My Thanksgiving Message to the World 11-24-2022

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Fear, Anger and Greed have become epidemic in society today.  The opposite of these traits are Peace, Love, and Charity.  I do not think the hope for civilization lies in politics or our political leaders.  But if we all will commit to spreading Peace, Love and Charity, I believe we can change the world.  Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.”

When you say your blessing today at mealtime or whenever, bless the world for what you have.  Be grateful to those who helped you achieve your life and its attainments.  We all reach higher levels by standing on the shoulders of others who help us along our chosen paths.  When you are done recognizing the people who have helped you, I would like to ask you to make a commitment.  The commitment is to promise to do all that you can to help spread Peace, Love and Charity to your friends, your relatives, your country, and the rest of the world.  Let each of us do what we can to erase the diseases of Fear, Anger and Greed.

May you all enjoy Peace, Love and Charity today and the rest of your lives. 

John and Karen Persico 

But can we really learn to love again?

Just Give Me A Reason”  Pink with Nate Ruess
Sad-Broken-Heart-Wallpapers-4I love the possibility that Pink raises in her song that a love which has gone cold can somehow be reignited.

But can we really learn to love again? 

How many of us have had a love affair go south.  A love that we thought was like no other.  A love that would last forever!  A love that caused all reason to go out the window and for which we would have sold our souls to the very devil himself.  A love that friends and families said was meant to be and that would still be burning bright in the firmament when all the stars in the sky had long since dimmed.  A match made in heaven itself that would never be seen again.  No reason, no logic, no facts, no data, no statistics, no arguments, no evidence could convince us that we would not be with this person until the very end of time.  But then something happened!

I’m sorry I don’t understand
Where all of this is coming from
I thought that we were fine
(Oh, we had everything)
Your head is running wild again
My dear we still have everythin’
And it’s all in your mind
(Yeah, but this is happenin’)

Suddenly, the impossible becomes possible.  The unthinkable becomes thinkable.  Your worst fears become reality.  Nightmares become day dreams.  You are cheating on the other person.  The other person is cheating on you.  You are drifting apart.  You don’t connect like you used to.  You find yourself wishing you were with someone else. You are hurt.  You are lonely.  You feel abused. You feel neglected.  They don’t care about you anymore.  Things are different but you don’t know why.

You used to lie so close to me, oh, oh
There’s nothing more than empty sheets
Between our love, our love
Oh, our love, our love

But can we really learn to love again? 

You don’t know.  They don’t know.  The impossible is now probable.  You have lost faith in the dream.  “Grow old along with me” has changed to “I can’t go on any longer like this.”  Caring has changed to neglect. Closeness has been replaced with distance.  Love has been replaced with apathy. Everything seems hopeless.  What could have happened to us?

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
I never stopped
You’re still written in the scars on my heart
You’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

But can we really learn to love again? 

Where do we start?  We forgot what we meant to each other.  We forgot how to care for each other.  We forgot how much we once loved each other.  How do we remember?  Where do we find what we once knew?  broken-heart-pictures-quotes

Life conspires to help us forget.  I told you that I loved you a million times.  Each time I meant it more than the countless times before.  But one day, I stopped saying it.  Something was happening but I did not know what.  Nothing had prepared me for the day that I forgot that I once loved you.  Now, my once and forever love is not even a distant memory.  Where do I find the love that I lost?  Can I find it in your arms or in the arms of someone new?

Somehow it seems easier to look elsewhere for our lost and forgotten love.  Divorce is fast and easy.  I lost something that now I cannot find.  Easier to move on and start over again.  Legions of counselors, psychologists, therapists and ministers could not put our love back together again.  I simply want to escape the pain and the loneliness.  I did not mean for this to happen.  We seemed to be so happy together yesterday and then today, it was all over.  Dreams shattered like a boat in a storm on a rocky shoal.  It all happened so fast, I was overwhelmed.  I am devastated.

Oh, tear ducts and rust
I’ll fix it for us
We’re collecting dust
But our love’s enough
You’re holding it in
You’re pouring a drink
No nothing is as bad as it seems
We’ll come clean

broken-heart-love-quotes-text-1719275-1280x800But can we really learn to love again? 

I wish that it were really possible but I don’t know where to start.  How can we go back when I don’t remember what to go back to?  What is the cause?  How do I solve a problem when I don’t know what the problem is?  Like the boat on the shoals, I feel like I am being battered on all sides.  I can’t go back and I can’t go forward.  I want to escape and I don’t know where or who to escape to.  Somewhere there must be a happy ending.

Oh, we can learn to love again
Oh, we can learn to love again
Oh, oh, that we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

But can we really learn to love again?

