28 December 2016

It's a Beautiful Day

Sometimes when I'm trying to think of what to write about, I just open up my eyes and ears and look for something that's already a part of my life.  Sometimes it's a newspaper article or advertisement, sometimes it's a book that I'm reading, sometimes it's the memory of something that I saw happen yesterday or a few days ago.

Today, it was pretty easy--the song "Beautiful Sunday" was playing on my computer when I sat down.  "Birds are singing/here by my side/let's take the car and/let's go for a ride"--nice lyrics for any time.  It's not Sunday right now, but who cares?  Every day is quite simply a beautiful day.  Carole King also had a song called "Beautiful" that starts out "You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face. . . . you're beautiful as you feel."

So much of our lives have to do with our own decisions concerning how we see the world.  If we wake up and see the day before us as drudgery, guess how we're going to approach that day, and guess how we're going to feel?  On the other hand, if we wake up and realize that we have a whole day of miraculous things like flowers and children and birds singing and the chance to learn more about our chosen careers, then guess what that day's going to be like?

Both kinds of days, of course, are affected by other people and their actions.  On the day full of drudgery, it's of course possible that a good friend or co-worker is going to lift our spirits.  And on the beautiful day, it's possible that someone's going to try to bring us down.  That's why in the former case, the lyrics to so many songs talk about the world being beautiful "because you're here by my side"; it's as if the world couldn't be a beautiful place without another person there to validate it for us.  Even the song that started this train of thought shows that tendency:  "When you say that you love me/It's a beautiful day."

But if we make the decision to look for the beauty in each day, there's no way that anyone else should be able to take it away from us.  Even if someone does try, we have the ability to reject those attempts and keep our day positive.  We do have the power to decide how we see things, and if we work to develop that power, then no one else will be able to change that decision.

The fact is, it is a beautiful day.  There's no difference between this day and any other day that we've seen as beautiful except our own personal situations today--it's exactly the same world as it was when we saw it as exceptional.  So make the choice today, tomorrow, and the next day--see the world for what it is, not for how it's reflecting our feelings, and then our feelings will start to reflect the beauty of the world, rather than the other way around.

 Quotations on today from Living Life Fully

16 December 2016

The Hardest Choices

I went for a long run one Saturday morning long ago, and it was a glorious early-fall day.  The air was cool and clear, there was almost no traffic, and the trees were just beginning to turn.  I had found a new route that went almost entirely through wooded areas, and the beauty of the area was amazing.  It would have been a perfect run if it hadn't been for the chipmunk that I found on the road.

It looked like it had been hit by a car because it couldn't move anything behind its midsection.  It was clawing at the road with its front legs and looking around itself, but it simply couldn't move.

All of a sudden, I was faced with a dilemma that I didn't even want to consider.  I could do one of two things--I could continue running and leave the animal there on the road to suffer a great deal until it either starved to death, got run over by another car, or got eaten by some predator, or I could do the humane thing and kill it and put it out of its misery.  I didn't want to do either, of course, but I had to choose.

And the worst option for me was the best thing for the chipmunk.

Now, if I were a farmer or a rancher, this decision would have been very simple.  People who live and work with animals tend to have a very realistic vision of life and death, and they know that sometimes death is absolutely necessary.  But I haven't lived with animals my whole life--in fact, I've had very few pets.  So I was out there alone on the road with a small animal that needed me to make a decision, one that I never before had had to make.  And while I try my hardest to respect all life and let living creatures be, I knew in my heart that the only thing to do was to kill the chipmunk.  So I did, in the way that I thought would be the least painful to the animal that already was in a lot of pain (I won't go into the details).

As I ran away, I started to think of how suddenly the need to make a choice had come upon me, and how often such things happen.  If we find out that a friend is doing something illegal, do we tell his or her family, or the police?  If we know that a spouse has stolen from his or her workplace, do we report it?  Life is full of decisions that come upon us because of someone else's actions or inaction, and we have to be able to make those decisions that will allow us to live with clear consciences, if we're to continue to be the people we're meant to be.

Not all of the decisions are easy, especially when both of the options available to us are unpleasant.  I could have asked someone driving by to run over the animal, but I know that if I had, I would have passed on a responsibility that I knew was mine, and mine alone.  While I found the experience of killing a poor little animal to be extremely unpleasant, I knew all the time that I was doing something kind, not harmful, and that it was the best of all possible choices. Running away (literally) from the dilemma would have left me with a great deal of regret, knowing that I had left it there to suffer for who knows how long.

Now I kind of wonder if the chipmunk is going to visit me in a nightmare, but I don't think it will.  I believe its suffering ended long before it would have otherwise, and I'm pretty sure that I did the right thing.  The hardest choices usually aren't as clear-cut as this one was, and if the choice involves other people, they often will try to make you live to regret doing the right thing.  But if your conscience is clear, you can stand strong in the face of all criticism, knowing that you've done what you know to be right.

The hardest choices so often come upon us out of the blue, as the result of no actions of our own.  All of a sudden we find ourselves having to decide between two or three alternatives, all of which are unpleasant.  But which choice is the highest choice?  Which choice will bring the most legitimate benefits to the most people?  Which choice truly is right?  Your mind can rationalize all it wants, but your heart and spirit will tell you the truth.  Listen to the truth, and live by it.  The choices have to be made, one way or another.

