30 January 2013

Thoughts on Finding Fault

It's easy to find fault in things--far too easy for most of us. Somehow, the flaws are far more easy to see than the bigger picture, than the amount of work and thought and preparation have gone into a particular piece of work. Think about it--if someone just painted his or her house and missed a spot, what's the first thing we see? If someone just cooked us dinner and used a bit too much salt, what's the first thing we notice when we put the food into our mouths?

And if we do notice the bare spot on the house, aren't we doing the person a favor by pointing it out? And if the food's too salty we may not be able to eat it, so we'll definitely need to explain why.

Many of us carry this tendency to extremes, though. Many people feel that they need to tell everyone about every little fault that they find in every situation. They feel that they're doing people favors by pointing out what they see as flaws and problems, even though they may not be in a position in which people expect them to find mistakes. And when they do so, they risk hurting people greatly.

When a kid shows us a piece of artwork, for example, does it truly matter if the flower is taller than the tree? What possible purpose can it serve to point out what we see as a flaw when the picture already is finished? We really need to consider the effect of the criticism on the artist before we look for the problems. Is encouragement called for, or evaluation? We don't have to be teaching at every moment of our lives--we don't have to be finding things that need to be "fixed" all the time.

As a college English teacher, I find that very few people other than my students ever want me to read stuff that they write. There's a very simple reason for this, too--in their experience, they've found that English teachers look for the flaws and point them out, and they simply don't want to put themselves up for that kind of criticism. I learned this early and I don't point out things like misspellings or grammatical errors unless someone wants me to do so, but that doesn't usually help--once someone finds out what I do for a living, they want to avoid having someone else find fault in their work.

When we find fault in something that someone else has done, we're very often adding a negative element to our relationship with that person. We're defining limits of trust and sharing--if I know that someone is going to find fault with everything that I do, I will not share with that person unless I'm truly seeking criticism. As fewer people are willing to share with us, we lose much of the richness that comes from and through that sharing, and we become more isolated, less integrated. The loss of the sharing of others is one of the greatest losses we can cause ourselves, and it may even reach a point at which people just don't want to be around us at all.

There are, of course, times when fault-finding is appropriate. If a movie is simply awful, there's nothing wrong with saying so. After all, movies have been put out in the public eye, and criticism is expected. But if we take it too far and find things to criticize in every movie we see, we may find people trying to avoid us in the future. If a song is just awful, what's wrong with saying so? We just have to be careful not to alienate friends or loved ones who might like the song.

Fault-finding and criticizing, no matter what our intentions, tend to drive wedges between us and other people. A person who finds fault in everything is a person to be avoided, when all is said and done, and who among us wants other people to avoid us whenever they can?

28 January 2013

Thoughts on character

If I'm to have a character that others admire, I need to focus on developing that character. I need to make decisions that are honorable and honest. I need to focus on others rather than myself. I need to be consistent in my dealings with other (while being careful to avoid what Emerson called "a foolish consistency"). And I must be true to myself, my God, and others. I should never seek the admiration of others, but if I develop an honest, loving, caring character, the admiration will come.

27 January 2013

Faith and New Starts

I'm not quite sure what people mean when they say they're "putting their faith to the test."  I'm not sure that faith is something that gets tested, like light bulbs or cars or anything that's manufactured.  I am sure that the saying generally comes up when people take risks, especially huge risks--and by huge I mean potentially damaging ones.  When we take risks, we're putting ourselves in situations in which we can get hurt or damaged, emotionally, physically, financially, or in any of a number of other ways.

But isn't risk an important part of life?  And shouldn't faith be a natural part of our lives, also, and thus a natural part of any risk-taking that we may encounter?

Right now, for example, my wife and I are involved in a pretty large risk.  Because of our former job and living situations, as well as the current employment problems that still confound the world in general, we decided together to set out and move to a new place and new jobs.  While many people would see this as a huge risk, we don't necessarily see it as such.  We do see it as a risk, for there is the potential of damage, but we don't see it as a huge risk, mostly because of our faith.

You see, life always has been good to us.  Not in the ways that we sometimes wanted, and not in ways that have made us wealthy or that have given us an over-abundance of material goods, but in ways that have kept us safe and well cared for.  We both have faith that things will work out, and that faith helps us to see our current move in a very positive light, rather than looking at the world from a place of worry and concern.  When I was laid off from work last year, that wasn't the end of the world--after all, millions of other people were going through the same thing, many in much worse situations than I.  Rather than look at the situation as justification for losing my faith-- or questioning it--I saw the situation as life pushing me in a different direction.  And the work I ended up getting six months later definitely turned out to be a positive learning experience.