Maybe we can learn to love again but often I think it takes work and more work.  Too many love affairs, marriages, romances etc. are based on a sort of nostalgic love.  We hear of many people who have gone back to high school reunions and married a high school sweetheart.  I think romance might be the start of love but it is only getting out of the gate.  The real work comes, and it is work to keep a relationship together, after the fantasy of love forever starts to fade.  No amount of dreaming, hoping or wishing can replace the effort that a good relationship takes to maintain.  The Law of Entropy says that unless you put energy into something, it will devolve into chaos and randomness.  Too many love affairs have gone this way.  There is something sad about watching this happen, whether to a friend or to ourselves.

Time for Questions:

Why do we fall out of love?  Was it really love in the first place?  Can we bring back the feelings we once had for someone?  Why or why not?  Are you willing to do the work it takes to rekindle an old flame or to keep a flame burning?  Can it really be rekindled?  Is it all about wanting to or is it all about desire?  Do you know anyone who has “learned to love again?”  What did they do?  Could you do this?  Why not?

  

The Four Baskets of Life Needed on the Path to Happiness and Success

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We are all born with four baskets of life.  We are born with these baskets, and we will die with these baskets.  Our happiness and success will depend on how we fill these baskets and what we fill them with.  It might seem unfair, but no two people are born with the same size baskets.  Some of us have bigger baskets and some of us have smaller baskets.  Ironically, bigger baskets can be more of a burden than smaller baskets.

The four baskets are known as, mental, physical, socio-emotional, and spiritual.  When we are born, our baskets are almost empty.  We have rudimentary materials that are put in each basket at birth.  However, no human can grow to maturity without adding more into each basket.  Given the size limitations of our baskets, our challenge is to fill each basket with the appropriate goods that we need for a happy successful life.

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Mental/Cognitive Basket

Some of us are smarter than others.  However, smartness or intelligence is not merely related to IQ.  Each of us can be smart at different things.  Some people are good cooks.  Some people are good mathematicians and others are good carpenters.  Regardless of what skill sets you may have; your mental basket needs some basic knowledge to help you navigate in life.  Many of the skills needed are gained in schools or by teachers who help fill your basket.  Many of the skills we need are gained by experience.  Regardless of whether you add to your basket by experience or formal learning in a school, the goods you put in your basket need to match your knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Your interests are the motivation for what you desire to find and add to your basket.  One should go through life adding stuff to their basket and occasionally removing stuff.  Knowledge is not static.  It changes with the times as well as with your own needs.  I used to tell my business students, that the only value they had to their company was between their ears.

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Physical Basket

Clearly we are all born with different physical assets and abilities.  Nike says everyone is an athlete.  Unfortunately, too many people do not see any reason to add goods to their physical basket.  They admire people like Michael Jordan, Mikaela Pauline Shiffrin, Usain Bolt,  Michael Phelps, Misty Copeland, Anna Netrebko and Tom Brady.  If you asked most people, they would readily admit that they do not have the physical skill sets that these champions have.  However, too many people grow old with the nearly same basket that they were born with.  I know too many people who stopped exercising or practicing after they left high school or college. “Oh, I used to run but I gave it up.”  “I used to play the clarinet, but I lost interest.”

If any of the people I noted above had not practiced and practiced and never given up, they would not have achieved the greatness that they did.  We all have different size baskets particularly when it comes to physical attributes but without practice and more practice filling up our baskets, we can never know what we are capable of.  At the very least in terms of increasing our physical attributes, we might live to an older age still able to walk, run, hike, play, and sing.  Instead too many people can only dream about the days gone by when they still could do these things.
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Socio-Emotional Basket

Covid 19 devastated many people who depend on emotional connections to help manage their lives.  It is true that some of us are less dependent than others when it comes to emotional attachments.  Some of us are introverts and some are extraverts.  Nevertheless, I know of no one who can go through life without a desire for love and friendship.  The socio-emotional basket may vary in size for many of us but it is still a basket that we must try to fill to meet our needs or we remain isolated and lonely.

A number of years ago, the idea of EQ or Emotional Quotient to measure how well people do at managing their interpersonal relationships entered the mainstream of social science.  “The term first appeared in 1964.  It gained popularity in the 1995 best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, written by science journalist Daniel Goleman.” — Wikipedia  The basic idea is that we all need to cope with our emotions and learn skills and techniques to help us better deal with the stresses of life.  Everyone has days of being up and down.  We all suffer from mild to strong depression at some time in our lives.  Thoughts of suicide are more prevalent than most people realize.  However, the goods that we put in our socio-emotional basket can determine how well we cope with these stresses.  Even the “greatest” of lives have succumbed to a weak basket and gone to drugs or drink to try to deal with the ups and downs of life.  History is littered with the deaths of good people who just did not have the socio-emotional coping skills to handle what life was throwing at them.  I have had two cousins who committed suicide and a best friend who also took his life.  Most people thought they had a lot to live for but apparently they disagreed.