11 December 2016

This Day, This Moment

We've all heard and read about how today is the only day that we have, how this moment is all that we truly have, how yesterday and tomorrow really don't matter and that we must focus on living in this present moment if we're truly to be able to live happily.  While this sounds like a great philosophy, it raises many questions that seem to contradict it:  what about planning for tomorrow?  What about the lessons that we learned last week?  Does this mean that we shouldn't have the memories of the beautiful times in our past?  If we do truly live in this moment, doesn't that leave us open to many problems that planning and remembering could help us to overcome?

Well, yes and no.  Basically, the focus of this philosophy is on those things over which we have control, and this moment and its decisions and actions are the only things that we actually can control.  If I insulted someone yesterday, I no longer have control over that action--it's over and done with.  However, I do have control over today--my choices are mine.  Do I mope around, angry at myself for my insensitivity, beating myself up emotionally and calling myself horrible names?  Each moment that I continue in such behavior, I'm making a choice to beat myself up and not to pursue an alternative action such as apologizing for my behavior and allowing myself to continue with my life.

Perhaps my action occurred over a long period of time when I was thoughtless or harmful to others.  If that's true, acting ashamed and treating myself badly today isn't going to change anything that I did, but it will assure that I don't contribute anything positive to the world.  Allowing myself to go on and act differently right now will add a positive force to the world, a positive influence for many people to see.  Ebeneezer Scrooge is a wonderful example of this--once he found his change of heart, he was immediately happy and joyful, and he helped many people because of it.  He didn't waste time on regret, even though many of us would like to see such a person suffer to "pay for" the pain he's caused.  Their suffering, though, contributes nothing to the world except for giving us a warped sense of justice.  When those people change their ways and contribute positively to the world, then there's a change worth seeing.

Living for today also doesn't preclude planning for the future.  I know I have to go to work tomorrow, so one of the decisions I make today is to go to bed at a decent hour.  I know that my stepkids will be in college in a couple of years (one already is), so I decide today not to buy certain things, and to put money away to make the sting of helping to pay for college less painful.  I know that I'll probably be going into the same stores that I'm going into today, so I decide to be courteous and polite (and enough of this behavior turns it into a habit).  I know that when someone asks me tomorrow what I did today, I don't want to have to hide something that I'll be ashamed to admit, so I make the decisions today that will make it unnecessary for me to hide anything.

Besides, I have no control over what tomorrow brings.  How many times have we said no to some possibility because we have to do something else tomorrow, only to find that the something else never happens?  Tomorrow may bring a snowstorm or a bright sunny day that precludes many possibilities.  How many people didn't invest money anywhere except the stock market in the late 90's, sure that the market would continue to bring huge returns?  The decisions they made in the 90's to put their money in just one investment (stocks) brought about huge financial losses during our recession of ten years ago.  If I had ten thousand dollars to invest today (and I don't!), I would keep in mind that I can't predict or control what tomorrow will bring, so I'd invest the money in several different areas to offset possible disasters.

This moment offers you many riches.  Look around yourself, starting with the miracle of the computer that sits before you.  Think of the amount of information and processing power that the machine holds!  Look out a window at the buildings that we've built, the trees that are so beautiful and that provide oxygen for us to breathe, the flowers and the plants and the animals and insects.  Think of the people in your life, and the wonders that they are.

If you're carrying resentment or anger or cynicism, remember that it's your choice to do so--you can choose at this moment to let go of those feelings that are causes of stress and unease.  Or you can choose to hold on to them, guaranteeing yourself that you'll feel bad in this moment and in the coming moments.

The only actions or decisions that we have control over are those of this moment.  We can choose to appreciate and admire with a sense of wonder, or we can choose to take for granted and not appreciate with a sense of ungratefulness.  The important thing to keep in mind is that what we do in this moment is our choice, and what we choose to do now will leave a definite mark on our future moments.

01 December 2016

Little Gifts

As the season for gift-giving comes upon us once more, we start to think a lot about gifts, those we're going to give, and those we're going to get.  As we grow older, hopefully, we focus more on the former than the latter, though that isn't always the case.  In the eyes of many people, gifts follow a simple rule:  the bigger the better.  Speaking realistically, though, that rule is far from valid.  In my life, I've found that the most important gifts that I've given and received have been the small ones that have special meaning.

When I sit at my desk and work, I always have around me plenty of small gifts that I've received from friends and students.  They do a great job of reminding me of people who have been a very important part of my life, and because they're small, they can go with me anywhere and I can keep plenty of them.  The memories of the people and the times I spent with them are much more important to me than the objects themselves, but the objects have the ability to refresh my memory of pleasant times at just a quick glance.

Even as I write, I see a small inch-high globe that a former student gave me at her graduation, and I remember how good she felt on that day.  I see a small dream catcher made out of colored pipe cleaners, and I remember the day at camp when one of the campers gave it to me as a gift.  There's also a small glass fish that my wife bought me when she was in the Bahamas, and I know how good it felt to know that someone was thinking about me when she was in such a lovely place.

The small gifts are the ones that keep me going, the ones that give me a great feeling inside.  They're the ones that let me know that someone tried to consider what I liked, and what would be most appropriate for me.

The same goes for when I give gifts--I try to find the small ones that are special to someone, the ones that show that I've considered who they are and what they would like.  From time to time I've bought the large gifts, but as time goes on I see that they don't have nearly the effect that the smaller ones do.

