bad days now seem to intrude on my equanimity.  You and I and everyone else that resides on this 3rd rock from the sun are abused and tormented every day with disease, starvation, accidents, environmental devastations, and pandemics.  I could handle all of these things but for one thing.  It is called “mans’ inhumanity to man.”  The stupid cruel things we do to each other over and over again.  The wars, murders, and injustices that we inflict on other human beings.  And it is not just the average person that inflicts these cruelties, it is the “best” people in the land.  In fact, it would seem that the inhumanities done by those with the most money, most intelligence and those we call our leaders are the worst of all the brutalities and savagery that we see in the news each day.

A friend of mine once told me that if you want people to listen to you, you must give them a positive message.  Give them hope.  Give them faith.  Give them love.  The greatest prophets (as opposed to greatest thinkers) all spread a message of love and charity.  The great message of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad was the need to care for others and to do the best you can to make a difference in the world.

When I give up on our ability to make a difference, I fall into gloom, doom, and despair.  But how can we not give up, when we all seem so helpless to really make a difference.  None of our leaders were able to stop the Ukrainian war from starting.  Could I have done any better?  Now we read each day about nonstop atrocities being committed against a people than only wanted to live a good life in peace with their neighbors.  How can I not feel like it is a bad day when the news, radio, texts, chats and television all besiege me with unrelenting gloom and doom?  Is there an antidote to despair?  Is anyone who is optimistic simply a naïve foolish Pollyanna?

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There is one solution that I have found.  No matter how little, no matter now small, no matter how much, there are things in my life to be grateful for.  These people and things bring me joy and happiness.  When I focus on these things, my mood lifts.  The hardship and travails of life do not seem so bad.  These things and people will not be with me forever.  As I mentioned earlier, each day seems to bring news of a once former friend who has now embarked on a last great journey.  So we must realize that everything is temporary but that does not matter “Right NOW.”  Since right now, my joys and happiness are right in front of me, waiting to be appreciated and waiting to be loved and cared for.  These joys are the friends and people I know and the people I have yet to meet.

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The aphorism that “the world is my oyster” is a beacon that I can always tack to.  A sailor must have a North Star to guide his or her travels.  Each of us must have a direction to lead us on our journey through life.  Without a direction, we sail in circles and life seems meaningless and cruel.  Find your North Star and you will find your happiness.  Just remember there will always be days when you will lose your way.  We must reset our rudder and readjust our sails and start out again and again and again.  Life will always be a journey and not a destination.

“Light is sweet,

and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.

However many years anyone may live,

let them enjoy them all.

But let them remember the days of darkness,

for there will be many.

Everything to come is meaningless.”

― King Solomon Son of David

Ten Things I learned about Life from the 2021 Tour de France

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  1. Teamwork is essential
  2. Sometimes you have to go it alone
  3. The possibility of pain is ever present in our lives
  4. You will never know when you are too old
  5. No one is expert at everything
  6. Life is full of ups and downs
  7. Some days you will be on top of the world and others you will not
  8. Energy output varies from person to person, but we all run out at some point
  9. You have to get up every day to stay in the race
  10. Quitting does not define a loser

In my younger days, I did a few bike races.  I raced a criterion, a hill and dale and a double century.  I was only an amateur and never had the time to race more.  I enjoyed bicycling and did a number a bicycle tours.  At one point, I was averaging almost 450 miles a week in riding. I gave up riding in my later thirties and concentrated more on running.  It was faster and cheaper to get my exercise running.  I could no longer use a bicycle for transportation as I was commuting distances that made bicycle riding less practical.  I was a good bicycle mechanic and I worked in two different shops doing bicycle repair work.

Every year, I noted when the Tour de France came around, but I did not pay much attention to the race or the racers.  This year, (2021), I watched the Tour races in the morning on my computer and then each evening Karen and I watched a video summary of the Tour stage for that day.  It was exciting watching the riders and I learned a great deal about bicycle racing and life in general.  I have identified ten key ideas that I want to share with you.  These are some of the insights about life that I had from watching the Tour.  I suppose one could get such insights from sitting under an apple tree or watching a baseball game.  Life offers many lessons if we simply open our minds.

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  1. Teamwork is essential

No one can win the Tour de France without the support from their team.  I do not care how good you are, you will not win without a team.  Much of the reason for this comes from the support that the team gives to its designated “leader.”  The “domestiques” are the team members who help the leader out in a variety of ways.  Running errands to get food or drink; providing technical support in case of a breakdown; and drafting or helping rein in other racers.

Every potential winner needs a team to provide support and assistance. 

  1. Sometimes you have to go it alone

CORVOS_00028264-002-650x433 (1)A winner will need to rely on their team, but great riders will often find that they are suddenly alone and need to finish the race on their own.  Perhaps their support riders are worn out or perhaps it is evident that the leader needs to charge ahead to gain time or prevent an adversary from gaining too much advantage.  The great riders know when you to use their team and when to go it alone.

Sometimes you have to strike out on your own and depend on your own resources. 

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  1. The possibility of pain is ever present in our lives

Crashing and falling happen quite regularly in the Tour.  Perhaps a rider is hit by another rider or as in the race this year, a spectator ran out with a sign and knocked a rider down.  This caused a chain reaction knocking several other riders down.  Getting hurt is inevitable.  Falling down at nearly 30 miles an hour is painful.  Riders have helmets but no other pads.  How badly a rider is hurt is simply how unlucky they are.  The possibility of pain and serious injury is the price we pay in life for almost any endeavor that we undertake.  Everything that we do in life has risks.

There is no way to avoid risks in life unless you stop living.

  1. You will never know when you are too old

Karen_webMark Cavendish when he was at his peak was considered the best sprinter who ever lived.  This year for the 2021 Tour de France he was almost not selected by any of the teams.  At 36 years old, most thought that his racing days were over.  To the surprise of all, Mark secured a contract with one of the Tour teams.  Even more of a surprise was his winning four stages in the Tour to tie the record of Eddy Merckx for most stage wins in the Tour de France.   Mark did not know he was too old to win.  There is a time to hold em and a time to fold em, but it is very difficult to know when that time is.  One thing is for certain, never listen to other people.

Don’t let chronological age define what you can and cannot do.

  1. No one is great at everything

unnamed (1)The Tour de France is comprised of three main types of riders.  There are the sprinters who are best on flat ground.  There are the mountaineers who excel at hills and mountains.  There are the general classification (GC) riders who are good at both hills and flat ground but are not usually as good as the sprinters and mountaineers at their respective terrain.  The GC riders are most likely the best all-around riders and may be able to win a few stages in both the flats and the hills.  However, the GC riders are much more concerned with their overall time and will generally forego racing with sprinters or mountaineers who may break with the Peloton in an attempt to win a stage.  There is lots of strategy involved in winning the Tour and I do not have the time or knowledge to say more about it.

The main point here is that you can be good but not great at anything and still be successful in life.

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6.  Life is full of ups and downs

The Tour de France is a bicycle race comprised of 21 stages.  It is run mostly in France.  The first Tour was run in 1903.  One stage is run each day and two days are inserted for rest days.  Some stages are mountainous and hilly while others are flat and curvy.  The mountainous stages can be almost 10,000 feet high.  One or two stages will be set aside as sprint runs.  Many stages are combinations of both flat and hilly terrain.  Overall, 200 of the best bicycle racers in the world will race for nearly 2200 miles.  The Tour is considered one of the most demanding and difficult races in the world.

Watching these races, you can see that the world is physically up and down.  Mountains, hills, valleys, flats, and curves.  Some days will be rainy and cold, other days will be hot and humid.  However, in some sense the ups and downs are metaphorical as well.  The riders who are up one day will be down the next.  One day a sprinter will win the stage, the next day a mountain rider will win.  The General Classification riders (Tour leaders usually) will change the “yellow jersey” day by day until one finally emerges as the front runner.  The winner is never certain as falls, bad ride days and simple exhaustion take their toll on each rider.

Accept that life is going to be full of ups and downs.  Just remember that after it rains, the sun will come out.

  1. Some days you will be on top of the world and others you will not

king-of-the-hill-childrens-gameNo rider on the Tour de France has ever won all the stages.  Two or three riders have captured the Polka Dot (Best Mountain Rider), Green (Best Sprinter) and Yellow (Overall time leader) jerseys in the same Tour but no rider has ever won all 21 stages in one race.  We all have good days and bad days.  Some days we wake up full of energy and other days we should just stay in bed.

Karen my wife mentioned yesterday that being able to pick which days she gets up and which days she can linger in bed is one of the joys of being retired.  She noted that some days she just is not able to bounce out of bed like Tigger and meet the world with a full-on burse of energy.  She takes it easy some days and usually the next day, her energy returns, and she is out weeding the garden or trimming hedges.