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Spiritual Basket

The spiritual basket is the most difficult to fill and the most problematic.  Unless we fill the spiritual basket we will never find peace and happiness.  It is the basket of fulfillment.  It is the basket of true love.  Without the right ingredients in this basket, we remain lonely and unloved.  It does not matter how much we put in the other baskets, we must put the right stuff and enough of the right stuff in this basket or we will lead a life of “quiet despair.”  There are two paths typically taken to fill this basket.  One path is secular.  The other path is sectarian.  There are problems with each path.

GreedThe secular path is the path of the world.  It is the path that says you need to have more of the things of the world to put in your basket.  Getting more of the world’s stuff is heralded as the secret to filling your basket and achieving success and happiness.  Some of the things people try to get more of include:  Food, drugs, alcohol, fame, fortune, money, medals, accomplishments, status, power, knowledge, youth, health and titles.  While some of these things might be useful in your other baskets, in this basket they simply do not work.  The spiritual basket is immune to the things of the world.  It is a truism that all of the great prophets and philosophers and thinkers have extolled.  Sadly, it is a path that is promoted by too much of the world because it is driven by greed and financial profits.  Buy that new truck and you will be happy.  Buy that giant house and you will be happy.  Read the latest diet book and you will be happy.  How many times do people have to go down this path before they will realize that it only takes them in the wrong direction?

The other path to fill the spiritual basket is the sectarian path.  This is the sacred path or the path of religion and sects.  It is a path of meaning and purpose.  It is a path of prayer and meditation.  It is a path of Gods, prophets, and spiritual leaders.  These leaders tell their followers that the path to happiness and success comes from following their teachings.  Often they include meaning and purpose as tools necessary for your spiritual basket.  Some believe in the power of meditation and prayer for your spiritual basket.

prophetsThe great spiritual leaders like Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and  Baháʼu’lláh all had followers and tried to teach their followers by various means.  It seems that the goal of enlightenment, samadhi or nirvana was achieved by each of the great leaders and even by some of their followers.  Unfortunately for humanity and for most organized religions, these gurus and religious teachers all missed one important truth.  “You cannot teach enlightenment.”  Enlightenment can only be learned by example.  We learn from our parents by the example they set for us.  We learn by observing how they treat other people.  We learn by what they do rather than what they say.  The followers of the great prophets and gurus were learning their spirituality from what their teachers were doing and now what they were saying.

The words that were left by some religious teachers like Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, OSHO, Krishnamurti and the writers of the Old Testament and New Testament have no doubt inspired many people to try to reach heaven or nirvana.  For the most part, I doubt that many followers have ever achieved much enlightenment.  If they did, it was not by the reading of words but by the life that they led.

I think having had 39 silent Jesuit Retreats that prayer, mediation, solitude, and contemplation have a role in finding peace and happiness.  I do not think that they will lead anyone to nirvana or enlightenment.  Unless I am an extreme outlier, after 39 years of a three-day silent retreat full of prayer and meditation, I am still pretty much just your normal unsaintly unholy guy.  I am still waiting for most of my prayers to be answered and I am still waiting to sit peacefully in my car full of good will and cheerfulness when some jerk is tailgating me on the freeway.  I am much more likely to wish that I had an invisible ray gun that could make the impatient driver and his/her auto just disappear.

You can not teach how heat feels.  Description is futile.  You must feel it.  You cannot teach fulfillment or enlightenment you must experience it.  Words are useless.  The most important ingredient in a spiritual basket is love.  Love for yourself and love for others.  Love for all others and not just people who are like you.  Not just people who think like you.  If you do not feel love for yourself, you cannot feel love for others.  But there is a paradox here.  It is that love from others can help you feel loved.  Love for others, love for yourself, love for yourself and love for others are the Yin/Yang of a spiritual basket.  Purpose and meaning are good things, but they are transient.  They will come and go and change with the times.  Love never changes.  Jesus said:

“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” – John 13:34-35 (KJV)

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If you want enlightenment, follow a good person, do good deeds, be kind to all people and love yourself.  Being a person of integrity and honor leads to self-love.  Self-love leads to love for others.  We are all born with an empty spiritual basket.  In order to become complete, we must fill this basket with as much love as we can.

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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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