When we think about what kinds of gifts we're going to give this season, we always can choose to go for the gifts that are more special rather than the gifts that are more expensive of just plain big.  The most special gifts have nothing to do with money or size; rather, they reflect the fact that we've been thinking seriously about the recipient and what they would truly want to receive.  I would much rather get a small, cheap gift that shows that someone was thinking about me than a large expensive gift that's meant to impress me somehow.

Many people ruin their enjoyment of receiving gifts by allowing their expectations to blur their vision, not allowing themselves to see just how great a gift is because it might not be what they wanted, or it might not be big enough or special enough.  During this holiday season, we have choices to make on what types of gifts to give to others, and finding the very special ones is a great way to make the holidays special.  Likewise, we have choices to make as to how we react to gifts given to us by others, and we can make our holidays much brighter by recognizing how special gifts are.

23 November 2016


We all have been given an amazing gift on this planet, and that gift lies in the differences between us.  The perspectives that each person has are completely unique to each individual--even though we often decide to share certain things with others with whom we live--and if we truly respect those differences and try to learn what they are, they can teach us new and exciting ways of seeing our world.  When we decide that someone else is simply "wrong" because they don't see the world as we see it, then we close off any chances that we have to learn from them, instead becoming victims of our own ignorance and judgment.

We have many, many lessons in nature and art that show us quite clearly that diversity is much more to be desired than conformity.  What would a painting look like if every color were the same, if it weren't given the opportunity to work with the other colors to stand out next to this one, to complement this other one, to create its own message?  One of the reasons that flowers are so beautiful is because they have subtle differences that distinguish them from each other, even when they look similar at first glance--and they always have the green of their leaves and stalks to complement the colors and shapes that they show the world.  And what if all our foods tasted the same?  We accept fully the fact that our foods should taste different, but somehow we find it disturbing or uncomfortable that other human beings should see the world differently from us.

Just as many threads work together to form a beautiful tapestry or the many blocks make up a quilt, it takes many individuals to make up a community.  We've come to believe somehow that the fewer differences in opinion or perspective we have among members of communities, the fewer problems we'll have in those communities.  Because of this mistaken belief, we've striven to keep our communities stable by keeping out people who might be "different" from us.  We've even created myths or rumors to share with others so that the others also will believe that it would be bad to let these people into our communities.
If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values,
we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and
so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each
diverse human gift will find a fitting place.

Margaret Mead
And just what do we lose when we keep people out of our lives because of their skin color, religious beliefs, or ethnic heritage?  Mostly, we lose the opportunity to learn from someone else who sees the world in different ways.  We lose the chance to learn from rich cultural heritages that these people have spent their lives learning from, and that they can now pass on to us.

Think about it this way:  If four people from completely different backgrounds were to get together for the very first time and have only twelve hours to spend together, what would be the best way for them to spend their time?

Should they spend those twelve hours discussing life and lessons that they have learned about it, learning from each other as they do so?

Or should they spend those twelve hours telling why what they think is right, and arguing that what the other three think is wrong?

When we're faced with diversity in thought and perspective, we often spend so much of our time trying to prove that our perspective is the "right" one that we don't take the chance to learn about other perspectives, and perhaps even modifying our own perspectives a bit based on what we learn.

One small example in my life was that as I grew up in America, I learned that it's perfectly fine to use the insult as humor, trying to make other people laugh by insulting someone.  Five years in Europe, though, taught me that this kind of humor is really mean, not funny--and the laughter that comes from it is based more on fear and feelings of superiority than it is on humor.  Because of what I learned by living in other cultures, I've been able to make important decisions about how I relate to other people, and that has made a huge difference in my life.
When you're finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth, all these
differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend and you're
going to get a concept that maybe this is really one world and why the
hell can't we learn to live together like decent people?

Frank Borman
To me, diversity is not about race or ethnic origin--I believe that these are artificial distinctions that we make between human beings in order to differentiate ourselves from others based on the most superficial of criteria.  Where humanity is concerned, skin color means nothing; country of origin means nothing, even gender means nothing.  Yes, there are certain traits that we develop as Russians or Algerians or Australians, or as men or women, but the truth is that in each body of each human a heart is beating, lungs are functioning, and a brain is calculating and considering and dreaming.

Diversity, rather, is a question of the ways that we see and share the world, the ways that we react to stimuli and create the lives that we're living.  Much of the way that we see the world has to do with traits that we've adopted from those people who live around us, and therein lies what we see as "cultural" differences.  But those differences are not inborn in us--rather, they are adopted by us as we grow.  They can be extremely valuable and helpful in understanding other people, but they truly don't define us as human beings.  We tend to use them as our measure of diversity, though, because they're easy to see and to quantify and to understand.

True diversity lies in our uniqueness, the aspects of ourselves that are truly ours alone, the ways that we understand life and living and our relationships with other human beings.  We see this true diversity not by looking at the skin, but by looking in the eyes and realizing that those eyes are the windows to a soul, an amazing being who is different than us, and who can teach us a great deal if we only take the chance to listen.
Some people do things completely differently from the way you would
do them.  It does not mean that they are right or that you are wrong.
It means that people are different.  There are things that people say
which you would probably say in a different way, at a different time.
It does not mean that people are wrong to speak up, to speak out, or
to speak their minds.  Nor does it mean that you are wrong for choosing
not to do so.  It means that people are different.  Different is not right
or wrong.  It is a reality.  Differences become problems only when we
choose to measure ourselves by our difference in an effort
to determine who is right and who is wrong.

