Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Danton:  “Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare”

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George Jacques Danton born October 26, 1759 wanted to dare and dare he did.  He dared so much; he lost his head to a guillotine on the 5th of April 1794.  Danton was one of the prime movers during the French Revolution of 1789.  For those of you whose history is limited, the French Revolution was quite a remarkable event.  Here is some background before we look at Danton’s famous speech.  For more detailed history, go to Wikipedia or the library.

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The French Revolution (1789-1799)

What makes the French Revolution confusing is that there was actually two of them.  We are discussing the background of the first one.  The second one was in 1830.  The first one is noteworthy for two major reasons.  1)  It set a precedent for overthrowing the rule of divine right by kings.  You have to keep in mind, that with the major exception of the United States of America, the world was ruled by Kings and Queens.  Many of these rulers professed a “divine right” to rule.  In other words, they believed that they were ordained by God him/herself to rule over the lesser beings on the planet whom they regarded as subjects.  As “subjects” the people under the rulers were “subject” to all forms of abuse and intimidation.  In many countries, people had little or no rights except by the grace of their rulers.

256px-TroisordresThe Catholic Church in France was a major power.  The Catholic hierarchy managed to continue to exert influence in France long after it lost power in other countries.  The Catholic Church kept its power by a political collusion with the French monarchy which helped the Church fight off the Protestant religion that had swept so much of Europe.  From the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Church in France along with the Monarchy had persecuted, exiled, and killed thousands of Protestants.  Thus, there were many in France who hated the Catholic leaders as much as they hated their King and Queen, who by the way also lost their heads during the French Revolution.

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Needless to say, the rest of Europe was not too happy at seeing the servants and peasants overthrow the royalty in France.  This idea that the royalty was not so special might just infiltrate the minds of subjects in other countries.  Which of course is just what happened.  Over time, most of Europe eventually marginalized the role of their monarchies and established a variety of democratic institutions.  These later institutions would rule by laws set by the people and not by “divine right.”

Three of the most important democratic concepts to come out of the first French Revolution is epitomized by the motto “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” which became the national motto of France.  Liberty is the right to express one’s ideas without fear of repercussions.  Equality expressed the idea that all social classes were citizens of France and would have equal rights.  The monarchy and the Catholic Church would no longer be privileged.  Fraternity meant that we are all brothers and would share in a common unity of humanity and respect.  In 1789, The leaders of the Revolution drafted a document called the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” which outlined a set of enlightened principles about governing and government which bore some resemblance to the Bill of Rights in the USA.  Of course, women were still among the unprivileged.  Which leads us to the second major reason that the first French Revolution is noteworthy.

This second reason is the devolution into chaos and anarchy that happened.  Faced with a great deal of opposition both in and outside France to these new enlightened ideas, the leaders of the revolution became increasingly paranoid.  They were beyond cautious about who their enemies might be and what they needed to do to protect the emerging values of the French Revolution.  This led them to adopt a rather expedient method of protecting the Revolution.  The guillotine was developed as a very effective instrument for cutting off the heads of anyone whom they suspected might be either an enemy of the Revolution or even those who did not fully support the Revolution.  During, what has become known as “The Reign of Terror” (June 1793 to July 1794) about 17,000 people were guillotined.  Many more people were shot or otherwise murdered during the French Revolution.

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Looking back, it seems bizarre to think that a revolution founded on the democratic ideas of the American Revolution and such theorists as Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu could have led to the slaughter of so many people.  A slaughter that sadly is now one of the major things we remember about the First French Revolution.  Furthermore, the Revolution eventually led into an outright dictatorship by Napoleon Bonaparte.  Human nature was no more consistent or predictable in the 18th Century than it is today.  We wonder today how so many people in the USA would seem to reject the principles that it was founded upon.  Everywhere you look, we find those who reject the concepts of democracy and the rule of law.

Danton (1759 – 1794)

Some say Danton was the prime mover behind the French Revolution (1789 – 1799).  Before the Revolution, Danton was a lawyer of no particular noteworthiness.  He came into his own as one of the major leaders of the French Revolution.  He held a number of significant offices as the leaders struggled to form a government that would uphold the new values driving the Revolution.  Danton was perhaps as bloodthirsty or paranoid as some other leaders, notably Robespierre and Saint-Just.  Danton’s trial before his execution tended to be highly political and he was found guilty of a number of charges including bribery, financial corruption, and leniency towards the enemies of the Revolution   These charges were founded more on the fears of his political opponents than any real evidence.

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Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare (1792)

Danton’s most famous speech was not given at his trial.  Due to his noted oratory, the leaders at his trial decided not to allow him to speak.  They were afraid that if anyone listened to him, he would convince them of his innocence and perhaps even regain power over his accusers.  This speech was given in the face of threats by enemies attacking France from within the country and outside the country.  Danton as a key leader of the Revolution would have been marked for death should the Revolution be overthrown.  Ironically, he was executed by his former comrades.

“It is gratifying to the ministers of a free people to have to announce to them that their country will be saved.  All are stirred, all are excited, all burn to fight.  You know that Verdun is not yet in the power of our enemies. You know that its garrison swears to immolate the first who breathes a proposition of surrender.”             

France was being attacked by Germany then known as Prussia.  Verdun actually surrendered the same day that Danton’s speech was given.  Danton is lauding the efforts of the French people to fight for the principles of the Revolution.  The monarchies in the surrounding countries want to put down the Revolution for fear it could lead to the people in their countries also revolting.  Thus, Prussia, Austria, Spain and Russia all fought to help overthrow the French Revolution.

“One portion of our people will proceed to the frontiers, another will throw up entrenchments, and the third with pikes will defend the hearts of our cities.  Paris will second these great efforts. The commissioners of the Commune will solemnly proclaim to the citizens the invitation to arm and march to the defense of the country.”

In this speech, you can see a resemblance to the famous French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.”  The song was written in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg after the declaration of war by France against Austria.  One of the refrains from the song is:

  • Grab your weapons, citizens!
  • Form your battalions!
  • Let us march! Let us march!
  • May impure blood
  • Water our fields!

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“We ask that anyone refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms shall be punished with death.  We ask that a set of instructions be drawn up for the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that couriers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here.  The tocsin we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country.  To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare, and France is saved!”

Danton wanted to impose harsh punishments for anyone refusing service to France.  France initially suffered a series of defeats by other countries.  Eventually, by rallying together, France went on the offensive and achieved many victories.  By defeating their enemies, they solidified the gains of the Revolution.  However, these victories also allowed Napoleon to gain power and become Emperor.  Not much difference really between and an Emperor and a King.   France might have gone two steps forward but they also went two steps back.