Common wisdom tells us to honor the cycle of our lives, but most people are too busy being busy or rushing to get someplace to pay attention to this bit of wisdom. 

  1. Energy output varies from person to person, but we all run out at some point

p077x53mTour riders line up maybe 2 miles or so before the actual start line.  Two hundred riders will be almost welded together behind a pace car as they casually ride up to the start.  As soon as they reach the start line, they are off in a rush of cycles jostling for position.  A large mass of cyclists is called the Peloton and most riders will try to stay with this group for reasons of riding efficiency and aerodynamics.  Riding alone is more effort and energy wasteful than riding in a group.  Nevertheless, some game or crazy rides will try to leave the pack.  It may happen soon in the race or half way through the race, but eventually a breakaway group or individual will try to go it alone.  The boldness of these breakaway riders is thrilling.  Daring to challenge the best riders in the world by themselves.

You watch these riders, and the computer will show you how many are in the breakaway group and how far ahead they are from the Peloton in terms of time and distance.  Almost inevitably, (you could bet odds on it) the breakaway riders will one by one fall off the pace and be reeled in by the Peloton riders.  Seldom if ever does the lone breakaway rider stay in the lead for the entire stage.  The strongest riders in the world are in this race and there is undoubtedly a bell-shaped curve of stamina, endurance, and conditioning among the two hundred riders.  Nevertheless, no rider short of superman can stay out front each race for the entire race.  The advantage of a riding in a group, drafting and avoiding wind currents is too great for the individual loner to keep up a winning pace for an entire stage.

Respect your energy levels and do not try to be superman or superwoman. 

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  1. You have to get up every day to stay in the race

This sounds so platitudinous that I am almost ashamed to say it.  Every year a few riders in the Tour de France will drop out for one reason or another.  Sometimes it is injury, sometimes it is just giving up.  We all have days when we do not feel like we can go on anymore.

Yet, it seems as though we continually find excuses to drop out of the race.  The going gets tough and we quit.  We fall down and we don’t get up.  We get rejected and we give up.  We did not get the results we expected so we abandon our goal.  I once asked a friend who was an editor of several magazines what I needed to do to have a “Best Seller.”  He replied, “I could not tell you.  But I can tell you one thing, if you don’t write you will never have a best seller.”  I have never forgotten his advice.  Buying a lottery ticket does not ensure that you will win the lottery, but you can never win the lottery without a ticket.

I once heard that there are three kinds of people.  Those who do not know that there is a parade coming.  Those who will watch the parade.  Those who are in the parade.  Live gives us the possibility to choose which of the three people we want to be.  If you are going to be in the parade, you will have to get up and do something.  The parade will never come to you.

The race does not always go to the swiftest.  Often it goes to the steadiest.

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  1. Quitting does not define a loser

Primož Roglič was the leader in the 2020 Tour de France.  He was almost certain to win the Tour.  He had held the Yellow Jersey for the last half of the race.  His lead seemed insurmountable.  Then came a time trial day.  Tadej Pogačar, a rider from another team, did such an outstanding job in the time trial that he ended up ahead of Roglic.  Pogačar won the 2020 Tour de France.

Now it is time for the 2021 Tour.  Both Primoz and Tadej are back again.  This year Tadej is favored to win but Roglic still has a chance.  Roglic has a bad spill in the race during stage 3 and receives some injuries.  He gets up and continues the race the next day.  A few days go by, and it is clear that he is off pace.  After stage 8 Roglic quits.  He leaves the race.  Is Roglic a loser? They say only losers quit.

Less than a month later, Roglic finishes 28th at the Tokyo Olympics road race.  Four days later, Roglic competes in the individual time trial.  39 cyclists from 31 nations compete in the race.  Roglic wins the gold medal in the time trial with a winning margin of 1’01”.

Sometimes it makes sense to quit.  It is not true that only losers quit.  Some of the greatest people of all time have had days when they quit.  It is not quitting that defines a loser, it is never starting again.

Be realistic about those times when pressing on is not as smart as quitting.  History is full of examples of people who pressed on and were never heard from again. 

Conclusions:

There you have it.  The ten things I learned about life from this years Tour de France.  Rest assured I will be back next year to see what else I can learn.  I may even dust my bicycle seat off, oil my chain, pump up my tires and take a ride down the Gandy Dancer Trail.  If you see me coming, you should step aside as I am sure that I will be quite wobbly.

 

Dix choses que j’ai apprises sur la vie du Tour de France 2021

  1. Le travail d’équipe est essentiel
  2. Parfois, vous devez faire cavalier seul
  3. La possibilité de la douleur est toujours présente dans nos vies
  4. Vous ne saurez jamais quand vous serez trop vieux
  5. Personne n’est expert en tout
  6. La vie est pleine de hauts et de bas
  7. Certains jours, vous serez au sommet du monde et d’autres non
  8. La production d’énergie varie d’une personne à l’autre, mais nous sommes tous à court d’énergie à un moment donné
  9. Il faut se lever tous les jours pour rester dans la course
  10. Abandonner ne définit pas un perdant

Dans ma jeunesse, j’ai fait quelques courses de vélo. J’ai couru un critère, un monticule et un double siècle. Je n’étais qu’un amateur et je n’ai jamais eu le temps de courir plus. J’aimais faire du vélo et j’ai fait un certain nombre de tours à vélo. À un moment donné, je parcourais en moyenne près de 450 milles par semaine en équitation. J’ai abandonné l’équitation à la fin de la trentaine et me suis concentré davantage sur la course à pied. C’était plus rapide et moins cher de faire mon exercice. Je ne pouvais plus utiliser un vélo pour me déplacer car je parcourais des distances qui rendaient le vélo moins pratique. J’étais un bon mécanicien vélo et je travaillais dans deux ateliers différents pour faire des réparations de vélos.

Chaque année, je notais quand arrivait le Tour de France, mais je ne prêtais pas beaucoup d’attention à la course ou aux coureurs. Cette année (2021), j’ai regardé les courses du Tour le matin sur mon ordinateur, puis chaque soir Karen et moi avons regardé un résumé vidéo de l’étape du Tour ce jour-là. C’était passionnant de regarder les coureurs et j’ai beaucoup appris sur les courses cyclistes et la vie en général. J’ai identifié dix idées clés que je veux partager avec vous. Ce sont quelques-unes des idées sur la vie que j’ai eues en regardant le Tour. Je suppose que l’on pourrait obtenir de telles informations en s’asseyant sous un pommier ou en regardant un match de baseball. La vie offre de nombreuses leçons si nous ouvrons simplement notre esprit.

  1. Le travail d’équipe est essentiel

Personne ne peut gagner le Tour de France sans le soutien de son équipe. Peu m’importe à quel point vous êtes bon, vous ne gagnerez pas sans une équipe. Cela s’explique en grande partie par le soutien que l’équipe apporte à son « leader » désigné. Les « domestiques » sont les membres de l’équipe qui aident le leader de diverses manières. Faire des courses pour acheter de la nourriture ou des boissons ; fournir une assistance technique en cas de panne; et rédiger ou aider à maîtriser d’autres coureurs.

Chaque gagnant potentiel a besoin d’une équipe pour fournir soutien et assistance.

  1. Parfois, vous devez faire cavalier seul

Un vainqueur devra compter sur son équipe, mais les grands coureurs découvriront souvent qu’ils sont soudainement seuls et doivent terminer la course par eux-mêmes. Peut-être que leurs cavaliers de soutien sont épuisés ou peut-être est-il évident que le leader doit foncer pour gagner du temps ou empêcher un adversaire de prendre trop d’avantages. Les grands cavaliers savent quand utiliser leur équipe et quand faire cavalier seul.

Parfois, il faut se débrouiller tout seul.

  1. La possibilité de la douleur est toujours présente dans nos vies

Les chutes et les chutes se produisent assez régulièrement sur le Tour. Peut-être qu’un coureur est heurté par un autre coureur ou comme lors de la course cette année, un spectateur est sorti en courant avec une pancarte et a renversé un coureur. Cela a provoqué une réaction en chaîne qui a renversé plusieurs autres coureurs. Se blesser est inévitable. Tomber à près de 30 milles à l’heure est douloureux. Les cavaliers ont des casques mais pas d’autres protections. À quel point un coureur est blessé est simplement à quel point il est malchanceux. La possibilité de douleurs et de blessures graves est le prix que nous payons dans la vie pour presque tous les efforts que nous entreprenons. Tout ce que nous faisons dans la vie comporte des risques.

Il n’y a aucun moyen d’éviter les risques dans la vie à moins d’arrêter de vivre.