Iyanla Vanzant
Our cultures and societies are richer and stronger for diversity, not weakened by it.  We will truly benefit from that diversity, though, only when we completely accept the fact that other human beings see life in ways that are different from our ways.  We aren't on this planet to make other people think and feel and act just like we do--we're here to work with others to help to make this world a more positive and more loving place.

We now spend a huge amount of time trying to convince others that our ways of seeing the world are right, and theirs are wrong.  Think about how much we could get done together if we were to stop spending time this way, and instead spend time working together constructively to actually accomplish things that help other people to live their lives in more positive ways.  The shame of not accepting others for who they are and what they believe is that we limit our own potential concerning what we can accomplish in the short time that we're here on this planet.

11 November 2016

Be Good!

I like the words "good" and "goodness."  They're simple words packed with meaning, and almost no two people in the world would agree on just what they mean.  Many people even disagree whether people's actions are motivations are good in their depths or if they're good on the surface.  For example, if a person gives a certain amount of money to a charity to avoid allowing his or her spouse to get that money in a divorce settlement, is the act a good act, or a selfish act?  It may be good that the charity gets the money, but many people want to stop there and not think things through more thoroughly--is it good that the charity gets money that the spouse might have needed desperately, but is now denied?

In such a case, one person's good is another person's bad.  Do the two sides balance out?

I believe that for an act or motive to be good, it truly has to be pure.  In other words, if I do a kind act for a neighbor, it's truly good only if I have absolutely no expectations of any sort of reciprocal benefit.  If I encourage someone, I have no expectations of any sort of thank you or other sign of gratitude.  I do it simply because I know that it's good and because I want to do good.

Because you see, if I do something "good" for you and expect your gratitude or some sort of reward in return, then I'm creating an obligation for you, one that you probably neither want nor need.  And if you don't fulfill that obligation, the results can end up being anger, frustration, and resentment on both of our parts--and how can such a result even remotely be considered good?  And if it ends up with such results, then the "good" of the original action was simply an illusion, not a truth.
So if I want to be good--and I do, even if I'm not sure what it means--I need to be aware of my motives and my desired outcomes for any action that I take.  Am I doing this just because I want to do something good?  If so, there's a good chance that the action I take is, in fact, good.

Being and doing good, I think, is mostly a matter of heart, and much less a matter of mind.  In our hearts, we know when we're doing good and we know when we're doing something to benefit ourselves, and it's important to listen to our hearts when they speak to us.  If we do this, we can be much more sure that what we're doing is, indeed, good.  I may help a neighbor with something to make her feel obligated to send a plate of cookies my way the next time she bakes, but my heart will know that my motive is not pure.  My heart will know it if I'm helping just to help, with no attempt to make her feel obligated.

And if a plate of cookies does appear without any attempt to make her feel obligated, then there's another good act in this world.  If she sends over the cookies because she knows I'm expecting them for having helped her, then just how "good" is her act?

There are, of course, acts that count as mutual goods.  Perhaps my co-worker is having a hard time with a certain task, and it ends up being my task at the end of the day.  Teaching him or her how to do the task and do it well is good for that person and for me, as I'll no longer be expected to take on that task, and I can focus on my own work.

When we examine our motives for doing the things we do, we start to change as people.  When we start to try to do good for the sake of good and not for any potential benefits, we start to become good people in our core, at heart.  When we start to be good, then we start to do things for motives that are much more pure, and we start to strengthen and reinforce the good that is in us.

A good person doesn't need to have ulterior motives for doing things--that person knows that when we do good, we greatly improve the quality of our own lives.  When we're good to other people, we strengthen the world and we strengthen ourselves, and we give the others a bit more faith in the goodness of life and humanity.  Goodness helps to destroy cynicism, and it helps others to see the world more brightly.  Being good helps us to avoid many kinds of stress, the kind that comes from fearing being caught doing something we shouldn't do or saying something we shouldn't say.

I want to be good, and I want to do good.  It isn't always easy, though, for there are almost always conflicting motives in the way of doing good.  Yes, I can help this person, but there's a cost of time.  Yes, I can do that good thing, but it will cost money.  That's definitely a good thing to do, but it's risky--I'll risk failure and I'll risk being criticized.  And saving time and money, of course, are two of out stronger desires as people, as is the avoidance of failure and criticism.  But the stakes are very high--do I want to look back five years from now and think of all the good I didn't do because of my fear, or all the good I did do in spite of my fear?  To me, the answer to that question is very obvious, and it's within my power--with every decision that I make--to answer it with the knowledge that I did, indeed, do every good I could.

Goodness consists not in the outward things we do, but in
the inward thing we are.  To be good is the great thing.

Edwin H. Chapin

02 November 2016


Many people feel that once they get a certain job, that's it--there's nothing more to learn that can't be learned while they're working.  They might have taken two or four years of college courses to earn a certain degree, but now that they're earning a paycheck, the days of spending time studying the field are long gone.  "If I don't learn it at work," they seem to think, "then I don't need to know it."

And perhaps they're right.  It's possible that there are many things about their careers that they don't necessarily need to know.  But why is it that we so often choose not to learn more about the very work that we're getting paid for, while we were so willing to study as much as was asked for us while we were hoping and praying to find work in the first place?