Danton’s concluding line was an exhortation to boldness and audacity.  “Dare, Dare and Always Dare!”  I have always admired these words and have tried to use them in my own life.  Consider what it means, if you will, when you try to apply them.  What are areas of your life where you have fears?  What areas where you need to be braver or bolder?  Where do you think you need to speak out more?  Where do you need to stand up for yourself more?  If you find many areas where you lack bravery, think of Danton’s speech.

Remember the line from the play Julius Caesar “Cowards die many times before their death, heroes only once.”  The following is a short one minute video I found online that captures the spirit of Danton’s lines.

 

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Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 2 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.  In Part 1, I talked about the importance of Mentors and Muses.  In Part 2, I will discuss the importance of Role Models and Shooting Stars.

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Role Models:

A Role Model is anyone either real or imagined who provides inspiration to another person that will allow that person to dream about doing things that they never would have thought possible.  A role model allows a child to think about being greater than anyone they have ever known.  Role models lift people up to help them aspire towards being more than they are.  Parker Posey, the little Black girl whose mom brought her to the National Art Museum in Washington D.C. saw a picture of Michele Obama on the wall and thought “I want to be just like her.”  Later on Parker said in an interview that she would rather be president than first lady.  The great English scientist Isaac Newton said in 1675, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”

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A role model is in a sense a giant.  I asked Dr. Deming one night when we were coming back from dinner what he wanted to be when he was in college.  He immediately replied, “I wanted to be just like Walter Shewhart.”  Few people outside of quality control have probably ever heard of Dr. Walter Shewhart but the name of Dr. W. E. Deming is known the world over.  Dr. Deming had stood on the shoulder of a great man and reached even higher than Dr. Shewhart.

I was once asked why I did not go to Harvard since I grew up in Rhode Island and Harvard was only 45 miles away.  I laughed with some mild regret.  Truth be told, I never would have thought I could go to Harvard.  No one in my family had ever gone to college.  We had no money.  I did not know a single person who ever want to college.  Years have gone by and I have met many Harvard graduates.  I have no regrets now about not attending Harvard.  My regrets come from never having thought that it was possible that I could ATTEND college.

mandelaI teach part-time as a substitute teacher in two high schools in Casa Grande, Arizona.  Both public schools have a large minority population of Latino’s, African Americans, and Native Americans.  I talk to many of these students when they are seniors about what their plans are after they graduate.  Many of them remind me of myself when I graduated high school.  I had no clue about what I could do or be.  My father wanted me to become a postman like he was, and my mother did not really have any idea or inclinations about careers.  I looked around and in 1964, thought “Well I will join the military and see what happens.”  I had no dreams or goals for my future.  I had no role models when I was growing up.

I think every child should have a role model.  I have heard the arguments against.  Role models always end up being tarnished.  Role models may not present realistic possibilities.  Role models will stereotype kids into traditional channels.  Role models may pose negative characteristics rather than positive.  For instance, if your role model is Billy the Kid or Adolph Hitler, it might not suggest a desirable future.

“All the role models are being exposed and this is good because role models are shit. The quicker we exposed them the better. The whole concept of role models is frightful! You gotta make your own role.”  — William S. Burroughs

But I am not talking about negative role models.  I am talking about positive role models.  A positive role model is anyone with some desirable characteristics or values.  Furthermore, I think we need to educate our children by presenting a variety of role models and not trying to hold up any one role model as perfect or god-like.  We can never imitate or copy anyone else.

I could have taken Dr. Deming as my role model.  Dr. Deming was loved and admired by many, but he was also criticized by many.  A friend of mine from Nigeria told me this old African folk tale:

“Once upon a time there was a father, his son and a donkey.  They decided to go to market one day and purchase some food.  All three set out with the father riding the donkey and the son walking along side.  They soon came to a village and as they passed through the town, the father heard villagers saying, “What a cruel old man, he rides while the poor son walks.”  Whereupon, the father got off the donkey and put his son up to ride.  They next came to another village and as they passed through, again came voices.  This time they heard “What a stupid old man, he walks while his young healthy son rides.” 

downloadThe father decided he would join his son on the donkey.  As they passed through the next village, people shouted “Look at that.  Two people on one donkey.  How cruel and mean.’’  The father deliberated and made the following decision.  He and his son came down off the donkey and picked the donkey up.  They carried the donkey all the way to their final destination and as they entered the village, they heard uproarious laughter and saw everyone in the market place pointing at them and saying “Have you ever seen two more stupid people in your life.  They are carrying a donkey that could be carrying them.”

I will bet that you know the moral of the previous story.  It applies to role models.  There are no perfect people.  We are all defective in one way or another.  You cannot please everyone.  But think about the value that a role model can have.  If you Google role models, you will find lots of lists of the “top” role models for children.  Perusing these lists as I have done, you will admire many people, but you may also be appalled at some of the role models.  For instance, I have found Marilyn Monroe, Justin Bieber and Lance Armstrong.  These are people that I find objectionable for a number of reasons.  Now I have no doubt that if I put my top ten list of role models up, there are some that you would find objectional.  I repeat that there are no perfect role models.  This fact should remind you not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

“We look at the way some kids behave and instantly blame the parents, and more often than not we’re correct. The school bully is often a sign of poor parenting. That’s the immediate cause, but if we search for the root cause we have to dig much deeper than that. What on earth in that kid’s head makes it seem okay to bully people? Why are the parents doing such a poor job of bringing up their children? Probably because they didn’t have very effective role models themselves when they were growing up. It could go back generations.”   ― Karl Wiggins, You Really Are Full of Shit, Aren’t You?

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Shooting Stars:

A shooting star or a rising star is someone whom you hitch your wagon to.  It is someone that you recognize is going places and doing things that you admire.  If you knew someone was taking a trip that you wanted to be on, you would join that person and take the trip together.  A rising star or shooting star will take you to places that you might never have dreamed of going yourself.  You will find many great military leaders, business leaders and scientists who hitched their wagon to a shooting star and later achieved greatness themselves.

12-disciplesPerhaps the most famous example is in the spiritual arena.  Twelve men chosen somewhat randomly hitched their wagons to a shooting star and achieved fame and glory far beyond anything they could have dreamed of.  Today we remember the shooting star and his 12 apostles.  Each of the apostles later went on to their own fame and glory spreading the word of their lord and master.  Sometimes, it is the shooting star that gets forgotten but, in this case, through the efforts of his 12 followers, the name of Jesus Christ rings throughout the centuries in every corner of the globe.