  1. Vous ne saurez jamais quand vous serez trop vieux

Mark Cavendish, lorsqu’il était à son apogée, était considéré comme le meilleur sprinteur qui ait jamais vécu. Cette année pour le Tour de France 2021, il n’a quasiment été sélectionné par aucune des équipes. À 36 ans, la plupart pensaient que ses jours de course étaient révolus. À la surprise de tous, Mark a obtenu un contrat avec l’une des équipes du Tour. Encore plus surprenant a été sa victoire sur quatre étapes du Tour pour égaler le record d’Eddy Merckx pour le plus grand nombre de victoires d’étape sur le Tour de France. Mark ne savait pas qu’il était trop vieux pour gagner. Il y a un temps pour les tenir et un temps pour les plier, mais il est très difficile de savoir quand est ce moment. Une chose est sûre, n’écoutez jamais les autres.

Ne laissez pas l’âge chronologique définir ce que vous pouvez et ne pouvez pas faire.

  1. Personne n’est bon en tout

Le Tour de France est composé de trois principaux types de coureurs. Il y a les sprinteurs qui sont les meilleurs sur terrain plat. Il y a les alpinistes qui excellent dans les collines et les montagnes. Il y a les coureurs du classement général (GC) qui sont bons à la fois sur les collines et sur terrain plat, mais ne sont généralement pas aussi bons que les sprinteurs et les alpinistes sur leur terrain respectif. Les coureurs GC sont probablement les meilleurs coureurs polyvalents et peuvent être en mesure de gagner quelques étapes à la fois dans les plats et les collines. Cependant, les coureurs GC sont beaucoup plus soucieux de leur temps global et renoncent généralement à courir avec sp les coureurs ou les alpinistes qui pourraient rompre avec le Peloton pour tenter de remporter une étape. Il y a beaucoup de stratégie impliquée pour gagner le Tour et je n’ai pas le temps ni les connaissances pour en dire plus.

Le point principal ici est que vous pouvez être bon mais pas excellent dans tout et réussir dans la vie.

  1. La vie est pleine de hauts et de bas

Le Tour de France est une course cycliste composée de 21 étapes. Il se déroule principalement en France. Le premier Tour a été couru en 1903. Une étape est courue chaque jour et deux jours sont insérés pour les jours de repos. Certaines étapes sont montagneuses et vallonnées tandis que d’autres sont plates et sinueuses. Les étapes montagneuses peuvent atteindre près de 10 000 pieds de haut. Une ou deux étapes seront réservées aux courses de sprint. De nombreuses étapes sont des combinaisons de terrain plat et vallonné. Au total, 200 des meilleurs coureurs cyclistes du monde courront sur près de 2 200 milles. Le Tour est considéré comme l’une des courses les plus exigeantes et difficiles au monde.

En regardant ces courses, vous pouvez voir que le monde est physiquement de haut en bas. Montagnes, collines, vallées, plaines et courbes. Certains jours seront pluvieux et froids, d’autres jours seront chauds et humides. Cependant, dans un certain sens, les hauts et les bas sont également métaphoriques. Les coureurs qui sont debout un jour seront à terre le lendemain. Un jour, un sprinter remportera l’étape, le lendemain un coureur de montagne la remportera. Les coureurs du Classement Général (les leaders du Tour en général) changeront le « maillot jaune » jour après jour jusqu’à ce que l’un d’entre eux ressorte enfin en tête. Le gagnant n’est jamais certain car les chutes, les mauvaises journées de conduite et le simple épuisement font des ravages sur chaque cycliste.

Acceptez que la vie soit pleine de hauts et de bas. N’oubliez pas qu’après la pluie, le soleil se lèvera.

  1. Certains jours, vous serez au sommet du monde et d’autres non

Aucun coureur du Tour de France n’a jamais remporté toutes les étapes. Deux ou trois coureurs ont remporté les maillots Polka Dot (Meilleur coureur de montagne), Vert (Meilleur sprinteur) et Jaune (Meilleur temps global) dans le même Tour, mais aucun coureur n’a jamais remporté les 21 étapes d’une course. Nous avons tous de bons et de mauvais jours. Certains jours, nous nous réveillons plein d’énergie et d’autres jours, nous devrions simplement rester au lit.

Karen ma femme a mentionné hier que pouvoir choisir les jours où elle se lève et les jours où elle peut s’attarder au lit est l’une des joies d’être à la retraite. Elle a noté que certains jours, elle n’était tout simplement pas capable de rebondir hors du lit comme Tigrou et de rencontrer le monde avec une pleine énergie. Elle se calme certains jours et généralement le lendemain, son énergie revient et elle est en train de désherber le jardin ou de tailler des haies.

La sagesse commune nous dit d’honorer le cycle de nos vies, mais la plupart des gens sont trop occupés à être occupés ou à se précipiter pour trouver un endroit où prêter attention à ce morceau de sagesse.

  1. La production d’énergie varie d’une personne à l’autre, mais nous sommes tous à court d’énergie à un moment donné

Les coureurs du Tour s’alignent peut-être 2 miles environ avant la ligne de départ réelle. Deux cents coureurs seront presque soudés ensemble derrière une voiture de course alors qu’ils monteront avec désinvolture jusqu’au départ. Dès qu’ils atteignent la ligne de départ, ils s’élancent dans une ruée de cycles qui se bousculent pour se positionner. Une grande masse de cyclistes s’appelle le Peloton et la plupart des coureurs essaieront de rester avec ce groupe pour des raisons d’efficacité de conduite et d’aérodynamisme. Rouler seul est plus un gaspillage d’efforts et d’énergie que de rouler en groupe. Néanmoins, certains gibiers ou manèges fous tenteront de sortir du peloton. Cela peut arriver bientôt pendant la course ou à mi-parcours, mais éventuellement un groupe ou un individu échappé essaiera de faire cavalier seul. L’audace de ces échappés est passionnante. Oser défier les meilleurs cavaliers du monde par eux-mêmes.

Vous regardez ces coureurs, et l’ordinateur vous indiquera combien sont dans l’échappée et à quelle distance ils sont par rapport au Peloton en termes de temps et de distance. Presque inévitablement, (vous pouvez parier là-dessus), les coureurs échappés perdront un à un le rythme et seront rattrapés par les coureurs du Peloton. Il est rare, voire jamais, que le coureur solitaire de l’échappée reste en tête pendant toute l’étape. Les coureurs les plus forts du monde participent à cette course et il existe sans aucun doute une courbe en forme de cloche d’endurance, d’endurance et de conditionnement parmi les deux cents coureurs. Néanmoins, aucun coureur à court de superman ne peut rester en tête de chaque course pendant toute la course. L’avantage de rouler en groupe, de dessiner et d’éviter les courants de vent est trop grand pour que le solitaire puisse maintenir un rythme gagnant pendant toute une étape.

Respectez votre niveau d’énergie et n’essayez pas d’être un surhomme ou une superfemme.

  1. Il faut se lever tous les jours pour rester dans la course

Cela semble si banal que j’ai presque honte de le dire. Chaque année, quelques coureurs du Tour de France abandonnent pour une raison ou une autre. Parfois c’est une blessure, parfois c’est juste abandonner. Nous avons tous des jours où nous avons l’impression de ne plus pouvoir continuer.

Pourtant, il semble que nous trouvions continuellement des excuses pour abandonner la course. Les choses se corsent et nous abandonnons. Nous tombons et nous donnons ne te lève pas. On se fait rejeter et on abandonne. Nous n’avons pas obtenu les résultats escomptés alors nous abandonnons notre objectif. J’ai demandé une fois à un ami qui était rédacteur en chef de plusieurs magazines ce que je devais faire pour avoir un « Meilleur Vendeur ». Il a répondu : « Je ne pourrais pas vous le dire. Mais je peux vous dire une chose, si vous n’écrivez pas, vous n’aurez jamais de best-seller. Je n’ai jamais oublié ses conseils. L’achat d’un billet de loterie ne garantit pas que vous gagnerez à la loterie, mais vous ne pouvez jamais gagner à la loterie sans billet.

J’ai entendu une fois qu’il y a trois sortes de personnes. Ceux qui ne savent pas qu’il y a un défilé à venir. Ceux qui regarderont le défilé. Ceux qui sont dans le défilé. Live nous donne la possibilité de choisir laquelle des trois personnes nous voulons être. Si vous allez être dans le défilé, vous devrez vous lever et faire quelque chose. Le défilé ne viendra jamais à vous.

La course ne va pas toujours au plus rapide. Souvent, il va au plus stable.

  1. Abandonner ne définit pas un perdant

Primož Roglič était le leader du Tour de France 2020. Il était presque certain de remporter le Tour. Il avait détenu le maillot jaune pendant la dernière moitié de la course. Son avance semblait insurmontable. Puis vint une journée de contre-la-montre. Tadej Pogacar, un coureur d’une autre équipe, a fait un travail si remarquable dans le contre-la-montre qu’il a terminé devant Roglic. Pogacar a remporté le Tour de France 2020.