The truth is that most people don't push themselves very hard even when they're taking the courses necessary to get the jobs they want.  Most people are satisfied with meeting the minimum requirements in order to get by, get their diploma or certificate, and move on with their lives.  This is one of the reasons for which it's often so difficult to find well qualified people to promote into important leadership roles:  very few people have distinguished themselves as leaders in their fields, preferring instead simply to get along with doing what's required of them, and little else.
There are a few very interesting truths, though, about striving to be more than just competent in our work.  First of all, it seems that the more we learn about our work, the easier and the more interesting it becomes to us.  Tasks that used to be tedious now make sense, and we see how they're related to other elements of our jobs.  Plus, they're easier to take care of now, so they don't bother us nearly as much when we need to do them.  When we know more about our work and its ramifications, we can see the connections between what we do and the effects that those things have on other people.

Secondly, as we become more competent, we accomplish more and we're able to branch out and include other things in our work.  As a teacher, for example, I find that the more I know about the topic I'm teaching, the more I'm able to pull in material from other realms.  As I become more competent at teaching Speech classes, I find it easier to relate material from other fields, such as Biology or History, to the material that we're studying in Speech.  I no longer have to stick to the base material, for I'm able to bring more to my students.

Thirdly, when we take the time to learn more about what we're doing, we're putting ourselves in the position of being more qualified than others when it comes time for promotions or advancement.  Very often, pay raises are based on job performance, and it's almost impossible to raise our knowledge level about our work without also raising the level of our performance.

Of course, there are some jobs that may not require competence above certain levels.  When I worked at the front desk of two hotels, my job was clearly defined and I didn't need to know much more than what I did.  However, there were other areas of the hotel that ran independently of the front desk, and I always had opportunities to learn about those.  Also, there were always new things to learn about the area surrounding the hotel, so if someone were looking for things to do or places to visit, there was always more to learn, and I could be much more helpful to the guests when I took the time to learn about the area.

Our culture doesn't seem to value competence as much as it used to.  Now we seem to want to do and get everything as quickly as possible, which often leads to mediocre work and products.  It seems to be the exception to find people at stores and businesses who are actually able to help us thoroughly with whatever problems we may have.  We accept poor service and poor workmanship as if we deserve it--and when we decide to make a stand about something, it usually has to do with price or rudeness, but not about competence.

Nowhere have I seen this as strongly as I have in our schools.  There are many, many wonderful teachers out there, but there are also a lot of people who are not at all competent in their jobs, yet they keep getting rehired and even rewarded for making it through a certain number of years, whether or not they've made any effort at all to address their own lack of competence.  I've known quite a few teachers who do little teaching at all--they simply hand out packets to their students and have them work on their own while the teacher works at his or her desk, often searching the Internet for this or that, but certainly not engaged actively with the students.

Competence is a choice, purely and simply.  And it's a choice made over and over again--the choice to read another book this week about my career field, to register for a course related to my work, to spend some extra time researching a topic that will help me to be better at what I do.  And it's a choice that may not show immediate dividends--it may take years to see the results of my efforts to be really good at what I do.  Even after more than twenty years of teaching, I took two courses this past year and went to several seminars of three days each over the summer, simply because I need to add to my knowledge, even after all this time.  I simply want to be good at what I do because I know that the people I work for--in my case, high school students--will be the ones who benefit from my abilities.  And they deserve me to be the best I can be at what I do.  I'll never be the best teacher ever, of course, but I can certainly try to be better this year than I was last year.

I am, as I've said, merely competent. But in an age
of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary.

Billy Joel

25 October 2016


It's interesting that we use this word mostly to warn people of dangerous things that could harm us.  It's pretty obvious just from looking at the word that it's a combination of two words:  be (ben in Middle English) + aware or wary, which means watchful, cautious, or alert.  It's one of my favorite words of all, because it doesn't just mean to be cautious of danger to me--it also means to pay attention to all of the little things of life, those little things that we so often tend to overlook, but which definitely have the potential to harm us in many different ways.

It's important for us to keep this word in mind all the time, for it's important that we be wary of our own actions, thoughts, and beliefs.  Only when we're fully aware of what we're doing or thinking can we start to recognize the cause and effect relationships between what we do and think and the quality of our lives.  All of us want to improve the quality of our lives--and I'm not speaking of striving to achieve luxury or ownership, but striving to become happy and fulfilled.  The only way that we can make such an improvement, though, is to be sure that we know what we're doing in the first place.

For example, it took me a long, long time to realize just how much my beliefs about myself and relationships were hurting me.  I've always tried to be a nice person, but that never helped me much when it came to developing relationships with other people.  The most dominant element of who I was as far as relationships were concerned was my fear--and that fear came from the belief that other people didn't want to be with me, and would end up hurting me if somehow they ever were with me.  This is a fear that's quite common for people who grew up with an alcoholic parent, but one that I truly wasn't aware of, and that I could not be wary of as long as I wasn't aware of it.
There are many things that I need to be wary of in life, for they tend to creep up on me and affect my life in negative ways.  For example, I need to beware of my ego, for it often affects the ways that I treat other people, and the ways that I go about doing certain things--and it also affects my decisions when it comes to being honest or not.  How many times have I wanted to say "I didn't do that" when I actually had, just because my ego doesn't want to admit that I might have failed or done something poorly?

I need to beware of my own assumptions, especially those concerning other people.  When I make such assumptions, I stop trying to learn about others, for I think I already know what I need to know.  But I don't.  What we know about other people and their thoughts and feelings is almost nothing; when we assume that we do know about them, then we stop learning about them.  We also more than likely will miss many things that could be very important to us--when I assume that a book's going to be no good, for example, I never give myself the chance to find out whether it is or not.  I can also hurt other people when I assume that they don't want a certain something, so I pass on the chance.

