How to be civil in an uncivil world

Ms Hudson’s piece is marvelous.  She is a wonderful writer with insights on civility that we all need to think about.  This copy is from a site it was posted on with shares.  The site is called Civic Renaissance.  I advise everyone to sign up for this site and enjoy some excellent writing.

On Plato and civility: reflecting on Plato during his traditionally recognized birthday month, and civility for International Civility Month + win a YEAR of WONDRIUM!

Gracious reader,

May is the month that scholars traditionally deem to be the birthday of Plato. Also, certain authorities have declared that May is International Civility Awareness Month.

The School of Athens, a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, painted between 1509 and 1511.

I’ve been thinking of both of these topics of late.

Plato and civility are never far from my mind, but I recently emerged from an experience that caused me to lean and reflect on them all the more.

(For those new to the Civic Renaissance community, my upcoming book on civility will be published by St. Martin’s press in May 2023.)

A recent, tumultuous business transaction prompted me to consider how civility applies to the real world—a and to ask a question that you may have considered, too.

How can we be civil in an uncivil world?

Is it possible for people who are committed to the principles of decency, courteousness, and treating others with basic respect to succeed and thrive when others do not abide by these principles?

Or is it a hopeless cause?

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The story

In a recent business situation, the opposite party lacked all manner of basic decency.

Their behavior did not quite reach the level of illegal — although it did come perilously close—they were certainly unethical. More than anything, however, they were just terribly unprofessional and unpleasant to work with.

But their conduct reminded me of the importance of basic civility that many of us take for granted. It is only when norms of courtesy and respect are broken that we fully appreciate their importance to helping us co exist with others in society.

It’s an important truth: we note and appreciate civility most in its absence.

I define civility as the basic respect we are owed by virtue of our shared dignity and equal moral worth as human beings. We owe this to others regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they are from, whether or not we like them, and whether or not they can do anything for us.

I live and breathe civility and have studied social norms across history and culture— including countless instances of when they have been broken. I was still taken aback by how unpleasant the entire interaction was because of the absence of civility and mutual respect.

From the outset the opposite party was more than rude. They dispensed of basic courtesies from the get go. They didn’t even attempt to appear generous, amicable, or conscientious.

They were single-minded in their aim: all things personal aside, they wanted to get the absolute best deal possible at any cost.

Business is business, I’m sure they were thinking.

They forgot that there was a person on the other end of the transaction.

This resulted in me feeling used, squeezed, bullied, nickeled and dimed throughout negotiations.

It brought out the worst in me.

Instead of making me want to help them or instead of making me want to reach an agreement of mutual benefit, their conduct inflamed my baser nature, tempting me to go “scorched-earth,” ensuring they didn’t get what they wanted even if it hurt me, too.

I was frustrated by the fact that we were operating on two different moral and ethical levels.

I tried to stay high when they went low, yet every grating exchange with them made me want to sink to their level, where all bets and codes of decency were off.

In the end, rather miraculously, we came to an agreement.

I managed to prevent my baser nature from winning out. I was able to rise above the pettiness and the vindictiveness that I wanted to respond with— a facet of the human personality that we all share when we feel we are under threat.

But it wasn’t an experience I particularly enjoyed.

I was left with feelings of frustration and exhaustion. I felt like I had been disrespected and degraded.

I also felt disappointed in myself.

Most of us have probably had thoughts like this during and after interactions with people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get the upper hand:

Should I have been tougher?

Was my commitment to civility in the face of incivility a handicap?

Did my attempt to uphold my values allow me to be taken advantage of?

This experience has caused me to consider the practical importance of civility in life.

Won’t the person who is willing to go low—one who is willing to throw off the shackles of decency and civility—always win out?

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How to be good in bad world

“How to be civil in an uncivil world” is a variation of an important question that people have been considering for a long, long time: how can a good person succeed in a world of evil?

Renaissance thinker and author of The PrinceNiccolo Machiavelli, who we have explored in a past CR issue, observed that, in history those who tend to gain and maintain power appear to have morals publicly, but privately dispense with their values the moment they get in the way.

“Politics have no relation to morals,” wrote Machiavelli.

Also in The Prince: “Thus it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise you may be able to change to the opposite qualities.”

In other words, Machiavelli argues that one who wishes to be powerful must be willing to dispense with the moral bounds of civility if the need arises.

While the civil person is contained by their commitment to civility, the uncivil person can do whatever is necessary to win.

Socrates—the Greek philosopher Plato’s teacher, and the protagonist in his dialogues—took a different view. He would take issue with how Machiavelli defines “winning.”

Socrates said that justice is to the soul what health is to the body. If a person gets the better end of a business deal, wins an argument, or comes out on top of a political battle, but does so by cutting corners and being dishonest, he hasn’t really “won” anything.

His soul is unhealthy and sick.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates attacks the poet Homer, the educator of Greece, because he doesn’t like the values that Homer’s poems promote.

Achilles, the protagonist of The Iliad, embodies the ethics of revenge, slaughter, and vainglory.

Odysseus, the protagonist of The Odyssey, embodies the ethic of wiliness and deceit in order to come out on top of any situation.

Socrates purposes a new ethic: one that loves wisdom.

He wants to trade the ethic of revenge, “might makes right,” and vindictiveness with a shared love and pursuit of goodness, beauty, and truth.

Socrates believes that anyone who acts with injustice does so out of ignorance—after all, who would willingly make themselves sick? Who would knowingly choose sickness of the soul?

“Living well and living rightly are the same thing,” Socrates said in The Crito.

Socrates argues that a just person has an excellent and healthy soul, and the function of a just soul and person is to seek the justice and soulish health of others, too.

Socrates noted that it is not then the function of the just man to harm either friend or anyone else. Seeking to harm is an act of injustice, and therefore harms the harmer. The function of the just person is to seek the good of others, friends and enemies alike.