Il est maintenant temps pour le Tour 2021. Primoz et Tadej sont de retour. Cette année, Tadej est favori pour gagner mais Roglic a encore une chance. Roglic a une mauvaise chute dans la course lors de l’étape 3 et reçoit quelques blessures. Il se lève et continue la course le lendemain. Quelques jours s’écoulent, et il est clair qu’il est à contre-courant. Après l’étape 8, Roglic abandonne. Il quitte la course. Roglic est-il un perdant ? Ils disent que seuls les perdants abandonnent.

Moins d’un mois plus tard, Roglic termine 28e à la course sur route des Jeux olympiques de Tokyo. Quatre jours plus tard, Roglic participe au contre-la-montre individuel. 39 cyclistes de 31 nations participent à la course. Roglic remporte la médaille d’or du contre-la-montre avec une marge gagnante de 1’01”.

Parfois, il est logique d’arrêter. Il n’est pas vrai que seuls les perdants abandonnent. Certaines des plus grandes personnes de tous les temps ont eu des jours où elles ont arrêté. Ce n’est pas d’arrêter qui définit un perdant, ce n’est jamais recommencer.

Soyez réaliste à propos des moments où il n’est pas aussi intelligent d’appuyer que d’arrêter de fumer. L’histoire est pleine d’exemples de personnes qui ont insisté et dont on n’a plus jamais entendu parler.

Conclusion :

Voilà. Les dix choses que j’ai apprises sur la vie de cette année Tour de France. Soyez assuré que je serai de retour l’année prochaine pour voir ce que je peux apprendre d’autre. Je peux même dépoussiérer ma selle de vélo, huiler ma chaîne, gonfler mes pneus et faire un tour sur le Gandy Dancer Trail. Si vous me voyez venir, vous devriez vous écarter car je suis sûr que je serai assez bancal.

Optimist, Pessimist or Realist

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Are you an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I have a good friend who always says that he leans towards being a “guy whose glass is half-full.”  I guess he is a pessimist.  I know I am married to an optimist, because whenever I say anything negative about anyone, she will provide a contrasting optimistic perspective.  I tend to believe that I lean towards pessimism.  I like to think that I am a realist.  When someone asks me if my glass is half-full or half-empty my answer will depend on whether my glass is being filled up or emptied.  Nevertheless, I suspect many would find that my blogs reflect a rather negative view of life and humanity.

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Climate Change:

Pessimist: “The end is near; the end is near.  We have destroyed the world with carbon pollution, and it is too late to do anything about it.  Nature magazine published a study which shows that Global Warming stated as early as 1830 CE.”

Optimist: “There is still time to do something about climate change.  Humanity has faced disasters before, and we always overcome them.  They thought that we would destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons, but we learned to use other strategies to deal with our differences.”

Realist: “Maybe we have just been lucky.”

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Corrupt Government:

Pessimist:  Politicians since the days of Plato and Socrates have always been corrupt.  There is no such thing as an honest politician.  Lying comes naturally to all politicians and the truth is only an inconvenience for most of them.  Politicians have become worse and worse over the years in terms of lacking morality and ethics.  They will always do what is expedient and they are all amoral.”

Optimist: “How can you make such a blanket generalization?  There have been many good politicians and many or them are very honest and moral.  Look at Marcus Aurelius, Rómulo Betancourt, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Jimmy Carter, and Muhammadu Buhari.  These men were all honest leaders who fought for the welfare of their people and did it selflessly.  They were capable, incorruptible leaders who made a real difference in the lives of their followers.

Realist: “You win some and you lose some.  On the whole, it would seem that we have more leaders like Trump than we do leaders like Gandhi.”

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Education:

Pessimist: “Pouring money into education is a waste of time.  Kids are learning less today than they did in the early days of public education.  Half the kids in school are bored.  Teacher turnover is at an all time high and classrooms are chaotic.  Parents do not support teacher discipline anymore.  Schools have become jails for most students who would rather be home.  Kids today do not see the value in education because parents do not.  Schools are just factories for the more privileged to come out and get the high paying jobs in society while the rest of the pack will work for Walmart or McDonalds.”

Optimist: “We live in a more educated society today then even twenty years ago.  Education has been responsible for raising the standard of living the world over.  People are living longer than ever because of scientific advances in hygiene, medicine, and public health.  Without education, we would still be dying in our mid-forties instead of in our mid-seventies.  Kids today learn different things then when we were in school.  They are more visually literate, and computers have been a new tool that students today are using to change the world for the better.”

Realist: “We seem to take two steps forward and one back.  For every pro about education today, there is a con.  For every pro about technology there is a con.  We need to have a broader perspective on change that will enable us to embrace new ideas and let go of old ideas that no longer work.”  We simply keep adding pages to school textbooks without taking any out.”

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I could go on and on with examples of the quite different outlooks that life provides us.  Who is right?  I doubt that we will ever really know.  Many of the old sayings exist to provide us with some direction on how to live.  A friend of mine tried to convince me that writing should be positive and inspirational.  His motto was, “You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.”  According to my friend, people will ignore writing that is too dismal and negative.  It is his opinion that writers should provide a path forward to growth and development.  I told another friend the other day that “hope without action is hopeless.”  It is not enough to just hope for change, you need to do something about it.  I like to think that my writings provide a path forward.

Nevertheless, we are all familiar with the concept of being too “Pollyannish.”  Someone who is too Pollyannish always sees the positive in everything.  Pushing the envelope on optimism they become extremists who see a bright spot in every dark endeavor.  We sometimes refer to these people as wearing “rose colored” glasses.  A realist would argue that sometimes a bright spot does not exist.

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My writing instructor, Dr. Wedin informed our class a few weeks ago that the story of Pollyanna, a 1913 novel written by American author Eleanor H. Porter, has been grossly misrepresented.  In common usage, a Pollyannish person is someone who is too unrealistic about life and its difficulties.  I decided to watch one of the many movies based on the novel and found a quite different interpretation of young Miss Pollyanna.  One that I assume was more in line with the novel.  In the movie, Pollyanna is a young girl who faces her share of joys and unhappiness.  However, remembering what her father told her, she always tries to find a bright spot in life regardless of how difficult things may be going for her.  Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game,” an optimistic and positive attitude she learned from her father.

As a man who has leaned strongly towards pessimism for most of my life, I found myself admiring Pollyanna’s attitude and efforts.  They say pessimists live longer lives but optimists live happier lives.  There is something about pessimism that wears one down and tires others out.  Friends, family, spouses, siblings, and children all have a difficult time being around someone who is relentlessly pessimistic.  Just as hope without action is useless, pessimism without a plan to change things is depressing, gloomy and dreary.  Would you rather be around a pessimist or an optimist?

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But what about our third choice?  Would you want to choose a realist for a life partner?  Is this the Golden Mean that the Greeks worshipped?  I think not.  The problem with being a so-called realist is twofold.  The first problem is that realism must be based on a foundation of facts and evidence.  Herein, you can immediately understand the problem.  It is difficult if not impossible to obtain evidence that will prove irrefutable and reliable.  Life is full of lies, half-truths, unsubstantiated facts and impossible to find evidence.

The second problem with realism is that it is not useful without a path forward or some means of making sense out of reality.  Knowing reality is meaningless if you cannot do something about it.  Finding the best path forward always involves a number of decisions that go beyond the facts.  For instance, if I decide that my car needs a new engine, will it be more cost effective to purchase a replacement engine or buy a new car?  You might be able to work out an equation to make this decision, but I guarantee you that there will be several unknowns in your equation.  Every unknown impacts the outcome of your decision making.  Then of course, there are what we call “unintended consequences.”  Charting the unknown, even realists must go into mysterious territory.

So we arrive back to where we started.  Would you rather be an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I would love to hear your comments on this question.  Please feel free to send me a reply.

