Endless Horizons:  How We Learn and Develop

horizons and clouds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Questions:

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

Life is just beginning.

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

What the Hell Do We Need Morality For?

morals and ethicsThis blog is about the subject of morality.  Once upon a time, they taught morality in school and in church.   The first system of morality that many older Americans were exposed to was probably the “Ten Commandments.”   This was a code of rules given to the Israelites by Moses on Mount Sinai.  I have always thought it ironic that a set of morals from the “Old Testament” were supposed to be the foundation for a Christian America.  Even today, advocates of this code of morality want to hang it in town halls, schools, courts and government centers.  This is a part of the Bible that also promoted an “eye for an eye” and stoning adulterers.  Of course, Jesus did say “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus added at least one commandment to all others that was even more valuable than the ten TenCommandmentsMoses gave.   Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John: 13:34).  I would be much more in favor of seeing this posted in my neighborhood than the Ten Commandments.

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Lust7 deadly sins
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

Some of you might think that this list is old fashioned or out of date.  How could this set of implicit moral values make a difference in our society?  These are so old; do they really have any relevance anymore?  You have only to look at the world today, to persuade yourself that these “sins” are at the top of the list of major problems.  Greed, envy, gluttony and lust appear pervasive in our culture.  TV shows, movies, magazines, radio, supermarkets, superstars, sports, credit services, escort services, pornography, Las Vegas all portray an American brand of materialism that is nothing short of sick.  Get it now, get it fast, and get more and moreMore is better!  Bigger is better!  Shop till you drop!  He who has the most toys wins!

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

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

ARTICLE 29 —  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I think we should care about morality? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Questions:

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

Life is just beginning.

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

What if We Can Accomplish the Impossible Dream?  

(Please click on the Song “The Impossible Dream” and listen to it while you read my blog)

The Impossible Dream” –  MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972).   Music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion

dream-the-impossible-1-9To dream the impossible dream.  To have goals that no one believed you could reach.  To have a purpose in life that was divine.  To strive for more than you thought you deserved.  To challenge convention and defy the experts who told you that you could not do it.  To live the life that you believed in and to find the passion that touched your heart.  To die with no regrets because you lived the life you chose.

To fight the unbeatable foe.  To challenge those worth defying. To upset the status quo when it is wrong.  To battle authority and convention when it is immoral.  To rage against injustice and immorality wherever and whoever is involved. To protect the little person and stand up for right and fairness.  To be a human and champion humanity against injustice and greed.

To bear with unbearable sorrow.  To suffer the slings and arrows of injustice and ingratitude.  To become a pariah among others.  To endure insults and calumny.  To be shunned by friends and family alike because of your beliefs.  To be the minority in face of an outraged majority.  To be different when everyone else is going along.

To run where the brave dare not go.  To go where all say is foolish.  To challenge Goliath. To standup to the system that cannot be beat.  To believe that you can when all say you cannot.

To right the unrightable wrong.  To have no chance to win but to try anyway.  To choose your battles based on dreams_quote_2right and not possibilities.  To strive when all say it’s over.  To persevere in the face of sure defeat.

To love pure and chaste from afar.  To love right more than life. To love unconditionally. To love without reciprocity.  To care for others when they despise and revile you.  To believe in fairness and justice when they seem impossible.  To return hurt with kindness. To return meanness with love.

To try when your arms are too weary.  To find strength when you are exhausted. To pick yourself up when you are down.  To make one more effort when you have given up.  To push that last ounce of effort you did not think you had.  To make one more attempt when everyone said to give up.  To get off the mat, when the crowd says “stay down.”

To reach the unreachable star.  To reach for the heavens when you were told to stick to the earth.  To dream beyond fantasies.  To surpass expectations that chained you by birth.  To strive for the sublime instead of the mundane.

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

fallow your dreamsWhat will my life matter if I do not reach for what I believe in?  What value will I leave the world, if I do not try to change things?  Can I go through life simply doing what others expect and never exceeding their expectations?  Is this what I want from life?  Do I have the courage to expect more and to follow my passions and dreams?  Will I let others pull me back to the safety and security of the masses?  How far will I go to make a difference and to stand up for what I believe?