Conclusions:

How do you find a shooting star or a role model?  I will leave you with some advice:

1.  Most important, you must believe that success and greatness is not simply dependent on your own resources and energy. As the Beatles said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

2.  Nevertheless, as a pundit once said, “Pray to the lord but row for the shore.” You can get all the help you need, but you are ultimately responsible for your own destiny.

3.  Look for role-models that have the values you would like to have. If you are going to select anyone, you must first know what are the key values that you want more of in your life.

4.  List seven of the most important values that you admire in your role model. Put them on a piece of paper that you can review every day.  Each day start by reviewing one value and asking yourself “What can I do today that would help me better exemplify this value?”  At the end of each evening, do a review of your day’s activities.  Ask yourself “How well did I do today on this value?”

5.  Do not be afraid to imitate your role model. You must learn the basics in any activity before you can improvise.  Deming was not ashamed to say that he wanted to be “Just like Dr. Shewhart.”  Great people are never ashamed to admit that they admire other great people.  It is only weak and insecure people who are narcissistic to the point that no one else counts.

6.  As pertains to shooting stars, ask yourself “Who do you know in your career or profession who you think is a shooting star?” In every field that I can think of, you will surely find someone who is better than you are or who has more skills than you have.

7.  Get to know this person.  Remember the saying “Birds of a feather flock together.”  This can be a good thing when you flock with highly intelligent, skilled, ethical, and motivated people.

“Hang On To People That Inspire You. Do Work That Energizes You.” ― Wesam Fawzi

 

 

 

 

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 1 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.

In 1983, I joined the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).  I was still in graduate school working on my degree in Organization Development and it seemed useful to join a professional organization that represented my career goals.  As a member of the ASTD, I attended monthly meetings and eventually submitted several articles to their magazine for publication.  One of the most interesting projects I volunteered for was to help establish a “Mentoring Program” for young upcoming professionals in the field of Training and Organization Development.  This project together with a Human Resource Development organization that I started for students at the University of Minnesota were some of the high points of my academic career.  Grades did not count for much to me except to get credits that were needed to graduate.  Helping people was truly gratifying.

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Mentors:

A “Mentor” can be defined as: “A trusted advisor.”  Someone with more experience who knows the ropes and takes a less experienced person under their wings to help guide them through the Scylla and Charybdis that are lurking in most organizations.  This can make the difference between success and failure.  I have found myself over my head several times because of not properly understanding a new boss or company politics.  downloadOnce, as a new employee, I was attending my first department meeting with my co-workers and supervisor.  I deemed it prudent to keep my mouth shut and observe.  At the end of the meeting, my supervisor turned to me and noted, “Well, John, you haven’t said a word.  What do you think?  Give me your honest opinion.”  I took her at her word and gave her my honest uncensored opinion.  Big mistake, as I am sure you knew.  Turns out my boss only liked “Honest Opinions” when they agreed with her opinions.  A good mentor would have warned me of this peril before I put my foot in my mouth.

A good mentor can do a great deal more than simply alert you to pitfalls.  A mentor may share information about his or her own career path and what helped him/her to become successful.  A mentor can provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and coaching.  A mentor may help with setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources that will help you to get ahead.  I personally believe everyone should have a mentor.  In addition to career mentors, there are mentors who may help you with your hobbies or any other activities that add value to your life.  Having a mentor is not all about careers and jobs.

How does one find a mentor?  Some organizations have mentoring programs and match up new employees with seasoned veterans.  A friend of mine at the ASTD and I worked together on the aforementioned mentoring program.  We put together guidelines to help companies establish their own in-house mentoring programs.  I was quite surprised and pleased when at an ASTD awards banquet, we were acknowledged for the mentoring program that we had developed.

Mentors can be formal or informal.  In 1998, I was “adopted’ by an older gentleman named Gordon Backlund when I started working at the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota.  He came up to me after a meeting and announced “I see you know nothing about politics in a government organization.  I am going to teach you.”  I was grateful for his offer.  Gordy taught me a bunch about how to survive and we became good friends in the process.  He was an informal mentor since the organization did not have a formal mentoring program.  It would be great if every organization had a program, but most do not.  In the latter case, it is up to you to find a mentor.  If you care about your success in life as well as in business, you will find a mentor or mentors.  The following is a particularly good video with some tips on “how to find a mentor.”  There are many other good videos on the subject and even some good TED talks on the topic.

Here is a great video on how to find a mentor by Marie Forleo

 

Muses:

A muse in ancient Greece was the name for the nine goddesses who presided over the arts and science.   A muse for me is someone who inspires me.  Since I think of myself as a writer, a muse is someone who can inspire my writing.  A muse indirectly motivates imagesme by giving me support and stimulation to be creative.  I was thinking back over the years that I have been writing.  My first paid article was in 1983.  It was published in a San Francisco Men’s Journal.  My piece was called “The Three Types of Male Intimacy.”  I was paid about 25 dollars.  It was not much but it felt like a start.  I have since published about 40 journal articles, three books and over 600 blogs.  It is a good thing that I never quit my day job since I could barely pay my monthly entertainment bill with the proceeds from my writing.

In 2010, I met Dr. Carolyn Wedin.  She was a retired English Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin.  She had started a writing class in Frederic, Wisconsin.  I joined the class and thus began my honest efforts to become a writer.  I say honest, because until then I had not engaged in professional efforts to improve my writing skills.  Anyone who says that they are a writer, artist, singer, sculptor, musician, or chef and does not engage in some form of professional development is in my humble opinion, not serious about their craft.

My partner Karen has played the piano since she was a little girl.  She plays well enough to be asked to play both piano and organ at church when the regular pianist is out sick or on vacation.  About 15 years ago, we were visiting in Mountain View, Arkansas when Karen noticed someone on the “Pickin Parlor Green” playing a small acoustic wooden lap instrument.  She enjoyed the sound and also thought how easy it would be to pack up and carry such an instrument.  Pianos and organs do not lend themselves to easy carry or transport.  She inquired as to what the instrument was and was told that it was a Mountain Dulcimer, also known as an Appalachian Dulcimer.  Deciding to try one out, she purchased an inexpensive dulcimer on eBay for about 100 dollars.