Only send optimistic comments though.  😊

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Art

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You may be expecting me to regale you with some long-winded bull about artsy fartsy stuff that you should absolutely have in your life.  My conscience tells me that maybe I should start this blog off with a disclaimer or perhaps a spoiler alert.  The big question I am asking myself is who am I to convince you of the value that art has for you or the rest of the world?

e9d976ac0ad1923d2a1b45f65431411aWhen I grew up, the only art in our house was an Elvis on velvet painting that my mother had hanging over the living room sofa.  We also had a wooden ship with metal sails and a clock that did not work built into the side of the ship.  It was featured prominently on the mantle over our fake fireplace.  Our furniture would have done the Salvation Army proud.  I do not remember any other art besides Elvis displayed on our walls, floors, or ceilings.  Neither my father or mother had any interest in art.  My mother liked Elvis and that is why she got the painting. 

s-l300When I think back upon my schooling, I do not recall ever having had a single class in art appreciation.  We would occasionally go on field trips but usually to a library or a science museum.  No one in my schools acknowledged the world of art.  For blue collar kids like myself, the world of art had little relevance or practical use.  Everyone knew that artists died poor.  The great Van Gogh sold only one picture in his lifetime and that to a relative.  The purchase of art was for the rich, spoiled, eccentric scions of old aristocratic families with more money than they knew what to do with. 

unnamedWhen Karen and I first moved down to Arizona, we took a day to go and visit Scottsdale.  Scottsdale is a wealthy upper-class community.  Scottsdale is generally considered the most affluent large city in Arizona.  The average income of a Scottsdale resident is $51,564 a year. The US average is $28,555 a year.  According to Zillow.com, the typical price of a home in Scottsdale is $582,292.  We walked around the downtown portion of Scottsdale and expected to see the usual mix of clothing stores, jewelry shops, antique shops, and restaurants.  We were not surprised except when it came to the antique shops. 

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Most towns we visit today seem to have an abundance of antique shops.  Not Scottsdale!  Instead of antique shops, full of overpriced cast outs from yesteryear, Scottsdale had more jewelry shops and art galleries than I could count.  It goes without saying that I do not generally go into high end jewelry shops selling Rolex watches.  In some of these Scottsdale shops, a Rolex would be a cheap watch.  Sporting my Casio, I would not even merit a sales attempt.  However, we were really surprised at the number of art galleries.  Foolishly, we dared to venture into a few of them.  Our trips inside did not last long. 

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My idea of an expensive piece of art runs in the double digits.  Most of the art in these shops exceeded my tax return from last year.  Meaning the art was well into four or more digits.  I found myself petrified of knocking something over or off of a pedestal.  My heart rate was so high, I almost called 911.  We decided we had seen enough art and it was time to find some decent tacos and beer.  We found a good Mexican restaurant and sat on the sidewalk where we could look at the expensively dressed local Scottsdale people.  I soon noticed that Scottsdale did not have any obese or overweight citizens.  I suppose that when you are really wealthy, you can afford a coach, trainer or whatever to help you diet and keep your weight down. 

HP-Hero-Header@2xArt reflects the beauty that life holds.  Paintings portray ideals and impressions that intrigue and magnify the senses.  Sculptures mirror the objects in our world that mystify us or that remind us of magnificent events.  Pictures bring us to other places and times that would be forgotten without the images the photographer captures.  Art does not attempt to simply mirror reality; it attempts to augment and enhance reality.  Art can be a caricature which like a Rorschach text enables us to see many different visions.  Art is a realization of values, norms, pain, happiness, the past, the present and the future.  Art can simultaneously create fantasy and reality.

flickr_-_cc_-_manuel_paternity_-_no_modification-_no_commercial_useYou may be rightly thinking, “But what good does art do me if I cannot afford to even walk into an art shop?”  I often asked myself this same question.  Why look at stuff that I could not afford?  It took me years before I even ventured into an art museum.  I have since visited the Louvre while in Paris and many other museums in the USA and in Europe.  My attitude is now one of gratefulness that someone has purchased these magnificent works of art to share with the public.  The vast majority of us could never begin to afford the pricelessness of these museum pieces.  I strongly encourage you to visit an art museum sometime. 

il_794xN.2697702323_8azbWhen it comes to art that I would like to own, it is simply a matter of what I can afford.  The art world is full of overpriced works of art.  Many would rebel at my labeling art this way.  My critics would say that it was high priced and not “over” priced.  That may well be.  I have talked to a number of artists and the vast majority do not get paid for the value of their efforts and creativity.  However, just like in athletics, a few stand out and are disproportionally rewarded for their efforts.    

I will also claim that there are many underpriced works of art.  I find what I call bargains done by both artisans and artists that I would have thought would sell for much higher prices.  Karen and I have visited quite a few art festivals.  When we moved to Arizona, we decided that we would decorate the interior of our house with affordable works of art.  Art that we admired and liked and that fit our budget.  We chose to find original works of art rather than just reproductions.  There is nothing wrong with reproductions, but we opted to save our money for art that we thought was unique and one of a kind.      

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I have not said what I consider quality art or great art to be.  That would be more than presumptuous.  More astute minds than mine have tried to define “great” art.  I have always subscribed to the maxim that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  I cannot define great art, but I can tell you what I like.  Sometimes, it is simply something that reminds me of another place or time and sometimes it is something that I think is beautiful.  My house could never hold all the art that I have admired over the years.  As I said before, I am grateful that there are people called artists who are willing to venture into a field where the rewards are so problematic compared to the skill and creativity required.   

If you find the world boring, if you wonder if there is more to life than you experience, if you are depressed at the bad news each day, if the daily diet of mayhem and misfortune makes you wish you were living in another time or place, then art may be the solution to your misery.  Art is a bouquet of flowers which can bring joy to your heart.  Sir John Lubbock, 4th Baronet said that, “art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness.  It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind.  As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.

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You can begin to appreciate the world of art today.  It will not cost you a single penny.  Your initiation fee is paid by the amount of time you are willing to devote to art.  There are classes on art online for free.  There are YouTube videos with tours of art museums and histories of great paintings and artists.  Your local library will have dozens of books that are collections of some of the great art works in history.  The Salvation Army and Goodwill have many used books that include works of art for you to purchase at less than two dollars a book.

10 Free Courses to Help You Understand and Appreciate Art …    

Another option of course, is to appreciate the world of art as an artist or creator rather than as a follower or viewer.  Several years ago, I took an art class.  I wanted to see if I had the talent to be an artist.  The class taught how to paint miniatures.  I did several paintings which turned out quite well.  The class also showed me the hard work and discipline that was required to be an artist.  I wisely chose to make my fortunes in the business world rather than in the more challenging world of art. 

Whatever you decide, I hope that you can let the world of art color your days like a rainbow that never dims or goes out.  The world will be a happier place when we can all learn to appreciate art.

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Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

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I have put together a selection of short stories that I have published over the years on my blog.  I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place.  If you have enjoyed any of my tales, I think that you will enjoy this book.  It contains 25 of my favorites pieces of writing. 

 

The fables in this book are unique and cover a wide range of topics.  It is a book of make believe that is designed to challenge the way that you look at life.  Some of these stories are Aesop like, and some are Mark Twain like.  Some of them will make you laugh.  Some will make you cry.  Some contain morals and parables that may help you think differently about your life and the world.

 

 Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think    Kindle Edition

by John Persico (Author), Socorro Luna (Editor) — Feb, 9, 2021, Kindle Edition, $4.99

 

If you prefer a paperback edition, it is available at the following link for $9.99

Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Music

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What would life be without the things that help us to appreciate it?  I listen to a superb singer and think how fantastic it is to be able to have this kind of talent in the world.  I visit an art gallery and look at the magnificent paintings and think about all the people that have created works of art which beautify my life.  I journey to a library to find a good book to read and I am inundated with literature that will open vast new horizons for me intellectually and emotionally.  I am sometimes ashamed that I am not grateful enough for the many appreciations that life gives me.

I started thinking a few days ago that the issue of appreciation would make a good subject for a blog.  I soon realized that the subject would be good for several blogs.  Thus, I have decided to write about the greatest appreciations in my life.  Of course, life itself is a given as the greatest appreciation of all, so I will skip it for now.  There are hundreds of things that I can appreciate.  I will limit my list to the top seven things that I am grateful for or that I appreciate on an almost daily basis.  I will try cover each of these in my next blogs.

  1. Music
  2. Art
  3. Literature
  4. Travel/Food
  5. Friends/Family
  6. Health/Fitness
  7. Peace

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Music:  Something to Appreciate

This week I will discuss the joys and happiness that I find in music.  Karen, my wife is a musician.  I am unfortunately not among the musically gifted.  I am left to be the audience for Karen and other people with the talent to perform.  I have hundreds of artists all over the world that I admire and listen to.  Many people have a steady diet of music from a particular genre.  I consider myself fortunate to have quite catholic tastes when it comes to music.

I love opera, country, blue grass, gospel, classical, rock, pop, blues, jazz, folk, as well as music from almost every country in the world.  Have you ever listened to Enka music from Japan or Fado music from Portugal?  There are hundreds of styles of music all over the world.  Increasingly I find what might be called fusion music that blends a multitude of styles.

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One currently popular group is called the Hu.  They are a rock band from Mongolia.  They use traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including the Morin khuur, Tovshuur and Mongolian throat singing with a rock beat.  They say that they are inspired by the Hunnu, an ancient Turkic/Mongol empire.  I discovered them on YouTube and liked them so much I purchased one of their albums.  I listened to it every day for a few weeks.  I had never heard anything like it before.