In a related sentiment, Abraham Lincoln once said, “Do I not defeat my enemy when I make him my friend?”

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Final thoughts: on virtuous and vicious cycles, and on unbundling people and situations

There are three thoughts I’d like to leave with you.

First, we should not underestimate the power we each have to promote trust and civility in our world.

Second, learning to “unbundle” people and situations can help us mitigate the vicious cycles of incivility that are so detrimental to a free and flourishing society.

Third, we must remember when we encounter incivility in our modern world — and we invariably will, as the problem of incivility is endemic to human nature and human social life — we have a choice about how to respond.

Norms of decency and courtesy comprise an unwritten social contract between us and our fellow citizens. We take this contract for granted, which is why when this bond is broken, we are surprised, offended, and dismayed. When people don’t uphold their end of the social contract, we lose a little bit of faith and trust in society and others.

When that trust in others and society is corroded by the thoughtlessness and incivility of others, often we are less likely to act in good faith and civility in our future interactions. Our less-than-civil response to others may in turn cause them to be unkind to others with which they engage.

And so the vicious cycle continues.

My recent experience with bad actors made me appreciate those today who claim that “all bets are off” when it comes to decency in public life. We often hear things like, “The other side has gone to a whole new low. How can I be expected to stay civil?”

We also see evidence of the “vicious cycle” all around us in politics today. When one figure breaks norms and bounds of decency everyone else feels like they have to so as to keep up.

We contribute to this trust-corroding ripple effect when we are uncivil. Others do, too, with their incivility. The incivility of others often tempts us to relinquish the shackles of decency in order to “win.”

But we must resist—for our own sake, for others, and for society.

We cannot control the conduct of others.

We can only control ourselves.

We must also learn to mentally unbundle people and situations. This means not assuming things about their character because of one deed, word, or interaction you had with them. We must learn to unbundle situations. This means not allowing one bad interaction or instance to corrode your trust in society in general.

This is much easier in theory than in practice. This is much easier said than done. but again, in the end we cannot control others. We can only control ourselves.

Socrates and Machiavelli remind us of why we are civil in the first place. The reason to be civil isn’t instrumental. It isn’t just a tool of success. As we’ve seen, sometimes it can be an impediment to success. Civility is instead a disposition, an outgrowth of seeing people as they really are: as beings with irreducible moral worth and deserving of respect. This is worthy for it’s own sake, even if it means we don’t gain the upper hand of every business dealing.

Being uncivil is poison to the soul. When we treat people as means to our ends, it hurts and degrades them, but also us, too.

Machiavelli is famous for the amoral aphorism: “The ends justifies the means.”

Socrates would respond, “But what is your end?”

No earthly battle is worth compromising your soul for.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Can you empathize with my experience? Have you had an experience where it felt like decency was not a match for indecency? Write to me with your story and how you dealt with it at ah@alexandraohudson.com
  2. Who do you find more persuasive: Machiavelli or Socrates? Do you think we can be civil in an uncivil world? Or will incivility always win out?

Thank you Ms. Hudson for a great piece of writing and morality.  

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

The Beauty of Diversity

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Diversity is the most beautiful thing in the world.  If you can suspend your judgements and look at the world through the perspective of diversity, you will be treated to a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, habits, traditions, ideas, beliefs, and stories.  You will see a world that is complex beyond belief.  A world that no artist or musician or writer could even begin to describe.  Take away diversity and the world is a grey amalgam of people who look alike, think alike, and act alike.  Diversity makes the world interesting and challenging.

For some, diversity conjures up the idea of race.  Many people think of diversity only in terms of race or gender.  I remember when I used to facilitate leadership teams and project teams.  I would use the Myer Briggs Personality Inventory to balance out specific psychological characteristics for my teams.  My primary thought was that we needed a balance of viewpoints and ways of looking at problems.  The Myer Briggs rated people on 4 scales that included:  introversion versus extraversion, thinking versus feeling, perceiving versus judging and concrete orientation versus sensing orientation.  I wanted to ensure that I had a diversity of thinking styles and not just gender or ethnic diversity.

There are many kinds of diversity.  Scientists have shown that the concept of race is not very scientific.  I shall call the various skin colors in the human race as pigmentation diversity.  We can also have cultural or ethnic diversity, intellectual diversity, gender diversity and religious diversity.  Each of the aforementioned types of diversity can add flavor and spice to life, IF and that is the big issue IF.  IF, you are open minded to the differences in the human race, diversity can be a blessing.  However, diversity can be a two-edged sword.  By its very nature, diversity tends to be exclusive rather than inclusive.  Many people think that they are superior to others because of some attribute that they possess. 

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Some types of diversity are more exclusionary than others.  Income diversity, political diversity, education diversity and pigmentation diversity have led many people to unsubstantiated feelings of superiority.  Rich people may feel that they are superior to poor people.  Light skinned people may feel superior to darker skinned people.  More educated people may feel superior to less educated people.  The beauty of diversity gets twisted around like a pretzel until it is no longer recognizable.  It is hard to grasp the fact that some people are opposed to diversity and prefer to live among people who are exactly like them.  For these humans, diversity is something that they would eliminate from their lives.  The concept that “variety is the spice of life” fails to inspire those who think that they may have to share the world with people who are different. 

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There are too many people who do not understand the distinction between the concepts of difference and deficit.  Diversity is always a difference.  A deficit is something that is inferior to something else.  Only fools make the claim that diversity and deficits are the same.  Rich people are not better than poor people.  Educated people are not more intelligent than less educated people.  Lighter skinned people are not superior to darker skinned people. 

The words better, intelligent and superior have no causal relationship to groups of people.  People have a wide range of knowledge, skills, and abilities but none of these have been inextricably linked to color, gender, education, income, culture, religion, or numerous other aspects of diversity.  Of course there are some characteristics (particularly age) that can be linked to physical abilities but to assume that all younger people are better than all older people when it comes to physical abilities would be meaningless.  It would certainly not be a bias that anyone would choose to use for excluding older people from the human race.  I am thinking of the movie “Soylent Green” where older people were turned into food for the younger people when they were deemed too old to be useful to society. 