I don't see faith as trusting that God is going to look down and meddle in my life to make things work.  God is not going to flip a switch in someone's brain and have that person feel magically compelled to offer me a job.  God is not going to take over the steering of my car and drive me to someplace that's looking to hire someone with just my qualifications.  Rather, I see faith as simply trusting.  I need to go on doing what I do, following my conscience and following my heart, trusting that things will turn out.  What we tend to call "setbacks" are usually just minor obstacles that we need to go past.  I may apply for thirty jobs before getting one; some people apply for hundreds.  But the right work is out there for me, and it may be that the right work isn't anything at all like the work I had thought it would or should be, but if I approach it in the right ways, I most certainly can find any work to be fulfilling and gratifying.

When I was younger, I had a pretty negative relationship with faith.  I used to think that prayers would only be answered through strong faith, and that since none of my prayers were being answered, my faith could never grow.  And since my faith could never grow, none of my prayers would ever be answered.  That perspective, though, was about me and my thought processes, and not at all about the true nature of faith.

Many people have trust issues.  Adult children of alcoholics, people who come from broken homes, people who grew up with unreliable adults in their lives--all of us have internalized some sorts of problems with trusting others.  But even among those problems, we can see that such problems are inherently unfair to those who deserve our trust.  A woman who has been burned by several different men, may have issues of trust, but is it fair to the potential new men in her life that she treat them with distrust?  They don't deserve not to be trusted.

And very often, we don't trust people until they prove that they can be trusted.  This is the wrong way of going about things.  The proper way to view trust is that we should trust people until they prove that they can't be trusted (while still being careful--we wouldn't trust a person we've known for an hour with our life savings, would we?).

I do know that God (however you choose to see God) and life are deserving of our trust.  This trust is our faith.  When we have faith, we live our lives as if things are going to work out well, no matter how they may look at any given time.  And the fact that we're living our lives that way can help us to create the lives that we have our faith in, thus helping us to strengthen our faith even more.

My wife and I don't take God for granted.  We don't say, "Well, we're taking chances so God will make things work."  Rather, we say that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, looking to make things work in our new home, and we trust that our hard work will help us to find what we need to find.  We may not find the work that's what we envisioned, but we have faith that we will find the work that's best for us at this point in our lives.  And that faith is going to help us not to worry and not to feel too much stress and to be able to give our best no matter what we do.  And that faith is going to allow us to live each day fully in the meantime, not squandering days because of concerns about the future.  Faith truly is a strong tool in our lives, and one that we can go about strengthening on our own.

23 January 2013

A nice thought on love from Richard Carlson

An excellent way to practice love is to set your attention on seeing beyond someone's behavior or personality. Try to realize that beneath the surface insecurity, negative thinking, and poor behavior, everyone is connected to God. Just as you wouldn't get angry at someone simply because he or she is in a wheelchair, you need not be angry because a person hasn't yet opened his heart to the nourishment of his Soul. When people act in unloving ways, it only means that they are out of touch with their Souls and aren't feeling spiritually nourished. When that happens, there is no need to panic. The best we can do for ourselves is nourish our own Soul by looking beyond the behavior we don't care for, thus practicing the art of love.       Richard Carlson

22 January 2013

Some Nice Thoughts on Love from Stephen Levine

We use the word "love" but we have no more understanding of love than we do of anger or fear or jealousy or even joy, because we have seldom investigated what that state of mind is.  What are the feelings we so quickly label as love?  For many what is called love is not lovely at all but is a tangle of needs and desires, of momentary ecstasies and bewilderment.  Moments of unity, of intense feelings of closeness, occur in a mind so fragile that the least squint or sideways glance shatters its oneness into a dozen ghostly paranoias.

When we say love we usually mean some emotion, some deep feeling for an object or person, that momentarily allows us to open to another.  But in such emotional love, self-protection is never very far away.  Still there is "business" to the relationship:  clouds of jealousy, possessiveness, guilt, intentional and unintentional manipulation, separateness, and the shadow of all previous "loves" darkens the light of oneness.

But what I mean by love is not an emotion, it is a state of being.  True love has no object.  Many speak of their unconditional love for another.  Unconditional love is the experience of being; there is no "I" and "other," and anyone or anything it touches is experienced in love.  You cannot unconditionally love someone.  You can only be unconditional love.  It is not a dualistic emotion.  It is a sense of oneness with all that is.  The experience of love arises when we surrender our separateness into the universal.  It is a feeling of unity.  You don't love another, you are another.  There is no fear because there is no separation.