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Karen tried playing it for a while on her own.  She purchased some instruction books and starting plinking away.  Not having much success, she came to the conclusion that she needed instruction.  She found a good instructor and continued with her until we retired.  We then moved to Wisconsin and Arizona.  Nevertheless, other dulcimer lessons have continued for many years.  We go to at least two music camps each year.  One is in Mountain View, Arkansas and the other is in Bardstown, Kentucky.  We often attend the Minnesota Blue Grass and Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA) summer festival where they offer classes and practice in a variety of instruments.  There is also lots of practice time in what are known as music jams.  These jams are events where musicians self-organize into groups with many different skill levels.  There will be people playing guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, harps, and numerous other string instruments.

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For several years, Karen was tentative before venturing out into her first music jams.  There is a definite etiquette that one must learn before joining a jam session.  Karen soon found a group of women in Tucson who were called “The Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble (TDE).”  They practice every two weeks and do a few performances each year.  The sessions they hold are both training and practice with a good dose of inspiration thrown in.  Karen has become more confident since playing with the TDE and is now a good enough player to be asked to do solo performances.  Where once she dreaded the thought of playing solo, she now looks forward to the challenge and I suspect, the applause.

But what of a muse?  Do we really need one?  Who was or is my muse for writing?  This past year Dr. Wedin had a series of illnesses and accidents rendering her unable to continue the “Write Right Now” classes that she had started.  Some of her students who have attended them for many years volunteered to take over, but it was not the same.  It is hard to describe Carolyn’s style of encouragement and critique, but I venture to say it is unique.  She inspires without criticizing.  She encourages without demoralizing.  She suggests without demanding.  When you have finished a session with Dr. Wedin, you have new ideas and a renewed motivation to go home and write.

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer? —-A blog I wrote a while ago

 

Missing Carolyn and her inspiration, I went into a downward spiral.  I considered giving up writing.  I had said it all.  There was nothing else left to write about.  I had exhausted all my ideas and creativity.  I was finished.  I was kaput.  My writing days were over.  That was when I realized that Carolyn had been my muse.  She was my inspiration for what I think of as my writing in Creative Non-Fiction.  Part of me knew that Carolyn could not continue teaching.  No one lives forever and all things eventually change.  The Covid-19 Virus will probably put the finishing touches on the writer’s class for this summer: “Oh, what will I do?”

MV5BOWIzZGUxZmItOThkMS00Y2QxLTg0MTYtMDdhMjRlNTNlYTI3L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc1NTYyMjg@._V1_“I do not know what writing awaits me,

I only know I must be brave,

And I must face a life that dates me,

Or lie a coward, a craven coward,

Or lie a coward in my grave.” 

 (A slight modification from “High Noon” by Frankie Laine)

Taking advice from this old Frankie Laine song, I must find a new muse.  We all need a “little help from our friends” or someone who can guide and inspire us.  They say that the truth will set you free.  I know not about the truth, but I do know that when we understand something it gives us the freedom to make good decisions and choices.  Since I realize how important a muse is to my writing, I must decide how to find my next muse.

Looking at an obvious source for a muse, i.e., the Internet, one finds that most topics treat the subject as an exercise in finding your personal creativity either by looking inward or by researching a range of resources including classes and educational activities.  Searching Google for help in finding an actual real person as a muse, I did not find anything especially useful.  I did find numerous articles like:

  • How to Awaken Your Muse to Spark Your Creativity
  • Learning how to find your inner muse
  • 7 Tips to Awaken Your Creative Muse – Can-do-ideas

By the way, I got the same results on “YouTube” but I did find an interesting song by Them Coulee Boys called “Find Your Muse.”

I don’t want to find my “inner” creativity.  I want to find a real person like Dr. Wedin, who can inspire and challenge me.  Telling me to find my inner muse is similar to telling an athlete to find their “inner coach.”  This is a great idea up to a point, but I am sure that most musicians, athletes, and other artists would much rather find another human being as a coach or mentor.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to someone who has a different perspective and who can talk back.

The search for a muse does not have a single starting point or a definite ending point.  Much like mentors, muses will come and go in the life of an artist. The quest for a muse is like looking for the love of your life.  They may be just around the corner or they may be on another continent.  The one thing I am sure of is that unless you are seeking, you will probably not find one.  There is a Zen saying that goes like this, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I have a feeling that the same is true for finding a muse.  When you are ready, your muse will appear.  But being ready means having your eyes and ears and heart open.  That is what seeking is all about.

In Part 2, I will describe how a Role Model and a Shooting Star can help you in life as well as in your career. 

3525 – Friday, September 6, 2019 — Those Were the Days My Friend!

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My blog this week is based on a song that was made popular by Mary Hopkin’s in 1968.  The original writer was Gene Raskin.   Gene added English lyrics to a Russian song called “By the long road” which was composed by Boris Fomin (1900–1948).  The song in its many manifestations had continued to be about reminiscence and youthful idealism.  In my version below, I have taken some liberties with the lyrics and have added my thoughts on age and youthful idealism.   If you care to listen to the Hopkin’s song while reading my blog, click on the following link and then return to my site. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QptZ8tYZAkE

Once upon a time we shared a dream
When we believed that we were special
And we laughed away our evenings
Thinking of the success that would bring us great esteem

I grew up loving science and mathematics.  In the late fifties and early sixties, the space age was just beginning.  I wanted to be a part of the new wave of exploration and I dreamed of becoming an astronaut.  I read books on physics and relativity and quantum theory.  I believed that knowledge was the key to achieving my dreams.  Somehow, I never thought that my desires were above my head or possibilities.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

When I finished high school. I knew what Harvard and Brown and Yale stood for.  If you had money or were the siblings of any alumnus, you could apply to one of them.  If your father was a postal worker and your mother a part-time clerk at Woolworth, you had neither pull nor money.  The money probably mattering only slightly more than the connections or pull one needed to get into an Ivy League school in the sixties.  Truth be told, I did not even have the money or grades to get into a state college.  Without a college education, my dreams of becoming a pilot or an astronaut were shear fantasy.

A few weeks after high school, the only real possibility I had for a future was in the United States Military.  The war in Vietnam was starting to ramp up when I graduated in 1964 and it was said that the service would take a warm body.  I applied and did very well on the military exams.  I decided that I liked the Air Force uniform better than the Navy, Army or Marine uniforms.  Up and away on my first airplane ride to Lackland AFB for basic training.