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When it comes to diversity, only the Vulcans had it right.  Their IDIC principle stood for “Infinite Diversity through Infinite Combination.”  The history of humanity exhibits a love hate affair with diversity.  The world is divided up by culture, ethnicity, religion, tribes, clans, and castes.  “Mine is better than yours” could be the motto for the human race.  My god, my religion, my skin color, my beliefs.  Small wonder that so many tragedies are brought on by our small-minded beliefs. 

Never before in history have we seen such stupidity and narrow mindedness circling the globe.  Stupidity and intelligence are two very different things.  In the past four years, I have witnessed stupidity among many highly intelligent and accomplished individuals.  Stupidity is a lack of breadth and depth when looking at the world.  When one only sees the benefits of their own tribe and sees the differences of other tribes as a deficit that is stupidity.  Two major factors account for much of the misery facing humanity today.

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The first factor that is driving volatility and unrest in many parts of the world is the availability of low cost and relatively high-speed transportation.  We are now capable of mixing the world with one big stirring spoon.  People have been warned in the USA that in so many years, white people will no longer be the majority.  This is perceived as a threat.  Elsewhere in the world, countries are facing a dilution of their traditional populations due to both forced and chosen migrations.  People who have lived with the “same” neighbors for years are now threatened by people of different backgrounds.  In the US, we have seen a huge increase in “gated” communities.  “Let’s keep out anyone who is different!”  Data from one survey in 2015 showed nearly 11 million Americans living in gated communities.  This number has surely increased dramatically in the past seven years.  Borders may serve the same purpose.  A large number of American citizens supported Trump’s building a border wall with Mexico.

One pundit asked and answered the question: “Why does America have so many gated communities?”

“Gated Communities are mainly successful because millions of Americans tend to seek happiness in their way of life.  Many of them are willing to pay a high price to live their own American dream while isolating themselves into artificial perfection with people and rules they chose.”

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The second factor driving much of the unrest in the world has been the availability of low-cost communication systems that are capable of both uniting and dividing cultures the world over.  The Internet and the cellphone are tools that can be used to improve the world.  They can be used to help people understand and appreciate the differences that exist in the world.  However, they can also be used to create greater animosity and divisiveness throughout the world.  People who are afraid of change and fear differences are much more likely to resort to media that allows them to join tribes of like-minded people.  Instead of becoming tools to improve civilization, the Internet and cellphones are used to destroy civilization.  By spreading misinformation, disinformation, and distortions, modern media has encouraged a negative rather than a positive view of diversity.   

Much of what I am saying is not new.  These characteristics of bigoty, ethnocentricity, xenophobia and racism have always been part of humanity.  When we mix fear and greed in the “melting pot”, and give pathways to these attributes, the result is violence and devastation. 

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On a minor scale think of a sporting event where people adopt an “identify” based on some misguided loyalty or egoistic need to a particular team.  The Packer fans sit on one side of the football stadium while the Viking fans sit on the other side.  The Japanese sit on one side of the soccer stadium and the South Koreans sit on the other side.  The Indians sit on one side of the cricket stadium and the Pakistanis sit on the other side.  Each side cheers the scoring and plays of “their” team while booing the plays of the other team.  When things don’t go well for one side, the result may be violence off the field as well as on it.  Soccer has a well-deserved record of riots and hooliganism.  I tried to count the number of soccer riots and lost count.  Hardly any sport in the world has been immune from instances of violence and mayhem.  People don’t enjoy having their “identity” defiled by being part of a losing team. 

I mentioned that “sports” is a minor scale event compared to events concerning religion, culture, politics, or economics.  Just imagine the potential for violence when Muslims versus Christians or Communists versus Capitalists or Democrats versus Republicans.  The amazing thing is that the world is not less civilized than it currently is.  People in the USA today bemoan the divisiveness in politics as something seemingly new.  I submit it is not new but that it has become more evident with the Internet and media.  The media love to hype every event to the nth degree in hopes of selling more advertisement.  Due to the numerous channels of communication that distort and bias events according to the prejudices of the perceiver, we now have chasms of truth, glaciers of lies and mountains of deceitfulness.  Stupidity and intolerance are beyond the pandemic stage and have become endemic the world over.  We have more to fear from bigotry than we do from the Corona virus. 

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How can we learn to see beauty in diversity?  How do we hope to overcome the ugliness that some people see in the differences that exist in the human race?  Can we convince people that a difference is not a deficit?  I think of words like tolerance, respect, understanding, open-mindedness, progressive, merciful, kindhearted, loving, and compassionate.  Is it too much to expect that we can show these later attributes to people who are different?  If we could only extend these thoughts to people who do not belong to our tribe, we could change the world.

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“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior, and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war.  And until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes and until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war.  And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained… now everywhere is war.”  ― Haile Selassie I, Selected Speeches

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

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The great jazz singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist Nina Simone sang the song of the title of my blog back in 1965. Although she did not write the song, the passion that Ms. Simone put into all of her songs would make you think that she was singing from personal experience.  Then agian, perhaps, we all have personal experience with the subject of this song.

Click on this link to hear Nina Simone’s renditionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ckv6-yhnIY

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There are many people who aspire (some even claim) to have no regrets in their life.  I am well beyond either the aspiration or any such claims.  I have lost track of the many regrets I have.  This song reminded me of one of them.  The song evokes memories of one of my famous phrases which I now deeply regret.  My regret is having unequivocally and mindlessly accepted the validity of this aphorism.   I am sure most of you have heard it.  “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  As I sit here now, I cannot tell you who coined this bit of doggerel or where I first encountered it.  Wikipedia claims that “The exact origin of this proverb is unknown and its form has evolved over time.”