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

Do I have the will to die for my ideals?  Would I take the hemlock like Socrates to live my beliefs?  Would I suffer crucifixion like Jesus to make amends for the wrongs of the world?  Am I willing to risk being a martyr for the right cause?  What will I put my life on the line for?  Will I die for my family and friends if needed?

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

Do I realize that there are no guarantees in this world?  Can I live with only the certainty of my death?  Will I sacrifice the goal of security for the ideal of integrity?

And the world will be better for thisdreams_with_dolphins_by_dolcecaramella-d70to9l
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

What will humanity be if we give up our dreams in favor of reality?  What if we have no passions?  What if the profane takes precedence over the sacred?  What will we become if we sacrifice ideals for practicality?  What if all we strove and died for was what we could buy now on credit?

Time for Questions:

I think I have already asked enough questions in this blog but perhaps allow me one final one.  “What will you stand up for or die for to make the world a better place?”

Life is just beginning.

scary-optical-illusion-12“Too much sanity may be madness.  And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”   ― Miguel de Cervantes SaavedraDon Quixote

 

 

The Ninth Greatest Mystery of All Time:  What is Life?

lifePeculiar that question is!  Perhaps it is the most peculiar of all the mysteries.  Life is life is it not?  I am either dead or alive.  When I stop living my heart stops beating.  I stop breathing.  My mind dies.  Rigor mortis sets in and my limbs become rigid.  My body begins to decay — BUT STOP– We are describing death not life.

Life is joy.   Life is action.   Life is love.  Love is friendship.  Love is compassion.  Life is charity.  Life is pain and life is pleasure.  Life is complex and life is simple.  Life is toil and life is rest.

In the famous story Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a number of graves are robbed to provide body parts for a scientific experiment.  The goal of the experiment is to create life.  The patched up body is connected to a bunch of electrodes which are connected to some electrical conductors that are fed by huge electric generators.  At some point in the experiment, the generators explode amidst a large amount of sparks and electrical charges.  Somehow this has the effect of giving life to the dead body which is subsequently named Frankenstein monsterFrankenstein after the scientist who created him.  Of course, a body that is stitched together with multiple body parts lacks a certain symmetry that is considered necessary for human beauty.  Thus, Frankenstein is labeled a monster since he does not conform to traditional norms in terms of his physical appearance.

It is interesting that we find electricity to be connected with life.  Atoms resonate at a certain speed and when they stop resonating death ensues.  If we can mix the right ingredients in a petri dish or a test tube (some call it primal soup) and then run an electric current through it, will we create life?  We have described life earlier but we did not really describe life.  What we described were the symptoms of life, the effects of life.  Animation as opposed to stagnation.  Life is movement.  Death is stillness.  But what is life itself?  What is that spark that we think is connected to an electrical current?

See http://whatislife.stanford.edu/LoCo_files/What-is-Life.pdf  — This is the famous lecture given by Erwin Schrödinger in 1943 at Trinity College in Dublin.

While we live, we defy the logic and order of the universe.  We defy entropy and we defy chaos.  We defy all the known laws of existence.  On this planet, third from the Sun in a not so unique solar system in one of a zillion galaxies in perhaps one of a zillion universes, life has sparked.  Was it electricity, solar energy, geothermal heat, magnetic waves, primal radiation, DNA or will power?  What was the key which created animation from inanimate matter?

Genetics pioneer J. Craig Venter announced Thursday that he and his team have created artificial life for the first time.  Using sequences of genetic code created on a computer, the team assembled a complete DNA of a bacterium, then inserted it in another bacterium and initiated synthesis, or in Venter’s words “booted up” the cell.  In a statement, Venter called the results “the proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating cell,” controlled only by the synthetic genome.   Time.com: Scientist creates life.

So we have self-replicating computer cells, interesting but the snag is that they started with a living cell.  They created a new cell out of an already living cell.  Quite a feat but not the same as creating life.  If we are going to create life, it seems we must first find out what life is.  Philosophers, scientists, generals and theologians will all have a different definition of life.

Socrates:  Life is honesty. Life is integrity.  Life is the search for truth.  Life is understanding yourself.