Then the busy years went rushing by me
I lost my starry notions on the way
If by chance I’d see you in the city
We’d smile at one another and we’d say

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

I married while still in the service.  I was only 21 and my wife Julie was only 20.  Julie was several months pregnant when we married.  Somewhere along the way she became very sick and was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.  She spent several months in the University of Minnesota hospital while pregnant with our first-born child Christina.  Christy arrived while Julie was still in the hospital and in 1968 I was ordered by a young nurse to help out in the delivery room.  Thus, I was on the forefront of the new age for fathers and husbands.  Something, I was reluctant at the time to join.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

The years have flown by since then.  Many friends have either passed away or orbited out of my universe.  My first marriage ended in divorce.  My daughter has not spoken to me for nearly twenty years now.  My dreams of business success have become so much flotsam in a sea of failed possibilities.  Always told how smart I was, my intelligence never seemed to add up to anything that I could put in the bank.  Dreams of greatness in some non-financial endeavor (which became my fallback position) are now floating away alongside of my business aspirations.

Just tonight I stood before my mirror
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that broken person really me

I am now fighting the battle of growing old.  Energy forfeiting time to naps.  Days spent in a doctor’s office.  Buying sympathy cards by the dozen.  Learning to be a caregiver.  Dealing with an ever-increasing number of aches and pains.  Muscles that do not respond or recover as quickly.  Friends that spend what seem like long hours describing medical conditions and treatments.  Loved ones that I worry about more and more.  Trying to figure out what is appropriate for the next funeral.  Wondering if there is something else besides “My condolences” that I can say.

Through the parlor door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend I am a great deal older but no wiser
For in my heart, the dreams are still the same

My dreams, I never gave up on you.  I substituted hard work and determination for luck and chance many years ago, but they did not prove a path to you.  You might think me shallow or that I abandoned you, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about giving you one more shot.  I ask myself if ten years is enough, for that is about what I have left.  My self-bribe is that it is never too late as long as I do not give up hope.  But is my heart really in it?  Do I want you bad enough to keep on fighting for you?  I somehow sense a certain futility, like taking another turn at bat is not going to get me a home run.  Hard to admit, but maybe I never was and never will be a home run hitter.  Is this a battle that I am going to lose in this life?

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

 

 

3613– Monday, June 10, 2019 – Summer, Never Enough Time!

Calvin and Hobbes once described summer as “Never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”  Sometimes life seems the same way.  The older you get the faster time and things flow around, over and under you.  I have been back from Arizona almost six weeks now and after fixing the car, truck, yard, lawn mower and house, we seem to have skipped spring and went right into summer.  It was 85 degrees here yesterday.  I am still waiting to get started on my new business project and trying to motivate myself to be creative, dynamic and inspirational, at least to myself.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to a student club at Metropolitan State University.  A good friend of mine (Israel) is one of the faculty advisers to the club and each month they try to hold some type of event to help the students with both life and school.  Israel noted in his closing comments to the group that he had realized school was more than just teaching subjects but that the students who went on to become successful in life had learned character and coping skills.  Israel asked me to talk to the group.  The subject of my talk was the role that discipline plays in our life.

Wisdom Summit

Discipline is often associated with punishment.  The discipline that I discussed is self-discipline.  I view self-discipline as the commitment and ability to respond to our goals and desires in a meaningful way.  Some people say that discipline is not needed but that motivation is needed. I see things more the other way around.  It takes discipline to become good at anything in life including music, art, sports, dance, acting and business.  It helps if you are passionate about what you are doing.  Karen enjoys playing her dulcimer and practices about an hour each day.  The amazing child prodigy Anke Chen practices five hours a day to play the piano.  She is now eight years old but started playing at four.  When you watch Anke, you see someone having fun and thoroughly enjoying what they are doing.

The problem I had when I was young was not realizing the discipline and dedication it took to become great at anything.  Regardless of how much of a genius you are, regardless of how smart you are or how beautiful you are, without discipline you will eventually fail.  You can survive on pure talent for only so long.  The same goes for beauty and brains.  They will only take you so far.  Look around and you can see the “A list” people who have had life too easy and the only way they can stay on top is with drugs.  Too many great artists and performers have succumbed to the perils of drugs.  Self-discipline is a drug free remedy for a happy and fruitful life.

Now that summer is here, my writing class will start again, although our grand instructor (Dr. Carolyn Wedin) will not be attending due to illness.  Carolyn will very much be there in memory.  Her spirit will hover over each writer and guide us in the use of language and syntax.  Over the years, I have leaned a great deal from these classes about writing and life.

Writing is an art that requires great self-discipline.  There are many days when I don’t feel like writing.  It is not always easy to come up with ideas, words, adjectives, descriptions, narrative, characters, plots, settings and action that will be interesting and unique.  No one wants to hear a story that is boring or mundane.  We read something because it takes us our of our life and puts us into the life of another person.  (Of course, we may also read to learn something.)  We can live vicariously in the character of whomever we are reading about.  Today, you are living in my character.  For a few moments, you are absorbed in my thoughts and feelings and to some degree you know what it is like to be me living in Frederic, Wisconsin, the summer of 2019.

And once upon a time, in a time long ago, two hearts met, and the meeting changed the whole world.

Every time, a writer and a reader meet, it is like two hearts meeting and the world can never be the same again.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”  –Anais Nin

 

 

The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of attaining a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

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The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual. However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for “Instant Pudding” with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W.E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts. Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune. Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens. It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight. All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success. One day Psi was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing on the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is required for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin.”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do. Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers. The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits. With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider. To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need. The United States provides a typical example. The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health. What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing. There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success. The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic. These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around. The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere. You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles. Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage. The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others. The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because or if you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

Onwards Towards Death and Dying:  Part Two on Aging

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This is the second part of a blog that I wrote a few weeks ago.  Part one dealt with the issue of death.  I was surprised by how many reader comments noted that people do not usually talk about this subject.  I realized from listening to several remarks that not only do we face death inevitably as we age but that there is a “journey” to death that we all take.  It is the final years of our lives.  These final years are perhaps the most important years for many of us.  They will certainly be the most difficult.

In this second part, I would like to discuss some ideas for making these last years or twilight years of our lives as happy and successful as they can be.  By success, I am not talking about making a lot of money or winning the lottery.  Being successful in old age is about living our final years with dignity and integrity.  It is not about recapturing our youth, but it is about capturing the maturity that many of us (myself included) never captured when we were younger.  There is no merit to the comment that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.  I know too many older people who are continually learning and growing in their twilight years.