A typical use of the phrase for me would entail the following situation.

My wife Karen would try to do something that she felt was either helpful or beneficial.  The results would not work out to deliver what she wanted.  I would get angry or disappointed.  Karen would become somewhat defensive and reply “I am sorry, but I had good intentions.”  I would counter with (yes, you guessed it); “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  You could then cut the silence for the next several hours with a butter knife.

Baby, do you understand me now

If, sometimes, you see that I’m mad

Don’t you know no one alive can always be an angel?

When everything goes wrong, you see some bad

 I should be thinking that no one is perfect.  Everyone screws up.  Karen can not be an angel and just like I am entitled to be angry and upset, so should she.  Who am I to judge her?

But, oh, I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

Oh, Lord, please, don’t let me be misunderstood

 I am full of regrets for the times I did not accept her apologies.  I often said that it was results that counted and not intentions.

You know, sometimes, baby, I’m so carefree

With a joy that’s hard to hide

And then, sometimes, again, it seems that all I have is worry

And then you’re bound to see my other side

It is so easy to get locked up in my own worries and problems and totally ignore the pain and devils that torment other people.  When things don’t go my way, I can condemn the stupidity and ignorance of others.  Their intentions do not count but mine do.

If I seem edgy, I want you to know

I never mean to take it out on you

Life has its problems, and I get more than my share

But that’s one thing I never mean to do, ’cause I love you

 So simple it is in the heat of the moment to forget love.  Love gets replaced by anger and pain and hurt.  The intentions that the other person had do not matter.  How can intentions replace disappointment and what seems like a lack of caring?

Oh, oh-oh-oh, baby, I’m just human

Don’t you know I have faults, like anyone?

Sometimes, I find myself alone, regretting some little foolish thing

Some simple thing that I’ve done

 You and I can never know what is in the hearts and minds of others.  We can guess.  We can ascribe.  We can assume.  All such efforts unless we can forgive will only make matters worse.  Things did not go as planned.  That is the way of the world.  Why do I expect others to be perfect when I am so far from it?  Karen would never deny that she has faults.  When we were married our counselor asked each of us if we could accept the faults and differences that were apparent in our personalities.  I said “YES” and have looked back many times over one of the biggest lies that I ever told.  It did not take too many days before I was trying to “undo” Karen’s faults.

Cause I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

Oh, Lord, please, don’t let me be misunderstood

Don’t let me be misunderstood

I try so hard, so please, don’t let me be misunderstood

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  This same road is probably also paved with the bones of people who could not understand the intentions of others.  The bones of people who so often like me could not accept that other people are not perfect, and that other people will often disappoint me.  The bones of people like me who could not accept that others were trying as hard as they could.

Yoda said that “There is no try, there is only do or do not.”  This is another aphorism that sounds good but suffers from a lack of hubris and feeling.  People will try and people will fail.  It is okay to value results, but you cannot get results without effort.  If you denigrate the efforts and intentions of others, you will insure a lack of results.  Easy to go through life when you rely on pithy sayings and show no empathy for the pain and stress that others are feeling.

Regrets can be a two edge sword.  They can cut us to ribbons with self-recriminations that do us and others no good.  However, they can also be a path to forgiving others and forgiving ourselves.  Perhaps the most difficult thing in the world is to understand the intentions of others.  Next time you think someone is screwing up, try to think what their intentions might be.  They might not be what you think they are.

Oh, Lord, please, don’t let me be misunderstood

Finding Fame, Fortune and Success:  Paths to Misery or Happiness?

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I have adapted an Osho (A noted Indian Mystic and Guru) story as follows:

Once upon a time there was a young boy named Vince who lived in Minnesota.  Every weekend when his chores around the farm were done, Vince would take his canoe out to one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes with his best friend and they would spend the afternoon fishing.  Somethings they would catch crappies, sometimes bluegills, sometimes even a walleye.  Sometimes they would not catch a single fish.  Striking out did not bother them one bit.  They were content just to be out on the lake together on a beautiful Minnesota summer day.

They would sit in the canoe casting their rods and talking about many things.  They would talk about school, parents, girls, and sports.  Often they would share their dreams and talk about what they wanted to be and do when they grew up.  One day Vince saw a large jet airliner going over head.  As he looked at the plane he said, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.  I want to be an airline pilot and fly all over the world. That is my dream.”

Years passed and Vince followed his dream.  He became an airline pilot for what was then Northwest Airlines.  Later, like many other airlines they merged and became United Airlines.  Vince was a lead pilot for a jumbo passenger jet.  He flew numerous routes that took him all over the world.  He flew to China, Japan, England, France, and many other places.  He was one of the best pilots that Northwest had.

Twenty or so very busy years passed.  One day Vince had a flight that took him back to Minnesota.  He started from Paris, flew over the Great Lakes and was coming down from Northern Minnesota to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.  As his plane began the descent into the airport, he looked out the left side of the plane and noticed two young boys in a canoe fishing on a lake.  The scene brought back many happy memories to Vince and his eyes started to mist up.  He asked his co-pilot to take control for a minute while he cleared his eyes.  His co-pilot asked Vince if there was anything wrong.  Vince replied, “No, nothing wrong.  Just saw something that reminded me of my past.  One day I dreamed that I would be a pilot.  Now I dream that I am back on that lake with my best friend again.”

There is an old saying that goes “Be careful of what you ask for, you might get it.”  Of course, no one pays any attention to this bit of wisdom.  Imagine all the people who buy lottery tickets each day.   Now try to imagine any of them saying, “I better be careful, or I might win the lottery.”  We all want fame, fortune, and success.  We set goals that force us to live in the future and we forget how to live in the present.  Osho says that we can never be happy unless we can be happy for no reason at all.