I need to beware of my tendency to take things for granted.  I have many things in life that are very important to me, and I need to be thankful for everything.  Once I take something for granted--especially other people--then I see less value in that thing or person, even though it's still just as valuable as ever.  The problem is with me, in not seeing that value any more.  When I refuse to recognize and appreciate that value, though, my life becomes somewhat poorer, and it's a poverty that can and should be avoided simply by being mindful that yes, this person is valuable to me, and I should appreciate the person and his or her contribution to my life, no matter how small that contribution may be.
I need to beware of my feelings, and especially I need to beware of acting based on those feelings.  My feelings are often based upon patterns of thought that I developed long ago, and they very often are inappropriate or inaccurate now that I'm a much older person than I was when they started.  When I was very young, I might have learned to shut down when someone said something mean or insulting to me, for I thought as a kid that doing so would make the hurt feelings better.  That was never true, though--first of all, feeling hurt was my choice, though I didn't know it then, and now I have different choices to make regarding my feelings.  If someone says something mean or insulting to me today, I see that as a reflection of that person, and no longer a reflection of me.  My feelings have already caused enough damage to me in my life, and I need to beware of their undue influence upon my state of mind.

It's very important that I beware of my fear, for this is an aspect of who I am that has almost never served me well.  It's caused me to lose potential relationships, to miss out on things that could have been fun and rewarding, to feel badly about myself, to avoid situations that could have been beneficial to me.  Of course, fear can be helpful as an indicator of danger sometimes, but most often, my fear is simply of how things may turn out badly later--not of how things are or how things are really going to be.  My fear has been the cause of many hours of pain and grief, and I don't want to continue to give it that kind of power over me.

And on a very superficial level, I need to beware of the people on this planet who do their best to improve their own lives by hurting others.  I need to be aware of scams, of thieves, of liars, of cheats.  Fortunately, there are relatively few of these people, and I can be aware of what they do and how they do it in order to avoid falling prey to their plans and techniques.  Also on a superficial level, I need to beware of cars when I cross the street, of standing too close to the edge of things, of sharp objects, of stove burners that are hot, of food that is old and moldy, and of many other things that can harm me if I'm not careful.  But these are things that I notice in certain situations, and not things that I need to be paranoid about during every waking hour.
It's necessary to beware of some things, but we don't want to live our lives being always wary of things--we need to spend our lives being appreciative of things, being mindful of the beauty and wonder of the world, not afraid of the dangers of the world.  I can be wary of the dangers of a mountain path where there may be bears or mountain lions and still take that path and still enjoy myself--being aware of possible problems does not mean that we don't completely avoid a certain activity or place or person.  I can have a friendship with a thief, even, as long as I'm careful not to expose too much of what I have to that person.

So beware.  Beware of the things about yourself that keep you from living fully.  Don't let them control your life--use them for what they do give you that's positive, but don't ever allow them complete control.  Be aware of the potential problems that they can cause and do your best to avoid those problems, but remember that those parts of yourself never should define who you are or how you live.  Your full life is up to you, and the ways that you live it.

quotes on awareness

02 October 2016


If humans are to survive, we will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between people and between cultures. We will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.   -Gene Roddenberry

* * *

It frightens me--and makes me very sad--to see how little tolerance we have in our country for people who are different than we are, for people who think differently than we do.  Somehow we've grown to let our fears do our thinking for us, fears that people who do things differently than we do somehow will force us to do things differently ourselves. We're afraid that the world of tomorrow will be different than the world of today because people who are different than we are are going to change that world.

It's pretty obvious, though, that the world of today is much different than the world of yesterday.  Changes are happening, constantly.  They always have, and they always will.  If we could accept this fact and come to expect it, even, we might find that we're not so afraid of changes--and we may come to accept and love the people we know who do and think differently than we do.

This doesn't mean, of course, that we blindly accept differences just because they're different.  I will never be tolerant of a person who wishes to harm other people for no reason other than his or her own gain.  I can't accept racism or gender bias or any approach that attempts to put other human beings at a lower level--but which ends up putting the racist person at the lower level. But legitimate differences, such as religious beliefs or political ideals, should be a way for us to learn from each other, not a source of disdain for each other.

Our current political world shows almost a complete lack of tolerance for opposing views. The people in positions of power are modeling behaviors and attitudes that can only harm others, and almost never help anyone except the people who agree with them politically and ideologically. What is it that makes us be so intolerant of the ideas of others? What makes us intolerant of their beliefs? Of their racial and ethnic origins? Wise person after wise person has told us that the cause of our intolerance is fear, and the fear that causes us to be intolerant also makes us incapable of learning from these people who have so much to offer us, if we can only find ways to accept it in the spirit of love and compassion instead of looking upon them in the spirit of judgment.

Take the risk and find ways to be not just tolerant, but accepting and loving, and you'll find that your new-found ability to reach out and love will turn your life into a much brighter, much more fulfilling experience.