Letting Go versus Giving Up

Many people confuse letting go with giving up.  I know many people who cannot quit work, hobbies, sports etc., that they are no longer capable of doing.  A woman friend of mine (who is my age) has recently bought a new motorcycle after crashing her last one.  She has for many years had difficulties handling her bikes, but she still insisted after her last accident on buying a new two wheeled bike.  Many older people who do not want to give up the sport finally realize that they will be better off with a trike or a three-wheeled motorcycle.  They are not giving up the sport, but they are letting go of something that they can no longer do.  You are all familiar with the adage of the aging boxer who cannot give up his dreams of becoming a champion again.  It is a dangerous dream based on not being willing to let go.

There are going to be many things that we once did as we get older that we either can no longer do or that we cannot hope to do at our former level of performance.  Giving up is to quit.  I am not advocating quitting.  Quitting is a formula for simply accepting death and waiting patiently for it.  I have no desire to share such a counsel.  I am advising that we realistically appraise our abilities and decide when it is time for us to hang up our spurs or gloves and perhaps pursue some other activity.

never give up

I have been running for nearly fifty years now.  I know that it gets harder to run each year, but I am still able to comfortably continue my outdoor runs.  When the time comes that it becomes too dangerous or too hard, I will either buy a treadmill, switch to bicycling or simply go out for long walks each day.  I will let go of running but I will not give up exercising.  Not letting go is generally motivated by too much pride and in the case of old age, pride definitely goes before a fall.  Witness the number of elderly people who still insist on climbing up on their roofs or getting up on that ladder to fix something.  The outcome is too often sadly predictable.  As Pete Seeger sang “When will they ever learn.”

Coping

When we were young, we did not put much effort into coping.  As we get older, it often becomes more difficult to cope with life.  We can become burdened by physical problems, problems with our loved ones, monetary problems, or many other social issues.  We need to have ways to cope with these issues as we get older.  I have found that we can break coping strategies into two categories:  Mental Fitness and Physical Fitness.

  • Mental Fitness

Perhaps the most difficult mental challenge we face as we age is to stay engaged in life.  Once we are no longer employed, it can seem that life has no meaning.  Suicide rates among the elderly are very high and attest to this loss of meaning and purpose as we age.

“Many associate suicides with young people, like troubled teens or twenty somethings who never quite got their lives off the ground.  In fact, it is much more common among older adults.  According to new figures just released this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the highest rate of suicides in America is among people age 45 to 64. There were more than 232,000 suicides in this age group from 1999 to 2016.”  — Forbes, 2018, Older Adults at Greatest Risk For Suicide

I believe that there are three keys to mental fitness.  We must stay interested in life, involved in life and active in life.

Staying interested might involve becoming interested.  Perhaps when you were working, you were so busy that you had no other outside interests.  You now have time to go to the library and find some area of knowledge that you are excited about.  The best way to stay interested in life is to keep learning.  It might mean continuing to read the paper or read some books or write some papers.  Write your memoirs for your family.  Too few elderly leave anything behind when they die except a box of lifeless pictures.  What about telling your children who, what and why you did the things you did when they were growing up.  Chances are they never went to work with you or really understood what you did when they were growing up.

My wife Karen has taken up playing the dulcimer.  She plays with a group of other dulcimer players (mostly retired women in Tucson) who go by the name of the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble.  They play at churches, festivals, nursing homes and assisted living centers.  I have attended many of these sessions and I can safely say that Karen and her group are deeply appreciated by the older people at these centers who may be too frail to get out to concerts anymore.

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Staying involved might mean finding a charity or volunteer group to work with.  It might mean taking more time with your family and grandchildren.  A good friend of mine who is 86 has become quite involved with several groups including the Rotary, SCORE and a Marine Corp Honor Guard.  He told me this past week that he has participated at 451 funerals for former Marines.  Lou is involved in life and still making a difference in the lives of others.

Staying active.  I am not talking about physical activity here, but activity aimed at exploring the world.  Activity aimed at opening your mind to the world around you.  One way to stay active mentally is to go someplace you have not been before.  Go to a meeting of your political party.  Go to a church.  Go to a new restaurant.  Go to a park, museum, zoo or famous tourist sight.  Go anyplace, just don’t sit at home.  Become an explorer of life.  It is never too late.

Mental health experts will tell you that the best way to fight depression and thoughts of suicide is to stay active.  I know many people my age who are finally getting out to see the world.  They are taking Senior Classes at their local college, going on cruises, joining hiking clubs or other clubs that help them get out and explore the world.

Karen and I have been to thirty-three countries.  We are planning to go to Russia next year.  I know neither of us has the energy for the trips that we took forty years ago, but I cannot imagine my life without exploring some new places that I have not been before.  We cannot afford to go as frequently as we used to but with some foresight and planning, we can still manage to make a trip every few years.  By the way, almost every time we have planned a trip, someone has said “Don’t you think it is dangerous to go there.  What about the terrorists?”  I assure you that I would rather be shot by a terrorist then die a craven coward in my bed.

  • Physical Fitness

There are three components of physical fitness.  These are Exercise, Diet and Discipline.  I do not have to tell you why physical fitness is important.  I doubt if anyone in the world denies the importance of fitness.  However, let me tell you a story which I think (sadly) exemplifies the American approach to exercise and diet and discipline.

I walked into a Circle K one morning (Very typical for me each day) and poured a cup of decaf coffee.  I walked up to the cashier.  She was in her late twenties and quite obese.  She must have been following a protocol because she asked me (as all cashiers at Circle K usually did) if I wanted a donut.  I replied that “Yes, I wanted a donut, but I did not want the calories.”  She answered very solemnly “I used to care but I don’t care anymore.”

The gyms and athletic clubs joke each year about the New Year Goals Effect.  Right after New Years (every year) the parking lots at the gyms will be filled to overflowing with new members.  Newly minted exercise addicts who have decided to lose fifty pounds, build fantastic muscle and look like Supergirl or Superman.  The joke among the fitness crew is that this will only last about six weeks and then the parking lot will return to normal as the new members go back to watching sports and eating potato chips during the “big game.”  Every weekend there is a big game.  Americans have become the fattest and (dare I say) physically laziest people in the world.

  • Exercise:

It does not matter whether you are eight or eighty.  Physical exercise is good for you.  A good physical regime includes:  stretching, strength, balance and cardio.  An hour a day, four or five days a week for anyone over sixty is enough to keep you feeling fit and looking fit.  The problem you are going to face is that too many regimes are designed for younger people.  The idea of “exercise goal setting” is highly overrated for anyone over sixty.  I have written a blog on this aspect of fitness which has a great deal of useful information on setting up a realistic exercise program when you are over sixty.  Go to How Can We Set Realistic Exercise Goals as We Age?