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Some of you have read the story about my six friends and I who put together a “last man standing bottle” ten years ago.  Ken made a case for the bottle.  Jerry bought a name plate for the bottle with each of our names and birthdates engraved on it.  I bought a bottle of 120 proof Old Grandad while on one of my trips to Bardstown, Kentucky.   Ken and Brian have since died.  There are five of us left.  Jerry is the youngest at 74 and Dick is now the oldest at 81.

Jerry was put on hospice care about eight months ago.  I have been to visit him several times and he has joked about going to hospice care too soon.  Doctors had told him that he had only a few months to live.  Jerry has outlived their original estimates.  Friday afternoon, I received a call from Dick who had recently called Jerry.  Jerry is not doing well, and the charge nurse told Dick that Jerry would probably not make it through the weekend.  I have been wanting to stay away from any medical facilities due to the recent Covid surge, but I decided to mask up and go see Jerry.

I arrived at the clinic and was told I could make a compassion visit, but general visitors were not allowed.  I was advised to go to the main desk and see if it was okay with the unit for me to come down.  I received an approval and headed down to Jerry’s room.  The nurse on the unit met me at the door.  She knocked on the door to Jerry’s room but did not receive any response.  She went into the room and Jerry was asleep.  She woke him up and informed him that he had a visitor.

I walked into the room and Jerry was not looking very good.  He could barely open his eyes or even move.  His body was bloated, and his skin had dark splotches all over his chest, stomach, arms, and legs.  I said hi and he replied, “Hi John.”  I told him that the coffee guys (some of whom are on the “Last Man Standing” bottle) all said hi and that they wished him well.  This was somewhat of a fib.  Truth be told, Jerry was not well liked among some of the guys.  He seemed to enjoy making fun of and humiliating other people.  Over the years, this took a toll among the men.  Not many of them cared enough about Jerry to make a visit to see him.

Jerry had few friends.  I tried to be a friend to Jerry, but it never seemed to be requited.  I called him.  Visited him often at his home.  Helped him with a garage sale.  Took him to some medical appointments in the Twin Cities.  Invited him out to dinner several times and each year when I got back from Arizona, Karen and I made a point of having him over for dinner.  Not once did I ever remember Jerry returning any of my calls, stopping by to visit or even saying “Thank You” for anything I ever did for him.  Nevertheless, while I stopped the frequency of my visits with Jerry, I never gave up on him entirely.

This day, it was clear that it would be my last visit to Jerry.  I felt sad for Jerry.  He never had much.  The paradox was that he was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met.  Before his illnesses, Jerry was an avid reader who could discuss many of the great writers with exceptional insights.  Sadly, as his disease progressed, he read less and less and eventually gave up reading entirely.

I asked Jerry a few questions about his sister and other visitors.  Something I said elicited the reply, “Now and forever, mumble, mumble, mumble.”  “Jerry, I could not hear the last part of that.  You said, ‘Now and forever’ and something else.  Could you repeat it?”  Jerry replied, “Now and forever, all I ever wanted was a little attention.”  I was somewhat surprised at his comment.  I left a short time later.  I doubt I spent more than 15 minutes with Jerry the whole time.  I gave him some water and asked if he needed a nurse.  He was barely awake, but he declined any offers for help.  I told him goodbye.  I did not want to imply that it would be goodbye forever so I included the comment that I would be back after I returned from my vacation, and I would stop in to see him again.  I do not think this will ever happen.

I thought about Jerry’s comment on my way home.  Was his comment about “now and forever” some sort of delirium or was he actually reflecting on a core component of his life.  Was Jerry’s obnoxiousness and insults simply a way for him to get attention?  At this late stage in his life, was he lamenting his inability to get the attention that he so desperately desired?

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I began to wonder if a need for attention is the primary reason that most of us want fame, fortune, and success.  Rich people, famous people, celebrities all get more attention than the average person.  Think about all of the school shooters that you have heard of.  It seems that the main purpose for their rampages is attention.  There are many people who fiercely desire their five minutes of fame even if it means they get it by anti-social efforts.

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The irony is that fame, fortune, and success never bring happiness.  The more of these things you get, the more you want.  More is never enough.  More of things never satisfies.  Then the day inevitably comes when you are no longer famous.  Your money no longer buys you attention.  Your success is no longer newsworthy.  Your fame now evaporates like the morning mist.  Can you point to anyone whose fame and fortune brought them happiness?  We are brainwashed into thinking that wealth, fame, and success are stepping stones to happiness.  If only I am noticed and get attention from others, I will be happy.

To be honest, I am much like the person who buys the lottery ticket.  I have never had fame, fortune, or great success.  I have never been a great student, a prize-winning athlete, a rich business owner or won any medals or awards.  Years ago, I read all the books I could get my hands on to teach me how to be rich, famous, and successful.  Despite all my learning and education, I never rose above being an average guy with an average income and an average life.

Perhaps, I should be more grateful.  Perhaps, I have been very lucky. I have had a great life.  I have traveled widely.  I have many friends.  I married a wonderful woman and I have always been able to pay my bills.  What would my life have been like if I had become rich and famous?  My thoughts tell me that I would never have lived as happy a life as I can now point to.

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However, telling myself that is a little like someone telling me that I should be glad that my lottery ticket did not win.  Somewhere inside me is a yearning for the attention and admiration that I feel fame and fortune would bring me.  Something inside me desires to someday be “above” average.  I want to be on center stage and have all the spotlights on me.  I want to read in the morning papers, how great and talented I am.  John “The New Mark Twain.”

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I try to counter the above negative thoughts by reminding myself that I am really blessed.  I can walk down the street, and no one notices me.  I have enough money to be comfortable but not have to deal with hundreds of people who want more money from me because they think that I am rich.  I have a loving wife who I am sure loves me for who I am and not for my money or looks.  I have seen the world without a body guard.  I am healthy and would not trade my health for all the money in the world.