12 September 2016

Making Decisions

There's no football for me this year. All my life I've watched a lot of football games in the fall, but this year I won't be doing so. It's not because of anything in particular, just a result of the growing commercial nature of the professional and college levels, paired with the lack of high expectations of the players in both areas. Football has become a completely commercialized endeavor that has lost the fun, in my eyes, as it's embraced money and exposure. Rules tend to be enforced on a selective basis, and often it's hard to understand just how one player can be penalized harshly for something that another player received no penalty for at all. And on a societal level, the players are still being idolized, to a greater extent now than they ever were when I was growing up. The full explanation of why I'm not watching would probably take pages, so I won't go into all the details; this season, though, I won't be watching any football.

When all is said and done, it won't be a big loss--I've always been a casual observer at best. I don't have any real favorite teams, I rarely really cared who won or lost, and I couldn't name more than two or three players on any given team. So it's not like I'm giving up an addiction that controlled my life.

But what does that have to do with living my life fully? It's simple--over the past few seasons, I've been feeling a growing sense of discomfort as I've watched games. I've been feeling that I've been spending too much time watching something that hasn't contributed any true meaning to my life, and during that time I've been neglecting things that really do add meaning. And when I added in my discomfort with the extreme commercialization of the sport, I was experiencing a growing sense of cognitive dissonance as I watched the games. I simply started to feel that I was wasting time that would be much better spent doing other things that involved people who are actually a part of my life rather than focusing my attention on a large group of people whom I will never even meet, much less who will ever be a part of my life.

This is a choice that isn't for everyone. There are those who like the games and who don't mind the inequities that they see--after all, they give them a chance to argue with others about penalties and such. There are those who don't mind the way that we're teaching our young people to idolize athletes. And there are those who simply enjoy watching the games--which used to be me. Now that I've made the decision, I feel a sense of relief and a sense of freedom that I didn't feel before when the season rolled around each September. I know that my autumn now is going to be filled with time with friends, time spent with kids, time spent relaxing, time spent working, but not time spent watching games and getting frustrated with the whole drama.

For me, right here and right now, at this point in my life, this is the right decision to make--I feel it very strongly. And I'm looking forward to carrying out that decision and focusing on things that are truly important, like relationships and learning and paying attention to my here and now, and not a three-hour game that truly has absolutely no effect on any aspect of my life.

02 September 2016

I Believe

Your basic energy signature is the sum of all your thoughts and beliefs.  You define your personality, physical attributes, and behavior.  You are the only one who can create or change your thoughts and your beliefs.  And your beliefs create what you experience as life.    -Bruce I. Doyle III
We've been talking in one of our classes about beliefs--how we develop them, why we defend them, what they mean to us. With first-year college students, their beliefs are still very strong because the students are at an age at which they feel that they're right about most things, but they're also very fragile because the students are constantly being exposed to new ideas, concepts, and information. It's fascinating and rewarding to be able to work with people of this age, and even more so when we're able to explore topics such as beliefs, in which they're extremely interested.

One of the things that we discuss is whether or not it's possible to live life without beliefs. Personally, I'm pretty sure that the fewer beliefs that I have, the more smooth and enjoyable my life is. I've found over the years that my beliefs always limit me and never open up my mind or heart. They limit my actions, they limit my reactions, and they cause me to judge and to reject and to accept. They help me to form biases, and they force me to reject new information because it may conflict with what I "believe."

One of the saddest things that I've noticed is that as I've changed my beliefs, I've recognized the things that I've rejected in the past that I would accept now, based on my new beliefs. That's why I want them out of my life--I can't trust them. If my belief causes me to treat another person or group of people in ways that are less than loving and compassionate, then those beliefs are damaging to me, not helpful, for the way that I treat others because of the beliefs is not the way that I want to be treating others.

Can I let go of all my beliefs? It sounds like a daunting task that has little chance of success, when all is said and done. But can it be done? I believe so. But it's going to take a lot of self-examination, day after day, of my motivations for doing things--am I saying this because I really feel it at the moment, or am I saying it as a result of a certain belief? Did I say I don't want to get together with that person because I really can't or don't want to, or because that person challenges a particular belief of mine? And as I examine and identify more beliefs, perhaps one day I'll be able to free myself of them and see the world with unsullied eyes--eyes that accept the world with wonder and passion rather than eyes that judge and categorize based on a belief that may or may not be valid.

24 August 2016

You Are Still a Kid

Happy are they who still love something they loved in the nursery: They have not been broken in two by time; they are not two persons, but one, and they have saved not only their souls but their lives.    -G.K. Chesterton

The idea of keeping the child alive in my spirit is a very important one to me. When I look around at the adults with whom I have a lot of contact, one of the things that I see regularly is that those people who are letting life bring them down tend to also be the people who don't have the ability to see the magic and wonder of the world, those people who show absolutely no indication at all that they've actually been children. They've fully and completely "grown up," and they're now serious people who have nothing to do with the things that children love.

But as children, we loved more purely--until a certain point, we were able to love things just as they were, not for what we could get out of them. That point was different for each of us, that point at which we started to love things for the benefits they could bring us. Those benefits could have been status, other people's admiration, money, clothing, or whatever--we learned that the world wasn't magic, that it was something we could manipulate for our own good. And we stopped seeing the world as a magical place once we decided to use the world to help us to "get ahead," which in reality was actually falling behind.

That's why it's so important that we pay attention to that part of us that was a kid--so that we don't fall behind any further, so that we continue to be able to love things purely for what they are, not for any benefit they can provide for us.