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  • Diet:

Moderation and common sense are the two keys here.  Every other day some expert or study is telling you that something is good for you or bad for you.  Today, eggs are bad.  Tomorrow eggs are good.  Today gluten is bad.  Tomorrow gluten is good.  Today alcohol is bad.  Tomorrow alcohol is good.  Today butter is bad, tomorrow butter is good.  The conflicting studies, reports and information are enough to drive anyone crazy.  What I have found over the years is the adage “All things in moderation” is generally a good way to go.

True, some things are definitely bad for some people, even many people.  Smoking has no health benefits.  Excessive alcohol consumption is not going to do any good for your health.  In fact, though, excessive anything from donuts to beef to fish may not be good for you.  Our bodies seem to thrive on a balanced diet.

I am a calorie counter.  Every day, I enter my calories in an online software program called “Fatsecret.”  This program allows me to research calories for thousands of food items, enter them in a calorie spreadsheet and at the end of the day, it tells me how many fat, carbs, proteins and total calories I have ingested.  It is easy to use, and I find that when I use it faithfully, I can keep my weight and body measurements in acceptable ranges.  I use a weight scale at home which measures about six different body factors to monitor my health.  These scales are cheap to purchase and easy to use.  I calculate my body indexes about every six months or so.  It takes less than one minute on the scale and then I enter the data in an Excel Spreadsheet.   As of this month, my latest data is:

Body fat: 18.1

Muscle:  29.9

Bone:  4.6

TBW:  67

BMI:  24

Weight:  Average for this month – 149.42

I enter the following data from my annual physical into my spread sheet as well to help me track trends and to see whether I am maintaining, declining or improving.  Trend data is much more relevant for determining health priorities than single data points taken once per year.  Few if any doctors routinely track trend data for their patients.  My latest annual physical gave me the following data:

Glucose:  92

Total Cholesterol:  211

HDL:  71

LDL:  128

Blood pressure:  115/70

Resting pulse rate:  60

  •  Discipline:

 The last factor in staying physically fit is discipline.  You might think that some of the above is “overkill.”  What you need to remember is that you do not have to enter data every day.  If you manage to do two out of every three days in the month, you will still have plenty of data to manage your diet and health.  There are many days when Karen and I are traveling, when I forget, when we are busy with friends or when we are at someone else’s house, that it is difficult to chart any data.  I do not worry.  Just like you do not have to exercise every day to be healthy, you do not have to chart data every single day.  If you manage to get sixty percent of your days charted, you will be doing great.  I set my goal at sixty percent for the month in terms of charting as well as days to exercise.  If I miss my goal, I simply try again next month.  The secret is to keep trying and not to give up.  If I have a bad month, I get up and try again next month.

Thinking back to the joke about health wannabees on New Year’s Day trying to get fit in less than six weeks.   It probably will not happen.  Some will make it to fitness, but it is not a six-week project, it is more likely (depending on your present level of fitness) a two to three-year project.  What will separate the winners in this battle from the “wannabees”, is simply the factor of discipline and determination.  Can you get up today and go to the gym?  If not, can you get up tomorrow and go to the gym?  Can you manage to go to the gym at least 35 percent of the days in this month?  Can you manage 25 percent?  My goal is sixty percent.   Many months I do not make this goal.  I try again the next month.  Goals are not etched in stone.  You need to be determined and disciplined but you also need to be flexible and fallible.  We are all only human and we will fail, time and time again.  It takes discipline to keep trying and not to give up.

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There are two more segments to aging that I would like to cover, but I fear that this blog has become too long.  In part three, we will look at what I call “Facing Reality” issues as well as the problem of “Economics.”  This latter issue will address money problems, budgets and finances as we age.  I specifically want to deal with those of us who are not rich and did not set aside enough to simply live happily ever after with no worries about money.  I for one need to be concerned about money every day, but I do not use the term worry since I generally have some things under control.  I want to share with you some of my strategies in these areas next blog.

Time for Questions:

What did you find helpful in my blog?  What ideas will you try?  What strategies have you found that you think help you to age gracefully?  Can you share your ideas in the comments section?

Life is just beginning.

“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom. Think of love as a state of grace, not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself.”  ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are the Myths and Realities of Marriage? — Part 2

Last week we looked at what I called the “Cons” or negative assumptions about marriage.  This week, we will look at some “Pros” or positive assumptions that one can make about marriage.  I offer both sets of assumptions with the thought in mind that “The truth will set you free.”  Marriage is not all sweet and sugar but neither is it all sour and vinegar.  A good marriage has its ups and downs but a really happy marriage will have more ups than downs.  Most happy marriages are based on a set of realistic assumptions concerning what marriage is all about and what it takes to make a good marriage.

  1. Marriage is a means by which two people can in time learn the true meaning of love.

Most of us are pretty young when we get married.  With the exception of second marriages, where naiveté can be attributed to a rebound effect, most naiveté in a first marriage is due to youth and inexperience.  Many second marriages show that often older people are no wiser than younger people.  Love in a first marriage is more about passion and infatuation than about true love.  Saying “I love you” about someone you hardly know means about the same as saying “I love my new car.”  You cannot really love anything or anyone until you have some history with that person.

Love is a learned trait.  Most of the time, we use love in a very simplistic and general manner.  Jesus said “True love is the willingness to lay down your life for another.”  I disagree with this definition.  I think this kind of love can be a form of courage or bravado even without any notion of love whatsoever.  How can you love anyone whom you do not know?  I might be willing to risk my life to save someone who is drowning in a frozen lake, but it would be ridiculous to think I love that person.

True love is closer to a passion that is based on respect and admiration and gratitude.  When you first marry anyone, all three of these traits may only exist in very rudimentary states.  Time and shared experience help bring more perspective to each of them.  Over time, we begin to respect each other as we learn more about each other and how we treat life.  We begin to admire our partners more as we see how they cope with problems and as we both sacrifice our own needs for the good of each other.  Gratitude is the highest state of love in a marriage.  When you are truly grateful for your partner and when you feel this gratitude in your entire being, you have arrived at the shore of true love.