My takeaway from my visit to Jerry is how much I wish that I could have left him with the five minutes of attention that he wanted.  The saddest part about Jerry’s life is that he could never let go of this need.  He acted as though by being cantankerous and il-tempered he would satisfy this need.  I think it cost him a great deal of the happiness that was always there for his taking.  We all respected his intellect and admired his reasoning abilities.  Each of us in our own way tried to overlook his insults and criticism.  It is tragic that he never realized how much his talents really meant to the rest of us.  We all knew that Jerry was one of a kind.

PS:  

Jerry died early this morning on the 13th of September in the year 2021.  If there is an afterlife, I hope Jerry finds the happiness, attention and recognition that he sought.  This is one of mine and Jerry’s favorite pictures.  Jerry had a great sense of humor.  He and Wilma posed for this picture at his garage sale a number of years ago.  It is of course a take off on the classic American Gothic.  Jerry liked it so much, he blew it up and kept a picture by his bedside.  This is how I want to remember Jerry.  A man of intelligence and humor.  

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The Man Who Wanted to Die Last

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Most men I know when you start talking about death and dying usually say that they hope they die before their partner.  The motive is quite obvious.  Who wants to be alone.  There is almost nothing worse than loneliness for human beings.

Now imagine spending forty or fifty years living with someone.  You eat together, sleep together, travel together, make love together, raise children together, work together, talk together, and laugh together.  This goes on for year after year.  In a happy marriage or partnership, the relationship is one of joy and delight.

269318614.galleryNow suddenly your partner for one reason or another is gone.  She or he passes away.  You come back to your home after the funeral and well-wishers have left, and you are now alone.  You are more alone than you have ever been in your entire life.  You go from room to room and no one else is there.  The bedroom is empty.  The kitchen is empty.  The living room is empty.  You notice the picture of you and your spouse at your anniversary party hanging on the wall.  It brings back memories and tears.  Every day for many days, objects, thoughts, and reflections will bring back good times and bad times that you shared with your lover.  You will reflect over and over again about these past times.  No doubt you will feel remorse about some things that you did and wish you could undo.  You will also miss the fun things that you enjoyed together and the many good times that you had together.

The above scenario is very sad.  But there is one way you can avoid it.  You can pray that you pass away before your spouse or partner or loved one does.  Leave the planet earth sooner than they do and avoid the pain and heartache that comes with the death of your beloved.  This is the solution that I have hoped for many times.  I have always planned to leave my wife financially well off so that when I do go to the vast beyond, she can continue to live a happy life.  I thought this sounded like a grand plan until the following incident occurred.  It left me feeling selfish and self-centered.

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It all began with a mission retreat that Karen and I started going on several years ago.   A good friend organizes the trip twice a year to bring food and needed items to an orphanage in Sonoita, Mexico and a Saint Vincent de Paul center in Puerto Penasco, Mexico.  We have as many as 15 cars in an auto caravan bringing items down.  Volunteers from Casa Grande, Eloy, and Arizona City (many from local churches as well as friends of Evelia) will join the caravan each year.  We typically leave on a Friday and come back on a Monday.  While down in Mexico, we stay at Puerto Penasco and enjoy the beach, ocean, and seafood for a few days before coming back across the border.

IMG_5379Each evening after dinner, we enjoy food, dancing, and music at the Playa Bonita restaurant.  It is right on the beach and while enjoying shrimp cocktails, we watch the most beautiful sunsets I have seen anywhere.  As night falls, a band or singer will begin entertaining our group.  Evalia loves to dance and will make sure that we all have a spin with her on the dance floor.  The dance floor is outside where we eat.  Almost always the weather is balmy and comfortable.  Infrequently one might need a shawl or a sweater but an active time on the dance floor will mitigate any night chills.

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One night after dinner and drinks, three of us, Steve, Alexandro, and myself decided to go sip some tequila and smoke some cigars where it would not impose on anyone’s sense of smell.  We typically go out to the back of the restaurant.  There are a few round tables there and it is quite secluded.

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Steve is Evelia’s son, and he often comes on the mission tours.  He is a real nice guy who was studying to be a deacon in the Catholic Church.  He married an Italian woman who is a medical doctor but after several years of trying she has been unable to acquire a permanent work visa for the USA.  Steve and Julia now reside in two countries.  Steve in the USA and Julia in Italy.  They reunite frequently in either Italy or the USA.  I think it is Steve’s plan to eventually join Julia in Italy.  Steve owns a management consultant firm and does not want to retire yet.

I had never met Alexandro before.  This was his first time on a mission retreat, and I never saw him again after this night.  We did some brief introductions, shared the bottle of tequila, and lit our cigars.  We chatted about the usual subjects, politics, wives, sports etc.   As the conversation became deeper and more serious, we started talking about aging and the impacts it was having on each of our lives.

Alexandro told us that his wife was an invalid and severely disabled.  She required considerable medical care.  He was the primary caregiver as they had no provision for medical assistance in the home.  It was evident form our conversation that Alexandro spent a large amount of time and effort in providing compassionate care for his wife.

I began thinking about how much love we all seemed to have for our spouses.  I started thinking about what I would do without Karen who provides so much compassion for me when I am sick or when I need support.  I could not imagine a life without her.  I stated emphatically that I hoped I did not ever have to deal with a life alone.  It was my desire to die first to avoid the pain of heartache and loneliness.

Alexandro spoke up and his words surprised me.  He said, “I hope my wife dies first.”  I could not believe what I had just heard.  My immediate thought was “What a selfish bastard!  He wants his wife to die before he dies so that he will not have to take care of her anymore or deal with her problems.”  I remained silent for a minute or so while I wondered how any person could be so heartless.  My curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked Alexandro “Why do you want your wife to die first?”  He replied “My wife needs so much care and there is no one else around who could provide enough care for her.  I do not want to think of her alone and without me to provide the care.”