Edwin Schrödinger:  Life seems to be orderly and lawful behavior of matter, not based exclusively on its tendency to go over from order to disorder, but based partly on existing order that is kept up.

General George S. Patton Jr.:  Better to fight for something than live for nothing.

St. Thomas Aquinas:  The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays His head against us.

DNASeems kind of funny, that no one whether they are a philosopher or scientist can answer the question “what is life?”  Well, they actually do answer the question, but it really tells us little or nothing about what “life” is.  Is life some type of electricity, organic plasma, atoms with a soul, a spirit or the breath of God?  What magic elixir or unknown form of energy renders inert matter into something living, learning and loving?  We can create babies but we cannot figure out how life begins or where the will to live comes from.

“It is interesting that Hindus, when they speak of the creation of the universe do not call it the work of God, they call it the play of God, the Vishnu lila, lila meaning play. And they look upon the whole manifestation of all the universes as a play, as a sport, as a kind of dance — lila perhaps being somewhat related to our word lilt”  — Alan Wilson WattsZen and the Beat Way

I remember years ago (from biology) that it was thought that the smallest unit of life was the cell.  Bacteria were considered to be alive but viruses were in some kind of limbo.  I still don’t really understand this since viruses seem to be doing the same think humans do: Replicating, killing and dying.  Here is what they say about viruses:

Viruses, like bacteria, are microscopic and cause human diseases. But unlike bacteria, viruses are acellular particles(meaning they aren’t made up of living cells like plants and animals are), consisting instead of a central core of either DNA or RNA surrounded by a coating of protein.

Viruses also lack the properties of living things: They have no energy metabolism, they do not grow, they produce no waste products, and they do not respond to stimuli. They also don’t reproduce independently but must replicate by invading living cells.

cold-virus-virus-The above sounds like a reasonable argument to make that viruses are not “living” in the same sense that cellular creatures are.  Nevertheless, they replicate, die and seem to have some will to live or at least as much will as many humans have.  If we assume that the opposite of living is dead, viruses are certainly not dead.  If one were to ask what the “life force” in a virus was or what motivates a virus to take over another organism’s cells, one would have to know what creates life.  The same problem with defining the life force in humans applies to viruses.

“For about 100 years, the scientific c community has repeatedly changed its collective mind over what viruses are. First seen as poisons, then as life-forms, then biological chemicals, viruses today are thought of as being in a gray area between living and nonliving: they cannot replicate on their own but can do so in truly living cells and can also affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly. The categorization of viruses as nonliving during much of the modern era of biological science has had an unintended consequence: it has led most researchers to ignore viruses in the study of evolution. Finally, however, scientists are beginning to appreciate viruses as fundamental players in the history of life.”  — http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-viruses-alive-2004/

So, where does that leave us with the initial question “What is life.”  I think the answer must remain we don’t know.  Is it willpower?  Is it a germ that we have not found yet?  Is it some chemical that when mixed with something else creates animation and sentience?  Is it some mysterious force in the universe that we have not yet identified?  Why are animals alive and rocks dead?  Could this mysterious force create “living rocks.”

I promised an answer to the 12 greatest mysteries of all time when I started this series of blogs.  In each one to date, I have attempted to provide some sort of an death-07answer.  Until now, I was fairly happy with my responses to each question.  This ninth question has me stumped.  I cannot think of any place to find an answer.  What makes life for humans may not be the same thing that makes life for a virus or a bacterium.  Goats and dogs might have very different definitions of life but seldom write books or poems about their feelings.   We may someday find out how to extend life but I think we are a long way from finding out what creates life.

“To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”  ― Teju ColeOpen City

Time for Questions:

What do you think creates life?  Do you think humans will ever be able to create life? Why or why not?  What do you think living means?  Do you live to the fullest or do you take life for granted?  What is the secret to your life?  If you could redo one thing in your life, what would it be?

Life is just beginning.

“The beginning is always today.”  ― Mary Shelley

The Goals of Life or Should We Live a Life without Goals? Part 1

ImageOne of the common assumptions of modern life is that we all need to set goals.  It is said that our goals should be purposeful and measurable.  Furthermore, we are told that without such goals, we are doomed to live a life of meaninglessness.  Minus thoughtful goals, we will be like Alice in Wonderland where since Alice had no purpose or direction in Wonderland, it did not matter which direction she went.  Heaven forbid it!