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Yesterday on NPR they had a music session with the noted African American operatic baritone Will Liverman.   It was an interesting conversation.   There has been a systematic exclusion of information concerning Black singers and composers in the realm of classical music.  Mr.  Liverman talked about his upbringing and how surprised his parents were that he became interested in opera and classical music.  He pursued his interests and has become one of the great operatic singers of our time.  Will observed that many great Black composers were virtually unknown to the public and even in the music world.  He decided to remedy this with an album of songs by Black composers.  You can find his album on Amazon and many of Mr. Liverman’s songs on YouTube.

The music world is full of variety, mysteries, contradictions, challenges, and respite from a world all too often full of dreary news and mayhem.  I have briefly touched on some of the variety in the music world, but what are the mysteries?  Well consider the talent that it takes to become a good musician.  Many people think that musicians are simply born with the talent.  A little knowledge of musicians will soon show you that music is a combination of talent and hard work.  Few of us will ever know if we could have been a great musician because most of us do not have the discipline to put the effort into music.  This includes me as well.  I am amazed at the practicing that Karen does each week.

Karen performing with the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble Visits The Fountains – The Fountains at La Cholla in Tucson, AZ

Karen has taken dozens of classes to help develop her skills.  There never seems to be a time when she will simply quit and say, “I have become good enough.”  She is always working and striving to become better.  Every year she develops more skills and then challenges herself with more difficult pieces, not to mention adding more instruments to her repertoire.  And here is the mystery.  Where do these people get the energy and courage to keep on challenging themselves?  Most of us would rather listen to music.  We marvel at the fantastic talent that is in the music world, but we seldom understand the practice, discipline and hard work that is involved.  I gasp in amazement at a man like Jake Shimabukuro whose fingers move over the ukulele faster than I can see.  I cannot comprehend pianists that can play an entire Beethoven symphony without looking at a music sheet.  These are all mysteries to me.

What of contradictions?  The music world is full of contradictions.  Talented players and singers who never seem to achieve the stardom they deserve.  One-hit-wonders who can create a dynamic song that tops the charts but are never heard from again.  Five-year-old wunderkinds who display abilities that defy logic.  Singers who develop followers that worship the ground they walk on.  Performers who last a few years, disappear for many years, and then make startling comebacks.  Singers who are still in the music business in their eighties.  Artists who seem to have little talent but make tons of money.  The music world is full of contradictions.

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What of the challenges I refer to?  For a musician, the world is one giant challenge.  Can you imagine getting up in front of 100,000 people or more to sing the national anthem?   Can you imagine facing the expectations of an audience that has paid a minimum of 100 dollars a seat to hear you perform and some may have paid thousands to hear you perform?  Could you handle the pressure?  Can you imagine a road tour?  Leaving your home for a year to travel the world and play in dozens of different venues in front of many different audiences.  I get anxious not sleeping in my own bed for one night.  I think the challenges also show up in the chaotic drug filled life that we often see in some musicians.  Stars like Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince, and hundreds of other great musicians who met an early and untimely death.  Is it any wonder?  The challenges may be too much for anyone.

Finally for me, the respite that music brings to my life could not be purchased for a million dollars.  It is said that “Music soothes the savage beast.”  Music takes the stress out of my life.  Music is like meditating.  It is often better than eating or sleeping.  I can watch an Andrea Bocelli performance, and everything is okay with the world.  Music helps me to forget the vicious daily news, the angry divisive politicians insulting each other, the legal eagles trying to entice me to sue someone, the maniacs on the road in a hurry to go nowhere.  I can forget the dreams I had that never materialized as I listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing, “Wayfaring Stranger” or Miley Cyrus sing, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” or Bob Dylan sing, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

I fear I have not even begun to explain the joys, beauty and wonders that music can bring into our lives.  The subject is so deep and wide, that my short missive here does not even begin to do it justice.  My goal is to inspire and entice you to find more time for music in your life.  It is truly one of the great appreciations that life brings us.  Sean Combs said that “A life without passion is unforgivable.”  It is even truer that a “life without music is a terrible shame.’

Next week I will talk about Art and what it can do to help us appreciate life more.

 

The Seven Greatest and Most Important Virtues for Humanity

christian_virtueI thought I would start the year of 2021 off with a positive slant.  Namely, some things we can all do or practice to be better people.  However, before anyone should pay any attention to what I am about to say, there are several questions they must ask themselves.  I would advise you that the veracity and hence credibility of an author is critical to your acceptance of what the author is trying to sell you or convince you of.  Do not buy an argument from someone who cannot be trusted.  Think about the comment that “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  An uncritical acceptance of any idea is dangerous to your own integrity and responsibility.  Hence, the questions I would want answered (If I were you) would be as follows:  Who is this writer to say what the “greatest” virtues for a human are?  How did he come up with these Seven Virtues?  What is the difference between a virtue and a value?  Is this an important difference or is he about to sell me another new religion?

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

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

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

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

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

How did I derive these Seven Virtues?

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

virtues_listGiven that one could easily comprise a list of ten or perhaps one hundred important virtues, why do I believe that my seven are the seven greatest and most important?  How do I have the audacity to make such an assertion?  I might have been sitting under an apple tree one day, or perhaps simply thinking about life at one of my yearly silent retreats at the Demontreville Retreat Center, when I compiled a list of seven virtues.  While I truly “value” these ideas, I understand them more as virtues than values.  I will address this difference later.  I decided that I want to live by these virtues.  Each day for the last fifteen or more years, I have selected one of these seven virtues to help guide me through the day.  Whether it is patience, kindness or courage, each day I start by reflecting on this virtue and trying to make it a part of my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-The-12-Lakota-Virtues-native-pride-33907515-700-630The danger in this discussion lies in your taking a sectarian or religious approach to my writings.  I assure you that I am not a religious person.  I may be a spiritual person but I do not think of myself in either of these categories.  I am an agnostic who wants to live a better life and help build a world that is a better place to live for future generations.  Living by these seven virtues is one way I believe I can contribute to this goal.

My Vision for my life is “To live a healthy useful and wise life.”

My Mission is “To live one day at a time.  To be the best person I can be each day and to do the best I can each day to do good for the world.”   I hope I sometimes achieve at least some of these goals.

virtue is doing itIf I have satisfactorily answered the questions that I posed above respecting my integrity and credibility, I will now set off to address each of my Seven Virtues and explain why they are so important and the difference that I think they can make in our lives.  Look for my virtues over the next several weeks in my blogs.

Time for Questions:

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

Life is just beginning.

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

Joy and Sorrow

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Joy and sorrow are the Yin and Yang of existence.  One day we find joy and the next day we find sorrow. 

I found joy when my first daughter was born.  She was premature by a few weeks and so we could not take her home right away.  It was in 1967 and I was in the birthing room with my ex-wife Julie when Christina was born.  Both of us could not have been happier.  Over the years, I found joy in spending time with my daughter, taking her to the library, racing her on her bicycle, going to the boundary waters with her and taking her out trick or treating on Halloween.  I found joy watching her grow up.

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I found sorrow when my first wife and I separated in 1982 and I had to leave my daughter behind.  I found sorrow when my daughter Christina started college and decided she did not want to talk to me anymore.  I have found sorrow for the past 30 years or so at no longer seeing my daughter or even knowing where she lives.  I find sorrow that she never calls me or cares about having anything to do with me.

I find joy with my wife Karen when we sit and talk and eat together, now for nearly 40 years.  I find joy when Karen is happy, and we exercise or travel or go for walks together.  I find joy in helping her to stay healthy and knowing that she appreciates my efforts.  I find joy in growing old together and watching us both develop wrinkles together and claim similar aches and pains.  Our companionship is one of the greatest joys of my life.

I find sorrow when I think too long about what is too come.  I have seen too many elderly couples decline and it is often a sad sight.  I find sorrow when I think that in not too many years, Karen or I could be facing our final years by ourselves.  I find sorrow in thinking too much about what might be and how it might happen.

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I find joy in my writing.  I love the process of putting ideas into words.  I love getting comments on my blog and I love seeing the Google analytics regarding how many people are reading my rants and thoughts.  I love responding to people who leave comments.  I love the task of finding new ideas and themes to write about.  I love the community that I often find with other writers.  Something about the very word itself though unspoken is beautiful and magic.

I find sorrow in running out of new ideas and the occasional barren oasis that seems to sit in front of me as I struggle to find something to write about.  I find sorrow in feeling that I am not making any difference in the world with my writing.  I find sorrow when I compare my stats to others and think that some people get more readers in a day than I get in a month.  I know I should not compare myself, but I do anyway, and it always makes me sad.