Stephen Levine

15 January 2013

Some nice thoughts on work

There are four stenographers in my office and each of us is assigned to take letters from several men.  Once in a while we get jammed up in these assignments.  One day, when an assistant department head insisted that I do a long letter over, I started to rebel.  I tried to point out to him that the letter could be corrected without being retyped--and he retorted that if I didn't do it over, he would find someone else who would!  I was absolutely fuming!

But as I started to retype this letter, it suddenly occurred to me that there were a lot of other people who would jump at the chance to do the work I was doing.  Also, that I was being paid a salary to do just that work.  I began to feel better.  I suddenly made up my mind to do my work as if I actually enjoyed it--even though I despised it.  Then I made this important discovery:  If I do my work as if I really enjoy it, then I do enjoy it to some extent.  I also found I can work faster when I enjoy my work.  So there is seldom any need now for me to work overtime.

This new attitude of mine gained me the reputation of being a good worker.  And when one of the department superintendents needed a private secretary, he asked for me for the job--because, he said, I was willing to do the extra work without being sulky!  This matter of the power of a changed mental attitude has been a tremendously important discovery to me.  It has worked wonders!

Vallie G. Golden

14 January 2013

Sick Days

I'm home sick today.  If you knew me, you'd know how rare a thing that is.  Some sort of stomach or intestinal virus has me in its grasp, and it would have been a bad idea all the way around to try to make it through a whole school day--I think just about everyone can understand why.

The interesting thing about this sick day is how long it took me to decide to take it.  While my instinct told me that I needed to stay home and my logic agreed with my instinct, there was still a huge part of me that kept coming up with reasons that I shouldn't stay home.  That's the hyper-responsible part of me that just doesn't want to do things like take sick days, the part of me that was developed as I grew up in a family situation that tends to breed either hyper-responsible people or completely irresponsible people.  I became one of the former.

Now that I have decided to stay home sick, I feel good about the decision.  This is a chance for me to recover and rest, to spend a day trying to get better.  Being at school might have been possible, but I know for sure that it wouldn't have helped the healing process along.

There are times when we just have to take heed of what our bodies are telling us and obey their messages.  I'm a person that pretty much never calls in sick--this is the third sick day I've used in the last six years--and it's hard for me to take the hint and stay home.  My sense of responsibility tells me that I need to be there, but I know that I don't--the school day will progress very well without my presence.  The students will be fine, and the other teachers will be fine, and the administrators will be fine.  And someone who can probably use the money will have a chance to earn a bit more.  And I can get well--I can recover more and allow my body to heal or to fight off the bug or whatever it is that's affecting me.

Some days we just have to follow the hints that life is giving us and give our logic and rationality a rest, too.  Now that I am at home, resting, trying to get well, I have to admit that all of my logic that told me that I could and should be at work today was flawed--and I almost listened to it, almost obeyed it.  I'm very glad I didn't.

08 January 2013

For Whose Benefit?

I'm always impressed when I see people forgive others, especially when I see that the forgiveness is sincere and unconditional.  Most of us aren't often in the position to be able to forgive others for dramatic or egregious wrongs, because most of the time people are pretty cool to each other.  When we are in a position in which we have to decide whether to forgive someone else or not, it's important that we ask ourselves just who will benefit from our forgiveness.  Do we forgive in order to make the other person feel better, or do we forgive because our forgiveness raises the quality of our own lives?

Since I brought up the question, it's probably pretty obvious that I would choose the latter answer as the correct one.  I would say that the most important reason for forgiving someone is to bring our own minds and spirits to peace, for holding on to resentment and anger is one of the most common and destructive reasons for not having peace.  And when we don't have peace, we affect our entire being--mind, body, and spirit--in very negative ways.  Our stress levels go up, often causing physical problems like headaches or poor digestion or even higher blood pressure, depending on how long we hold on to the negative feelings.  And as long as we're focusing on the negative aspects of what's happened, our spirits and our minds can't be free to soar and to enjoy life because the negative feelings drag our spirits down into the dirt, where there isn't a whole lot of soaring going on.

Forgiveness can be a great boon to the people being forgiven, especially if they sincerely regret something that they've done, mistakes that they've made.  But there comes a point at which even the most contrite person will say, "Forget it--if you're too stubborn to forgive me, then I don't want to have anything to do with you."  How many relationships have been ruined not by a careless action or a grave mistake, but by someone's unwillingness to forgive that action or error?  It's an incredible waste of human energy to bear a grudge.

Is there someone in your life who could use your unconditional forgiveness?  Then forgive them, now.  You'll be doing a great thing for that other person or those other people, but more importantly you'll be doing something very important for yourself.