But could modern wisdom be wrong?  Could common assumptions about the importance of goals be another of life’s many canards?  In my blog this week, I would like to explore the role of goals in our lives and look at whether or not they really are useful or are they simply another tyranny of a materialistic society that wants us to be running like rats on a treadmill.  Forever and forever scurrying through all eternity trying to achieve more and more and enjoying life less and less!  (By the way, I love exclamation points because they get rid of those annoying green lines that Word places in phrases that it does not like.)

Let us start our discussion by breaking goals down into two fundamental categories.  The first category concerns “goals for others.”  These are goals that we set either by malevolence or benevolence but they are destined to impact the lives of others.  Missionaries (depending on who you ask) may be thought of as having benevolent goals.  Dictators and tyrants (depending on who you ask) may be thought of as having malevolent goals.

The second category concerns “goals for ourselves.”  These are goals that we set to help us achieve either current or future objectives.  Thus, if I want to become set goalssuccessful, I may set a goal of going to college and obtaining a degree in law or politics or business.  This will be a future goal.  A more current goal would be to find some means to raise enough money to pay for my college education.  The element of time is somewhat flexible in determining whether it is a future goal or current goal and the distinction has created many an argument between people.  The indisputable element here is that we pursue these goals to benefit our own well-being. There is no altruism or charity in this category of goals.  Having said this, all distinctions are really like water. They are very fluid.  I am using these two basic categories to facilitate discussion and not with any hope of creating a uniform or indisputable and universally accepted definition.

Proceeding on with our discussion, we can identify under these two categories of goals, four specific goals that many would say are the four most important goals in the world.  I am not going to challenge this assumption.  For our discussion of goals, I will accept that these four goals are extraordinarily worthwhile objectives.  Furthermore, they are four in both of our major categories.  The four specific goals are:

  • Happiness
  • Health
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom

I am going to accept each of these goals at face value and forego any discussion of whether they are cause or effect.  I am also willing to accept that whether outcome or process they all are objectives that few of us would forego.  Thus, if a genie appeared to almost anyone on the face of the earth and said:  “Would you like to have eternal health, wealth, wisdom or happiness, there would be very few who would turn any one of these goals down.  We can put these goals into a table as follows.

Goals for Others Goals for Ourselves
Happiness Happiness
Health Health
Wealth Wealth
Wisdom Wisdom

Returning to the original question, “should we live a life with or without goals?” it is obvious that we must first answer a second question:  “Can any of these goals (In either category) ever be accomplished?”  If the most important goals we can set for life are impossible to achieve then it would seem wise to assume that “goal setting” is a waste of time.  Let us consider one by one each of these eight possible goals and see how many (or even if any of them) are really attainable.  What can we honestly expect to achieve for ourselves and others?

 Image

Happiness for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family happy.  What would you say to that goal?  If you are honest, you would probably say that it was a ridiculous goal and that no one can make anyone else happy.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot insure that the things we do will bring happiness to other people.  Happiness, you may wisely note is more of an inside job.  It depends more on our expectations and views of the world then what other people do for us.  Conclusion:  Don’t waste your time. 

Health for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family healthy.  This sounds like a goal that someone in a medical profession might pursue.  But how healthy can even a doctor make someone else?  Again, honesty would lead to the conclusion that nature and personal factors have more to do with health than even the best MD or medical practitioner.  Science has made major strides in helping populations become healthier but few are the medical people who could claim that they have made people healthy.  To make someone healthy would be almost an impossible task.  The best we can accomplish is to help prevent certain diseases and to help alleviate the effects of other diseases.  Conclusion:  We can help make people healthier but health is a state influenced by too many variables to be under the control of anyone but God.