“True love doesn’t happen right away; it’s an ever-growing process. It develops after you’ve gone through many ups and downs, when you’ve suffered together, cried together, laughed together.” — Ricardo Montalban

  1. Marriage is a system for raising a new generation that will carry on the best values of the old generation.

Parents have a responsibility to raise children who have sound moral, ethical and personal values.  Each new generation builds on the shoulders of previous generations.   It would be foolish to think that the values of the past should all be the values of the next generation.  The needs of each new generation demand new values to cope with problems and issues that could not have been foreseen by previous generations.  Nevertheless, there are many values and ideas from the past that an emerging generation should have knowledge and insight of.  Lessons from the past can help to inform the future and mistakes from the past can still have meaning and relevance to issues that are current today.

Parents have an obligation to help insure that any children that they are responsible for, whether adopted, natural birth or foster children, learn a set of values that will help them to be people who understand the concepts of discipline and integrity.  Too many parents see their children as means to their own end or as “mini” friends.  Helicopter parents, soccer moms and sports dads are all manifestations of parents who have little idea about their real obligations towards their children.   Such parents want to be “best” friends with their children instead of fathers and mothers.  Even worse, are the parents who want to live vicariously through their children and dream that their kids will live the lives that they wanted to live.

“To let them go on believing that the world is safe, that they will be provided for and achieve worthwhile things even if they remain stupid, shirk integrity, despise courtesy, and act only from self-interest, that they ought to rely on those stronger, smarter, and more able to solve their problems, would be the gravest disservice: to them, and to society as a whole.”  —  J. Aleksandr Wootton

  1. Marriage is a potpourri of passion, ecstasy, happiness, sadness, grief, anger and challenge.

I may be repeating myself here, but I want to emphasize that all marriages will have good days and bad days.  Some of the bad days will be due to poor judgement, selfishness and poor planning.  They are days that could have been in the range of your ability to change.  Other bad days will have little or nothing to do with you.  Friends will die.  Relatives will get sick.  Accidents will happen.  You and your partner will grow old.  You will have no control over any of these things.

Whether or not you can change things, what matters the most is that you and your partner can support each other through the ups and downs.  You need to expect that bad things will happen to good people.  When they do, how will you support the other person?

A number of years ago, my wife and I went scuba diving for the first time.  We had both received our PADI certification and done a few lake dives.  We decided to visit the Caribbean and do some scuba diving there.  We went to an island off the coast of Belize called Caye Caulker.  We found a dive shop on the island and scheduled a day of diving for a day or so after we arrived.   Karen had not had any experience with ocean diving.  I had done quite a bit of diving but it was many years before.

We suited up and went down.  We were partners on this dive and that meant that we would have each other’s back.  Karen has more problems with buoyancy control than I do but we finally got her weights adjusted correctly and down we went.  We descended with six or so other divers and the dive master.  We had a great time though Karen kept trying to bob up instead of down.  When it was clear that we had little oxygen left we decided to come up.  We signaled the dive master and most of the group also headed back to the dive boat.  We had stayed above 120 feet so the bends were not really a concern.  We still wanted to ascend slowly though as it always is a good idea to observe this protocol.  I rose with Karen until we reached the surface.  The water was pretty choppy on top.

When we hit the surface, I was feeling tired and I headed to the boat.  I totally forgot Karen and I took my tanks up and got on the boat. When I looked back to see how Karen was doing, she was still in the water. She was tired and having a hard time getting her tanks off.  Some of the other people were in the water and they came to help her.  She finally made it back in the boat very tired and exhausted and somewhat scared.  I felt really bad.  I had deserted her and thought only about myself.  It was somewhat hard for me to get out of the water and on the boat by myself but it was next to impossible for Karen.  I did not think about her and I felt guilty for the rest of the day.  I promised her and myself that from then on, I would make sure she was on the boat before I tried to get out.

It is not always easy to look after another person.  It is very easy to put our needs first and our partners needs second.   A key dilemma of marriage is how to put both needs first or how to know when one needs to go first and the other can go second.  Marriage presents us with endless possibilities to work on this problem.  Sometimes we will succeed and sometimes we will fail.  However, as with any worthwhile endeavor, the trick is to keep trying, keep working on things and when you fail to try again and to never give up.  The effort to care for another person builds trust in a relationship and this trust is the foundation for a good marriage.  Layer it with respect, admiration and gratitude for each other and you will live “happily ever after.”

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”  — I Corinthians 13:7

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been in love?  How many times?  What do you think love is?  What do you think true love is based on?  How does one create true love?

Life is just beginning.

“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end.  And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you yourself keep it.  But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word.  We are your friends, Frodo.” — ― J.R.R. Tolkien,

 

Happy New Year:  Welcome to 2016  The Best Year in the History of the Human Race!

New-Years-ResolutionsToday is the day when we make new resolutions and promises galore.  A time to begin over and to make dreams and wishes come true that did not work out the year before.  We bring in the New Year as a new born baby, full of promise and youth.  Some skeptics might look at the trail of broken commitments from bygone years and laugh at the efforts of others.  Such cynics ignore the profound possibility of hope and change.   (Listen to the Hope Song by Lata, it will inspire you more than my words ever could)

True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.”   — Akhenaton

your-dream-doesnt-have-an-expiraiton-date-take-a-deep-breath-and-try-again-kt-witten-inspirational-quote-julie-flyagre-narcolepsy-bloggerYes, there is injustice and inhumanity in the world.  Yes, there is poverty and disease.  Yes, there are natural disasters and misery.  But there is also happiness and love.  There is compassion and charity.  There is a world of people who are trying to create a better world and are willing to put their lives on the line to do it.  Wherever we look there are heroes and heroines who will sacrifice themselves in an effort to create a world full of joy and love.

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.Goran Persson

sisyphus1Yes, I do not doubt it for one second.  We will be better this year than we were last year.  We will continue to grow and change.  We will continue to overcome the folly of yesterday and of our past lives.  We will overcome the mistakes we have made and do better this year than last year.  Hope, they say, springs eternal in the human breast and what would we be without it?  We need to try again and when we fail, try again.  The only failure is when we stop trying.  So disregard the naysayers, go ahead and make some new goals and new dreams.  Make some New Year resolutions.  Stretch your vision and your horizons.  People do not perish because of their dreams; they perish because of a lack of dreams.

Make New Year’s goals.  Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part.  It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come.  — Melody Beattie

ReachingOurGoals042610Time for Questions:

Only one question today, “What are you going to do this year to make the world a better place.”

Life is just beginning.

There is no going back.  Let the past go.  It is time to start fresh.

What the Hell Do We Need Morality For?

morals and ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 deadly sins

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

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

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

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

ARTICLE 29 —  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I think we should care about morality? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Questions:

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

Life is just beginning.

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

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