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I found joy in getting to make amends with my father and mother before they died.  He died at 60 years of age and my mother died at 67.  I had hated my father and I was apathetic towards my mother.  I found joy in knowing my mother better and understanding the demons that she had to deal with.  I found joy in confronting my father and having him apologize to me for the misery that he caused my sisters and I when we were growing up.  I spoke at his funeral and found joy in the words I gave because I told truth.  My father had changed before he died, and I could see that in his friends and his new family.

I found sorrow when I was growing up with my family.  Hardly a day went by when I was not tormented or blamed for something by my father.  I found sorrow because my sisters and I were isolated and could not even find support in each other.  I found sorrow in my life as I felt so alone.  Later when I heard the song “Motherless Child”, I knew I was that motherless child.  A counselor years later told me it was because children expect their mothers to protect them.  I found sorrow in that it was not until my mother died that I realized how much misery she had in her own life while living with my father.  She had little time or energy to protect her children.  All of whom were abused by my father.

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I find joy in nature.  I run, ski, bike, swim canoe, camp and love being outside.  I find joy in the forests, in the lakes, in the ocean and in the mountains.  I find joy in flowers and watching the trees bloom and the leaves turn colors in the fall.  I feel joy in staring at a moonlit sky and looking for falling stars, constellations, and comets.  I find joy in sunshine and a cloudless day, but I also find joy on a rainy day with clouds billowing and promises of storms to come.

I feel sorrow when I see a tree hacked down or a lake defiled with oil and garbage.  I look at the sky and feel sad that we put up so much junk in the air that people are choking, and asthma has become common.  I find sorrow in the polluted oceans and in manicured lawns where water is wasted growing grass that has no reason for being there.  I feel sorrow that we put development over nature and destroy vast acres of beautiful land to put up parking lots.

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I receive joy from my exercising.  I love the feel of the mountain runs that I do each morning.  I love the stretch from yoga each evening.  My body feels so alive when it is moving.  I have done scuba diving, skydiving, bike racing, marathons and two triathlons.  I have never been a major competitor but the joy and fun of racing with others is indescribable.  The joy of being one big family even if only for a few hours.  Celebrating life and the ability we have as athletes.  No one regardless of how they do or how late they finish is ever ridiculed or laughed at.

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I receive sorrow and pain from exercising.  Some days it is hard to get up and go out.  Some days I feel sad wondering when my last run will be, and when I will no longer be able to handle the inevitable falls on the trails.  I have had sorrow from Morton’s neuroma, plantar fasciitis, back pains, hip pains and sesamoiditis.  Some of these problems have taken me years to overcome and some I have had to adapt to and live with.  I have sat for hours and picked cactus spines out of my legs and feet and arms.  There might not be a great deal of sorrow in this activity but there is a great deal of pain.  I think sadly of some of the longer runs I once did and some of the longer bicycle trips I once took and some of the week long canoe trips.  I know that I no longer have the energy for any such trips.  They are now sadly only memories that are slowly fading away.

My greatest joy in life has come from reading and learning.  I would rather die than not have a book to read or the chance to learn something new.  The joy I find in books is ineffable.  I want to learn the rest of my life and continue to find new things that will excite me.  I find joy in challenges to my ideas and beliefs.  I find joy in discovering that I was right, and I find joy in discovering that I was wrong.  Books have always been dearer to me than friendships.  Books bring me to places that I have never been.  Books help me to meet people that I can only dream of meeting.  Books do not desert me at 3 PM in the morning or chastise me for putting them down.  I find joy in history, science, mathematics, politics, psychology, spirituality, biographies, dramas and plays.  Books were my companions when I grew up and they were my family.  Books gave me unconditional love and were my steadfast friends.

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Books have brought me great sorrow.  I read the Little Match Girl a dozen times or more and each time I cried when I read this story.  Countless other stories and events have 83909b1f6d72b56470333621cbd1ebf2-the-little-match-girl-hans-christianbrought sorrow to my heart over the years.  Life does not always end happily.  Lives do not always find the justice and honor they merit.  I have felt sorry for the heroes and heroines who did not get the fates they deserved.  If only I could somehow right all the wrongs and set history on the paths it should have taken.  I find books tell me about my shortcomings and highlight areas where I need improvement.  It is always sorrowful to find that I am not as good as I would like to be.

Writing this has been cathartic.  For me, the writing itself is mixed with elements of joy and elements of sorrow.  So joyful to remember some things.  Remembering others so very sorrowful.  Some remind me of the joy still in my life.  Some sorrows make me want to live my life over.  But would it be any different?   Would it be any better?

What are the joys and sorrows in your life?

The Three Boxes of Life:  What Does the Coronavirus Have to Do with Them?

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In 1970, Richard Nelson Bolles wrote what was destined to become one of the most famous and useful books of all time.  Richard Nelson Bolles was an Episcopal clergyman and the author of the best-selling job-hunting book, What Color is Your Parachute?  It became an international best seller and was widely adopted for use by job seekers, employment counselors, human resource development people and educators.  It has been in print since 1970 and has been revised annually since 1975, sometimes substantially.

Bolles-AZ QuotesOstensibly, it was just another book to help job seekers find work.  However, Bolles wrote more than just tips on writing resumes and job letters and where to find work, he wrote a bible on how to live a better life and what work could really mean for us.   Bolles gave us a broader vision of work and the role it could play in our lives.  Bolles vision of work was more than just the idea of productivity and pay.  At the core of Richard’s concept of life was his idea that life could be divided into three boxes:  Work, Play and Education.  But there is a novel twist to Bolle’s ideas about work, play and education that no one had ever put forward before.  Before we go into his unique idea, let’s examine each of the three boxes.  After this, I will present the truly revolutionary idea that Bolles had about them.  Finally, I will discuss the implications of Bolles ideas to the present coronavirus crisis that we are facing today throughout the world.

Work:

For most people work involves making a living.  Bringing home a paycheck to pay the bills.  For Bolles, work meant passion and purpose and meaning.  Work could be so much more than just a 9 to 5 grind.  However, before this could happen, the job seeker must fully understand their life, loves, passions and goals.  Bolle’s book was designed to help the job seeker undertake these tasks.  Armed with this information, a job seeker could look for work that provided meaning and purpose to his/her life.  Work would not just be 9 to 5 and go home and relax.  Work could be exciting and challenging.

Education:

We typically go to school from first grade to perhaps college or grad school and then education for the most part ends.  We might join a company that provides some job-related education or tuition reimbursement for work related training.  Typically though, after you are out of school, you are on your own for education and training.   No workplace that I have experienced practices or believes in the need for life-long education and training for their employees.  Dr. W. E. Deming (who was a mentor for the company I joined after finishing my Ph.D. degree in Training and Organization Development) created his famous 14 Points for Management in which two of his 14 points addressed this issue directly:

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Point 6:  Institute training on the job.  Dr. Deming believed that continuous training was needed by all employees if continuous improvement was to become the norm in a workplace.  Training was job specific and job related although it could also involve things like cross training or training for a new job or new tasks.

“People are part of the system; they need help… Many people think of machinery and data processing when I mention system. Few of them know that recruitment, training, supervision, and aids to production workers are part of the system.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

Point 13:  Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.  Dr. Deming was a visionary like Bolles.  He believed that education for all employees was an ongoing part of any job.  Education went beyond job specific tasks to include life skills, human relations skills and skills for happiness and creativity.  Many employers are willing to adopt Dr. Deming’s Point 4 but are much more reluctant to embrace his Point 13.

“What an organization needs is not just good people; it needs people who are improving with education… There is no shortage of good people… Shortage exists at the high levels of knowledge—and this is true in every field… One should not wait for a promise of reimbursement for a course of study… Moreover, study directed toward immediate need may not be the wisest course… Advances in competitive position will have their roots in knowledge.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

I have written quite a few of my blogs on the issue of education.  Simply type “education” in the search box and you can see some of my ideas on what a life-long education system could look like.  Many of my ideas have roots going back to Ivan Ilych, Paulo Freire and John Holt, however Dr. Deming and Richard Bolles also played a significant role in the formation of my ideas.

Play:

Now here is where it gets really interesting.  How many employers do you know that want you to play at work or to have fun while on the job?  Save it for vacation time, right?  Or as one oft heard idiotic comment goes “We work hard and play hard!”  Sorry, but play should not be hard.  Play should be fun.  Play should not encompass meaning or purpose.  Play is about being and not doing.  It is about enjoying the moment and living simply for the present.  We play when we get home from work with our spouses or with our kids, but work is reserved for productivity.  Get the job done and play later say most employers.