Wealth for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family wealthy.  If I could make enough money, I could donate or leave it to my heirs or to some type of philanthropic foundation.  The skeptic in me would reject the idea that all of the donations in history have had much impact on world poverty.   I could be a teacher and teach other people how to make money or run a successful business. I could also be a consultant or business investment advisor and teach others how to wisely run their businesses or investments.  There is little doubt that we can help people have more money or even use their resources more wisely, but how many people have been made wealthy by the advice of others?  As a business instructor and management consultant for over 30 years, I can tell you that the answer is very few. When I look at the Forbes List of Richest People in the World, I see self-made billionaires, most of who were initially laughed at for their efforts.  I doubt Bill Gates, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Richard Branson or Warren Buffett depended very much on consultants or business teachers for advice.   Conclusion:  We can help people manage their money better but individuals make themselves wealthy. 

ImageWisdom for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family wise.  In order to see if this is possible, let us first look at Socrates.  Socrates was a teacher.  According to the Oracle at Delphi, Socrates was the wisest man in the world. Thus, we may ask the question:  Did Socrates teach other Athenians to be wise?  This is not a simple or easy question to answer.  Socrates did not accept that he was wise and went looking for a wise man but could not find one.  He never claimed to be teaching his students to be wise, but merely how to question assumptions and conventions.  Is a person who questions wise? How many wise people do you know?  Is wisdom a matter of age or does college teach you to be wise?  I would argue that school and teachers can give you knowledge but only life and your experiences drawn from life can give you wisdom.  Conclusion:  No one can make any other person wise.

If you accept the majority of my arguments so far, I think it would lead to the obvious conclusion that we cannot really make anyone else healthy, wealthy, wise or happy.  These are tasks that are far beyond our ability to have more than a minor impact on.  However, I am not yet ready to dismiss the power of goal setting.  Before I can do this we must turn to the second category of goals: goals for ourselves.  Do we have the ability to accomplish goals for ourselves?  If we can achieve even one of these objectives, then it would be ridiculous to say that goal setting is a waste of time.  In fact, given the seriousness of each of these goals, it would necessitate establishing goal setting as a serious repertoire in our lives.

In Part 2, which I will publish next week, we will look at each of these second category goals and see how much impact we can have on them.  If we really cannot make much of a difference for others, perhaps we can at least set goals that will make a difference in our lives.

Time for Questions:

Have you ever set goals for other people?  What goals have you set for others?  Have you been able to accomplish them?  What helped you or hindered you in this effort?  Do you think it was a valuable use of your time? Why or why not? What would you do different if you could do it over?

Life is just beginning.

Grow Old Along with Me

We think of growing old and we think of aged people, old people, retired people, elderly people, nursing home people and dying people.  When we think of growing old, we don’t think of babies, teenagers, young people and college students.  Ironic in a way, since everyone from birth to death is growing old or is at least growing older.  Perhaps that is the difference.  Growing old seems to Imagemean aged.  Growing older is a process while growing old denotes a physical condition.    Old means droopy skin, failing health, difficulty walking and a general decline in one’s ability to be mobile.  To some, old is a state of being or as others would say a state of mind.  Call old what you will, but none can deny the physical deterioration that comes with growing older.

In the Velveteen Rabbit, as the stuffed toy rabbit grows older, he becomes more and more worn and raggedy.  Despite his aging, the rabbit becomes more and more loved by the boy who has become his constant companion through the years.  The love of the boy eventually makes the ImageVelveteen Rabbit “real.”  Regardless of the rabbit’s becoming threadbare, torn and disfigured, the Velveteen Rabbit gains a persona that can only be understood by someone who values longevity, companionship and friendship.

Of course, we all value companionship and longevity; many people in our lives are like the Velveteen Rabbit.  Our sisters and brothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, our mothers and fathers and our good friends and spouses; will all become older and older and older.  Eventually, they all become aged, misshapen, wrinkled and decrepit.  But if they have been good companions through the years, we are blind to their aging process.  We only see the love and caring that they have shown us.  We are blind to their difficulty with hearing and their inability to keep up with us.  We only see the person who was kind and thoughtful to us.  We are blind to their infirmaries and disabilities.  We only see the person who took care of us and helped us in our time of need.