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I heard Alexandro’s explanation and suddenly I was inundated by a tsunami of guilt and an earthquake of self-reproach.  How could I have thought so miserably of a man with so much character that he would sacrifice himself for his spouse?  On the other hand, how could I be so selfish that all I could think of was that I wanted to die first to avoid the feelings of loneliness and heartache that accompany the death of a loved one.

I sat speechless for quite a while as I reflected on my thoughts about what I had just heard.  Never before had I heard anyone say anything like Alexandro did.  It never occurred to me that my life and my feelings are not the hub of the universe.  The sun does not rise and set by how I feel or how I should feel.  “Compassion literally means “to suffer together.”  When we are confronted with the suffering of another, it means that we will take steps to help relieve that suffering.  Perhaps suffering for another person may not mean dying for them, perhaps it means living for them.

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The Legitimization of Greed

 

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Let me start off with some major caveats.  First, greed has always been with us.  Second, among certain people, there has always been excessive greed.  Third, we will never eradicate greed in the human species.  Why then you may well ask, another screed against the excesses of greed? The answer is that we have entered a new era of greed.  Never before has greed been so widely accepted and so widely admired. 

Throughout history, prophets and religious leaders have warned us about the pursuit of wants that never satisfy the soul nor do anything to enrich humanity.  In the past, greed was the mindless pursuit of more.  Jesus said that “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10.  The Bible says more about the dangers of money and possessions than any other subject.

Ignatius of Loyola gave this message to his followers:

Lord, teach me to be generous;

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

To give and not to count the cost”

Gautama Buddha made the following comment concerning greed:

“Inflamed by greed, incensed by hate, confused by delusion, overcome by them, obsessed by mind, a man chooses for his own affliction, for others’ affliction, for the affliction of both and experiences pain and grief.”

Islam has many comments about the evil of greed and the pursuit of more and more:

“Three Habits Destroy

a Man Or Woman:

Greed, Envy

and Pride.”  ― Hamid al Ghazali

“Greed is permanent slavery.”  — Ali ibn Abi Talib

If greed has always been with us, then what is different today?  The difference is that in the past, greed was recognized as evil and as an element that would distort human nature.  Today greed has become legitimate.   

The definition of legitimate is: 

To give legal force or status to; make lawful.

To sanction formally or officially; authorize.

To demonstrate or declare to be justified.

5451174-1020-PXWe shop till we drop.  We invoke our privilege to use our money as we want to.  We make holidays out of holy days where we spend our time hunting for bargains and sales.  Greed has now become a sacrament.  Greed is no longer evil.  Greed is holy.  Greed is the American Way of Life.  Millions of Americans adore the wealthy.  The story of Lazarus holds no credibility – Luke 16:19-21.  Nor does the story of the Rich Fool – Luke 12:13-21.  Money is sacred and those who have more are worshipped by Americans and exalted as better people and better leaders.  We elect millionaires and billionaires to Congress and even the Presidency on the sole basis of their acumen at having stored up wealth.

Wealth Trumps compassion.  Money Trumps kindness.  Possessions Trump love.  No one would argue today that leaders should have compassion, kindness, and love for others.  These are sentiments that hold no currency.  The values that Americans believe in today are bitcoins, stocks, bonds, gold, and credit ratings.  Wise people are not listened to.  Instead, rich people are sought out and worshipped because they are smart enough to game the system and attain more than the rest of us.  A 3,400-foot home with four bathrooms for people with no children is a sign of success and not wretched excess.  A Porsche, BMW or Mercedes is proof that you are an important person.  Living in a neighborhood with walls and private security guards helps you to feel safe because wealth is envied by those who do not have it and they might take it away from you. 

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Living the good life today means having more than your neighbors, friends, or relatives.  According to Merriam-Webster, success is “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  Success is not measured in America by kindness, compassion, or love for others.  Millions of people watch reality shows where fame equals success.  A new breed of celebrities exists solely on the basis of being famous and not for any achievements. 

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Movie stars are the aristocracy of America and are adored because of the illusions that they present and not because of reality.  John Wayne is the Icon of American Manhood.  He was a man that personified heroism and masculinity.  In reality, he was a racist who denigrated Black people, Gay people, and Native Americans.  He received a 3-A (family deferment) after Pearl Harbor and never had to fight except in his many heroic movie roles where he extolled American militarism.  Movie stars are idolized because they are rich and famous and have more of these attributes than the general population. 

So where do we go from here?  There are many good people in America.  There are many generous people who give freely and share their wealth with others.  Attributes such as generosity and empathy for the needy still exist in America.  However, what I have called the “legitimization” of greed has infected too many of our people.  It has become acceptable.  Americans have failed to grasp the insidious nature of greed.  It is not something that takes over your life suddenly.   Greed creeps up slowly and silently until one day, you are consumed by it.  Our nation has made greed an attribute to be admired.  No school in American dares to mention the perils of greediness. 

Can we reverse the trend that has led us down this path to self-centeredness and narcissism?  What can be done to turn the trend back towards valuing compassion and kindness?  Not just compassion and kindness for those who look like us but compassion and kindness for all people.

I will try to answer these questions in my next blog.  We will need a change of mindset that will lead to a new Zeitgeist.  The present paradigm we are living in is destroying humanity.  Trump and his supporters are not an aberration but a reflection of how far we have gone down the wrong road.   If we keep going down this road, we will have a world where there is no humanity left in people.  We will continue to destroy our environment as greed dictates taking all that we can get and not leaving anything for others.     

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Que Sera, Sera

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I think that I am a coward.  I don’t want to grow old.  They say that growing old is not for the faint of heart.  Every day, I understand that aphorism more and more.  In the last thirty days, four friends have passed away.  Mickey, Glen, Bill, and Dick.  I could write a blog about each of them.  They were all just nearing 80 years of age.  Not one of them died of Covid.  Had you known any of them, you would have been truly fortunate.  Perhaps, one of my greatest blessings in life has been to have people like this for friends.  People who lived life to the fullest and cared about other people.  Men who went out of their way to help not just family but strangers.