Bolles Revolutionary Idea:

What if we combined work, education and play?  One day when I was doing some training in Deming’s 14 points with about 20 hard rock miners down about 2000 feet below ground.  I was in one of the training rooms in INCO’s Thompson Nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba.  I always liked teaching on site with workers since if they did not understand a concept, we could go right out into the work area and I could show them how the idea applied.  This was not simply theory, but real-world experience coupled with theory.  Dr. Deming always said that “Experience without theory teaches nothing.”  My corollary to Deming’s point was that “Theory without experience teaches nothing.”  Thus, I strove to integrate theory and experience in all my teaching and training.

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On this particular day, we were in a room off one of the mine tunnels (known as drifts to miners) and I was lecturing about education and training.  I was suddenly mindful of Bolles’ ideas that life would be more exciting and productive if we could integrate work, education and play.  In other words, schools would be about more than just learning, organizations would be about more than just productivity and families would be about more than just relaxation and play.

sea-777x437I posed a general question to the miners’ present.  “What if we integrated work, education and play in your jobs.  What would life be like for you,” I asked.  There was silence for a moment.  I did not know if I would get a response.  Suddenly a hand shot up.  I recognized the man and asked him what he thought.  I never would have guessed his reply in a million years.  It was perfect but it still astounded me.  He said very simply “I would not know whether it was Monday or Friday.”  To this very day, I cannot think of a more profound or telling comment than that.

Unfortunately, in classrooms all over the country you see students often engaged in educational activities that have no bearing on purpose or meaning.  Little attention is directed by educators to find ways that student work could actually be made more meaningful by finding ways that students could profit from their activities.  Even worse perhaps are the responses by educators towards children having fun in the classroom.  In the early years of education there is often time for classroom fun but as students progress in schools from kindergarten to college, the fun is systematically wrung out of the curriculum.  Schools are designed to be serious activities and thus have little place for fun and playful work.

In most workplaces, managers are much more concerned about productivity than they are in workers having fun.  Fun times are allocated to off work activities or more likely to activities when the worker goes home.  IF you want to play, you do that with your kids when the job is over.  There is little or no effort in human resources departments to help managers find ways to integrate play in work.  There may be time allocated towards training by some HR departments but again, that is as far as it goes.  If an employee or the organization can benefit from more education, that is the employee’s responsibility and not the companies.

Home life is where we go to relax.  We have enough education at school.  We have enough work at our job.  We go home to watch sports on tv, to play with our kids and to spend time with spouses and friends.  How many people read anything beyond fantasy and romance novels at home?  How many people go home and do an online course for fun in English or history or physics?  We have grown to hate these subjects that were imposed on us by our schools so most of us never want to hear about them again.  Even if we know that education should be for life, it is difficult to find classes that are not geared towards getting a degree or a diploma or a certificate.  Many of us take up hobbies like gardening, wood working or playing an instrument because we see these activities as fun and less purposeful than the stress we associate with learning and education or the work we do to make a living.  I have friends who love woodworking and make some beautiful objects.  They have no thought of selling these and do it for fun and the gratification of creating something.  Most often they give these to friends and relatives without consideration of remuneration.  To put these on a paying basis might take the fun out of the activity for them.

20110907101009home-ecOur work activities at home are generally allocated towards improving our living conditions.  We work on repairing our appliances, roofs, etc. because we either enjoy doing it or because we are trading our time for money.  If we hire someone to do it, it will cost us money that we might not be able to afford.  We may not have the skills to so some work that needs to be done, so we are often forced by necessity to contract out needed repairs.  Some people have never learned how to cook and so either spend extra img_7363money on prepared meals or they often eat out.  I never learned any wood working skills when I was in high school because these classes were deemed “general education” and I was in the “college track.”  The home economics classes mostly dealt with sewing and cooking and were largely populated by girls.  Even today in most high schools, girls dominate the home economics classes and boys dominate the construction related classes.  There is admittedly more cross over then when I was in school in the sixties, but it is by no means 50-50 in gender distribution.

Conclusion:

I would like to conclude with some observations from the present crisis in relation to integrating work, play and education in our lives.  There is no doubt that we are in a crisis of perhaps unprecedented proportions.   As I write this, we have no idea when it will end or how many people will die as a result of this virus.  Thus, it is hard to look down the road and see any possible positive outcomes or merits that could come out of this disaster.  Yet, I do see several trends that have emerged and portend some major changes in the future of work, school and play as we know them traditionally.

Mother and baby girl working on laptop

In terms of work, more employers are allowing their employees to work from home.  This was an idea that had merit many years ago however, most employers were loath to let their employees out of their sight.  I am sure you have heard the comment: “But how will I know they are doing their work and not goofing off?”  Sad, that any employer would have so little faith in their employees that they could offer this lame excuse.  Not only are many employees more productive by working from home, but it allows them to integrate their work lives with their family lives often to very positive advantage for both families and employers.

Another major benefit to the world comes from the decreased air pollution by eliminating a significant proportion of automobile traffic.  In addition, we will be seeing a decline (unfortunately offset by Corvid 19 deaths) in highway fatalities and accidents. More people will be productive by simply eliminating commute times that add nothing to the bottom line in organizations.

Homeschooling-pro-and-conFrom teachers and many educators, we hear the lament that children will miss three or more months of schooling.  Unfortunately for the teachers that feel this way, students may miss out on “schooling”, but I think not on learning.  Many studies have shown that students home taught learn more and score higher on standardized tests than public school students.  I have been working in high schools as a substitute teacher for three years now and much of the work I see being done in classrooms can easily be accomplished from home.  Whether or not students working from home are less bored with the subject matter remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities for children to learn from home at their own pace and to some extent be more excited by a custom curriculum which suits their needs.  There is obviously a great deal more that can be done in this area to create customized education programs.

Finally, we have a new breed of hero/heroine.  Traditionally, we have viewed soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and doctors as involved in heroic activities.  This is still true in the current pandemic.  However, now we have added a new dimension to the world of heroism by recognizing service workers, food handlers, truck drivers, delivery people, retail workers and many other groups who are risking their lives to help the rest of us stay home and safe.  Never before did anyone think of a retail store clerk putting toilet paper on a shelf as doing a heroic job.  If you have been to any store lately, you will certainly see the risk these people are taking.

Millions of ordinary people are losing their jobs or out of work and not getting a paycheck because of this pandemic.  Yet, we can clearly see that the ordinary person whether working now or not was responsible for the great economy we had.  The loss of stock value, the decline in GDP and the possible coming depression shows to what extent the “Economy” is a product of ordinary people doing extraordinary work in ordinary times.  The economy never was and never will be a product of politicians, billionaires or the stock market.  Dr. Deming said this about the common worker, and it bears repeating:

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These comments from Dr. Deming directly reflect on his Points Number 8-9-10-11-and 12.

“I’ve seen how deeply plant workers appreciate it when somebody recognizes and respects the storehouse of knowledge they accumulate day to day on the job. Giving people the opportunity to participate in improving the product pays off, because workers realize security isn’t worth a hoot if the product is shoddy.” — Dr. Deming

When we finally overcome the monster that is terrorizing our world, we must begin the task of restoring honor to people who work for a living by paying decent wages and not allowing .1% of the population to control 40 percent of the wealth in our country.  We must continue to allow people to have more joy, fun, meaning, passion, education and purpose in their lives by integrating these factors at home, at school and at work.   We must start to do more research and to invest more in long term goals for health care, education, infrastructure and the environment.  Unless we value these goals as much as we value the daily stock quote, we will become as obsolete as the dinosaurs were.  Dr. Deming always said: “Survival is not Compulsory.”

P.S.

I found this “Letter to the Editor” in my local paper the day after I wrote the above blog.  I think it summarizes pretty well how some people feel about our present system of employment and work.  

Casa Grande Dispatch, Thursday April 2, 2020

Editor, Casa Grande Dispatch:

As an American who was born in 1941, I ain’t lookin’ like no “spring chicken.” That should not mean it is OK to wring my neck to save the U.S. economy. I am not quite ready to die for a chronic boom and bust system that excessively enriches a few at the top while marginally supporting ordinary workers. An economic system that also must periodically be bailed out by taxpayers — also to the benefit of those at the top — is not worth dying for.

I might be willing to sacrifice for a stable and sustainable economy that recognizes the primary value workers add to the economy both in the creation of wealth and as consumers. If 70% of GDP is generated by consumer spending, it should make sound economic sense for corporations to pay the worker/consumer a living wage along with regular increases and a strong benefit package. I am old enough to remember a short period of time when that was what corporations did while still remaining profitable. That was also a time when the American middle class grew and prospered.

Try me again when work is valued at least equally with investment and inheritance. Try me again when there is an institutionalized economic system that guarantees economic fairness for all who work and support for all who cannot. That might be something an old person like me would be willing to die for because it would truly help my grandkids and my country. In the meantime, those who are still looking for senior citizens to sacrifice for this yo-yo economy — consider starting with the politician who came up with the idea in the first place.

John T.

Tucson

 

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