I sometimes look at my spouse Karen who has put on pounds and wrinkles and walks slower than she used to.  Over the years, she has become more and more beautiful.  Looking back, I am not sure Karen was real to me when we were first dating and even married.  It has taken nearly 30 years of togetherness for Imageme to more fully appreciate the person that she is and it is still a process that is evolving.  The commitments that she makes to others often go beyond my understanding.   The kindness and compassion that she shows to those who are in need is more than touching.  The many ways she sacrifices what she wants so that she can help me get what I want have all made Karen real to me.

One of the saddest things, you hear at funerals, is the comment “I wish I had spent more time with them.”   It is probably inevitable that we feel this way.  Having pondered this comment over many wakes and funerals, I wonder if more time would really have made a difference.  I rather think it would be the “quality” of time we spent with others.  You may think that I am simply citing a cliché “quality of time?”  What is this elusive quality of time?  Some examples from my own life with Karen illustrate this concept for me.  Perhaps for you it will be different:

  • Sharing meals together
  • Going to hospital visits together
  • Sharing back rubs and massages
  • Reading together
  • Traveling together
  • Shopping together
  • Spending quiet time together
  • Being concerned with each other’s work
  • Helping each other whenever we can
  • Checking in each day to see how the other is doing
  • Always hugging and greeting each other when going or coming
  • Taking care of each other when sick

My list might seem trivial to you.  Your list might be very different.  Nevertheless, what if we spent the time with our loved ones that enabled all of us to say when they are no longer with us that:  “I am glad I spent the time with them that I did.”   Is the time we spend watching TV or football or golfing, or fishing so precious that we could not have spent a little more time growing older with our loved ones?

Image

We are inundated with emails, text messages, advertisements, news, news and more news.  Our minds and brains are saturated with people beseeching us to buy, sell, rent, borrow, donate, loan or vote.  The rest of our time, we are numbed by media depictions of trivia, deprivations and horror.   We are fascinated by Hollywood, Bollywood and royalty.  For many of us, Princess Kate is more real than our own brother or sister.

When Princess Diana was killed, I remember seeing a co-worker who had a shrine in her cubicle for the Princess.   Princess Diana was one of the most popular people in the world.  She was real for many because they lived her life with her.  Recent polls show ImagePrincess Kate is now as popular as Diana once was.  The media is making Kate real for us just as it once did for Diana.  The sad part of this is not that we identify with and make these people real, it is that we fail to make the truly important people in our lives real.  How much do you know about the lives, wishes, hopes, dreams and fears of the really important people in your life?  Do you get as much news about and with them as you get about Princess Kate?

GROW old along with me!   (From Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning)

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:        

Our times are in His hand    

Who saith ‘A whole I planned,                 

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!’

I think we fail to teach our children the value of time.  We teach the value of money, but we neglect to teach the value of time.  It might be argued that money and time are valued according to their scarcity.  To the young, time is plentiful and money is scarce.  To the old, time is scarce and money is (if not plentiful) at least often more abundant.  If this argument is correct, then it would be a waste of time trying to teach the value of either time or money.  Their value is fixed according to age.  I disagree with this argument.

ImageI think if you look closely, many older people have never valued time as much as they still value money.  And many young people fully understand the value of time and would readily put it over the lure of more and more money.  If this is so, then it suggests that the value of each is not fixed by age but by some mental process perhaps not fully understood.  If a mental concept or construct is at work here, it can be modified or changed by reason and logic.   I may be justified in thinking that young children need to be told that time is valuable and that in many cases it is not fungible.  You can never replace or substitute money or goods for the time that you did not spend with your family, friends or loved ones.

Time has every right to be as respected a discipline as the study of money.  In capitalism, money becomes King, money is good. We pervert nature by upending the true value of things. Tangibles become more important than intangibles.  Goods become more important than services.  Greed becomes more important than charity.  Youth becomes more important than experience.

Aristotle was right in his use of the Golden Mean concept to show how to create a balance that was harmonious with the world.  ImageAnything taken to extremes becomes evil or distorted.  Time and money are the pivots upon which the world rotates.  They must be kept in harmony.  We have lost our balance though and let money become the sacred source of happiness and success.  Perhaps the really wealthy people are the ones with more time.  Why wait until retirement to become truly wealthy?

Time for Questions:

Do you have a balance in your life between time and money?  Do you keep the really important things in your life in proper perspective?  Do you value time as much as you value money?  Do you think we need to do more to help have a balance in our country?  Are you willing to share your time with others?  How about your money?