Two weeks ago, we found out that Karen’s oldest daughter Julie had five brain tumors.  For the past year or so, she had been acting very strange.  She had frequent bouts of forgetfulness along with severe headaches and neck pain.  Doctors had been treating her for an enzyme imbalance for several months, but she kept getting worse.  Her husband thought it might be the onset of early dementia.

Finally, someone decided to do an MRI for her.  At first, it looked like one large brain tumor but a neurosurgeon looking more closely at the scan found four other tumors.  Julie had been diagnosed with leukemia when she was six years old and for ten years had undergone frequent trips to the hospital for chemo and radiation treatment.  They believed that the tumors were related to the radiation treatments.

Julie is now fifty-three years old.  She went in for surgery on Tuesday of this past week.  She was in surgery for nearly seven hours.  They chose to remove the largest tumor but indicated that they would need to go in for another one at a later date.  They were not able to remove the entire tumor since it was awfully close to the optic nerve and they were afraid of damaging it and causing blindness.  Ironically, they want to use radiation therapy to try and remove the rest of the tumor.

Karen flew out Friday night thinking that she could try and help Julie when she returned from the hospital to her home.  Only one person could be in the hospital each day with Julie and her husband was the obvious choice.  Karen worried all week as complications arose each day and Julie did not seem any closer to coming home.  As I write this, it is now five days past surgery and Julie is still in the hospital.  She has been in and out of intensive care since the surgery.  Karen and Rob (Julie’s husband) have agreed to alternate days spent with Julie at the hospital.  So Karen is in Minnesota now and I am watching the home front here in Arizona.

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I am growing old, but I am growing more tired of seeing people I care about either get sick or dying.  I went to a concert last night with two friends Evelia and Angie.  Karen originally was going to go but being with her daughter was the greater priority.  The concert was put on by the True Concord Singers and Orchestra in Tucson.  It was held outside on a patio at what appeared to be an old mansion that had become a private men’s club.  It was called the Mountain Oyster Club.  Since it was members only, they would not let us dine there.  I had originally thought that after the concert we could dine at this exclusive club but that was not to be.  We ended up going to a resort called the El Conquistador.  My two companions are both Latina and I wondered what they thought about dining at a place called El Conquistador.

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The concert was called “The Trailblazers” and consisted of songs arranged by women composers and based on the works of noted women writers and artists.  Some of the composers included Judith Weir, Hildegard von Bingen, Emma Lou Diemer, Ysaye Barnwell and Alice Parker.  The writers and poets included Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, and Edith Franklin Wyatt.

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The fifteen songs performed were arranged along a series of themes.  One set of the songs was called “Remembering Those We’ve Lost.”  Thinking back to my lost friends while these songs were performed brought tears to my eyes.  Reflecting on what it might mean to me if Karen should pass away before I do, I could not bear the thought.  Coward that I am, I am hoping to pass from this world without too many more losses of those I love.  Here are a few of the lyrics from the songs in the concert.  It is of course quite different and much more moving hearing these sung but the lyrics themselves are quite compelling.

From: “My Companion” by Edith Franklin Wyatt (1873-1958)

Let the roadside fade:

Morning on the mountain top,

Hours along the valley,

Days of walking on and on,

Pulse away in silence,

Let the world all fade,

Break and pass away,

Yet, will this remain,

Deep beyond all singing,

Beautiful past singing.

We are here together,

You and I together,

Wonderful past singing.

From: “Wanting Memories” by Ysaye Barnwell (1946- Present)

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms,
You said you’d hold me till the pains of life were gone.
You said you’d comfort me in times like these and now I need you,
Now I need you, and you are gone.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Since you’ve gone and left me, there’s been so little beauty,
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.

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I finished a run this morning in the mountains.  Saw a large coyote on the trail and thought at first it was a deer.  You are not likely to see a deer in the desert, but the coyote was large and brown and from a distance it did look like a small deer.  As I ran, I could not help but thinking of the song by Doris Day “Que Sera, Sera.”  The lyrics that go “Whatever will be, will be.  The futures not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera.”

We scheme, we plan, we strategize, we organize, we bribe, we cajole, we blackmail so that we can control the future.  We pray to whatever god or gods we believe in to keep our loved ones safe from harm or pain.  I am sure that every one of you reading this would rather suffer death or pain before seeing your family, friends or children suffering.  Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

But as written in Ecclesiastes, it is all vanity.  Nothing but vanity.  I can’t stop a single person I know from dying or suffering pain.  The best that I can do is to be there for them during their suffering.  This is the role that my spouse has chosen to take with her oldest daughter.  It is a role that I would gladly have pass by me since coward that I am, I find it harder to watch my family, friends and others suffer then to deal with my own suffering.

I once loved the poem that admonished us to: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”  Now I wonder, what could Robert Browning have been thinking?  I am waiting for “the best that is yet to be.”  I must be missing something.  As each day goes by and as yet another friend leaves this earth, I am more and more wondering what I will have left when they are all gone, and I am the only one here.

Nothing I have ever worked for, saved for, bought, owned, or possess will have any meaning without the ability to share it with those I love.  I think about walking through the house where I am now sitting without my spouse or friends or family and it is by far a fate worse than death and dying.  I won’t rage into the night.  I am reflecting upon death as a comforting blanket than I can pull over my head and use to hide from the sorrows of the world.  I will not rush it, but as many have realized that have gone before me, at some point, we all know that our time has passed, and that we must leave this world.  As for what will come after, I can only say “Que Sera, Sera.”

I think you will enjoy this song:  https://youtu.be/xZbKHDPPrrc 

Que Sera, Sera

When I grew up and fell in love
I asked my sweetheart, what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows
Day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart said

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Friends and Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family:

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

Portrait Of Extended Family Group In Park

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

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

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

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Friends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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