Life is just beginning. 

 

 

The Seven Secrets of Everything: Part 1

seven secrets cover pageI must apologize.  I know there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of books with “Seven Secrets” that you need to know for love, happiness, wealth, health or whatever.  Over the years, I have been amazed at the sheer volume of memoirs and self-help books that rely on the number seven to dispense their wisdom.  I remember learning in a psychology course, that the average person can remember seven unrelated items with the range being 5 to 9.  Statistically, we could say that five to nine defines a range of three (+/-)standard deviations within which 99.73 percent of a normal population will fall.  Practically speaking, this means that most human beings can remember between five to nine random numbers the ideal or mean being 7.

Thus having phone numbers, car license plates, or anything requiring memory retention based on the number seven makes a great deal of sense.  This also explains why there are so many books and writers who base their theories on the number Seven!  You did not really think that Seven of anything would suffice to provide you with success, wealth and happiness?  Not to mention happy polite children and a health regimen where you could eat whatever you want and not gain weight.  Of course, there is a multitude of “experts” trying to sell you their system who want you to believe that “Seven” is the magic number.

To explore the above hypothesis, I went to Amazon and typed in the following words in parentheses in the books section.  I then queried Google Search and tried them for results.  Below alongside the word pairs are the number of entries:

                                   Amazon Books            Google Search

  • Two secrets:              1,104                    212,000
  • Six secrets:                    597                    204,000
  • Seven secrets:           1,333                    1,090,000
  • Eight secrets:                 291                   43,000
  • Ten secrets:                   714                   211,000

 

You can clearly see that regardless of methods, “Seven Secrets” is by far the preferred theory.  On Google Search Seven Secrets was over 5 to 1 as numerous as any other combination.

Okay, so now that we have established the reason for and the importance of “Seven”, I will give you my list of Seven Secrets.  I call my list the Seven Secrets of Everything for the simple reason that my Seven Secrets will give you all the abilities, skills and talents that you need to know in life.  The other lists will be helpful when it comes to specifics.  However, my Seven Secrets are the keys to unlocking all the other Secrets that those more well-known authors (Covey et. al) and pundits will be trying to sell you.

My secrets are the keys to “Everything.”  Like Tolkien’s “One Ring to Bind them All,” my secrets are the keys to unlocking the power of all the other secrets in the universe.  Whether you are trying to overcome divorce, build a new business, find a life partner, relocate to another climate or simply find the best recipes on the web, my secrets will guide you to Total Personal Satisfaction in whatever you do 100 percent of the time.  And here is the best part of all.

Unlike other authors, writers, philosophers and lecturers, I will give you mine for free and I also promise that you will never be asked for an endorsement or any follow-up purchases.  I also promise not to bombard you with advertisements, send you text messages or spam email.  I also promise that I will not do any product related endorsements to compromise the value of my Seven Secrets of Everything.  You only get a deal like this once in a life-time so read on for the Seven Secrets of Everything.

Well, I have a confession to make before we go any further.  On Wednesday of this week, I had Prostate surgery and spent most of Wednesday (Jan 22) and Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.  No, I did not forget the Seven Secrets of Everything, but I am home now spending most of my time in bed.  I noticed while writing this blog, that at the point of sitting for about one hour, I was hurting and tired.  Thus, I have decided to do this blog in two parts.  Next blog, I promise I will share my Seven Secrets of Everything with you and give you some good solid reasons for believing in these secrets.  For now, I will go back to bed, rest and write some more later.  Thanks for your patience.

Time for Questions:

Do you have a favorite list of Secrets?  How many Secrets do you practice or follow?  Why?  Would you share your List of Secrets with us in the comments section?  Can we really reduce life to Seven of anything?  Can these lists be helpful to guide us to more success and happiness?

Life is just beginning.

One of my physicians called me on Friday (Jan 24) to say that the lab results suggest they were able to get most of the cancer and that it had not spread out of my prostate.  Thus, I am minus one prostate, but also minus one cancer.  It was probably a good tradeoff and certainly an apt way to continue living the beginning of my life.

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