The adult doesn't have to be a different person than the kid was--there are many, many aspects of ourselves when we were kids that can help us to be happier and healthier people. When we were kids we were more easily satisfied and we didn't think nearly as much about what other people thought about us, and both of those traits are generally regarded as traits of people who tend to be happier than others. I'm sure you can come up with more of them. And that kid is still an important part of you--perhaps it's time that you uncovered that child that you were and allowed him or her to see the world and revel in its wonder and magic, instead of constantly seeing the world through jaded and disillusioned eyes. Let the kid do the seeing for you, and you'll be amazed at how beautiful the world and everything in it can be.

And an important first step may be to love something from the nursery again, be it a stuffed animal, a bouncing ball, a favorite toy, or anything else that elicited sincere, loving feelings. Don't allow it to remain buried under the years of crud that other adults told you was important. Your life and your happiness are too important for you to allow that child to remain out of your life--bring him or her back into your life, and enjoy his or her company!

14 August 2016


I have quite a few weaknesses. More importantly, I have no problems admitting that I have them. I remember names and faces very poorly; while I'm a decent runner, I'm very poor at running on trails; I judge people rather quickly based on superficial evidence; I'm not good at putting stuff away in its place; I'm good at organizing but poor at writing things down; and I could keep going on and on, but it would serve no purpose, really. To me, the most important thing is to be aware of my weaknesses so that I can try to compensate for them in other ways.

For example, even though I judge others quickly, I also have developed the habit of recognizing my judgments and then asking myself if that judgment is justified. So almost as soon as I find myself judging someone else, I also find myself thinking, "But wait a minute. . . is that actually true or justified?" While I have a hard time writing things down, I also have developed the habit of having index cards and pens with me very often, which allows me to write things down more often than I would otherwise. It's not a perfect solution, but I've tried others and it's what works the best.

Knowing my weaknesses helps me to know when I'm going to have to apply extra effort, such as in my teaching--keeping track of grades is hard for me, but setting up a system in which it will be easier is a rather simple thing for me to do--a bit time-consuming, but not difficult. Because I have a hard time putting stuff away, I try to have at least one or two places where I can drop everything and then later sort through things.

These are simply ways to compensate for some of my weaknesses. These "weaknesses," of course, are more a result of societal norms than they are truly weaknesses--in a different culture, they might be considered very normal traits. Being a poor trail runner only affects me if I run trails; otherwise, it's a completely unimportant element of who I am. But knowing this weakness helps me to decide not to run with some friends who are good at it when they're going out for a long trail run--I would slow them down and probably be miserable myself if I were to go with them.

There's absolutely no problem with having weaknesses--we all have many of them, and that's fine. Problems arise when we ignore or deny them, when we pretend we don't have them or we don't admit to them and commit ourselves to do something in an area of weakness. Then our stress levels rise and things become less enjoyable to do, and that's never a good combination.

What are your weaknesses? If you know them, you can compensate for them or simply avoid having to do things in those areas. And if you're able to do that, you can concentrate on your strengths and get even better at those things--and that's always something very positive.

05 August 2016


I just was fortunate enough to be able to do a relay with some very incredible people on a team. The relay was just over 230 miles, and it took three days. We had a team of six, so each of us ran about 40 miles over those three days, through mountains and valleys, past lakes and rivers, in the heat of the afternoon and the cool of the pre-sunrise morning (on one day we started at 4:30). It's obviously an endurance event to a certain extent, but it was also much more than that--it was six people who supported each other, encouraged each other, helped each other, and did the job that they had committed themselves to do in order to help the team.

Relays are a great exercise in letting go of any sort of need to control things. While I was doing my legs, I had control over what I did, of course, but as soon as I hit the hand of the next runner, I was simply an observer, and I had to trust that person to do the best that he or she could do at that time. Usually, that meant a couple of hours of spectating as I waited for my next leg to come up, but it also meant getting to the next exchange zone so that the current runner wouldn't reach it with no one there. And yes, glitches happen sometimes, but for the most part what we learn on a relay race is that we can rely on one another--that we can let go and trust that others are going to come through on what they've said they're going to do.

And even when the glitches do occur, they happen because of honest mistakes, not because of any other reason. A mistake doesn't mean that you can't trust a person any more--a mistake means simply that the person made a mistake and is hopefully a bit wiser now because of it. But mistakes on the part of others are often good because they force you to find a way to compensate or to find out how much you have in you. For example, when my teammates weren't at one exchange zone when I finished a leg, I just had to keep on going. They had misread the directions and ended up at the following zone; my choices were to stop and wait for them or to keep going, and I kept going. They realized their mistake rather quickly and came to me about a mile later; I got in an extra mile of running and it was no big deal.

But for 99% of the time, things went really, really well. We helped each other; we encouraged each other; we ran for and with each other. We enjoyed our surroundings and each other's company, and we kept on racking up the miles as the hours passed.

Over the course of three days we covered just over 230 miles as a team. I ran about 40 miles, and for the other 190 miles I had to trust my teammates to do the best they could do--and they did so. It's nice being in a situation over which I have no real control except for my own contribution--and in which it's necessary for me to trust others. Our society tries to tell us that it's important to trust only yourself and to take care of everything you need yourself, but our society is wrong. Independence can be important sometimes, but interdependence and cooperation are much, much more important to our world and to our spirits.

18 July 2016

A Bit at a Time

One of the things that gets me kind of sad when I work with young people is the way that they feel they have to do things very quickly, and perfectly. We've created an environment for them in which they don't feel comfortable taking their time, in which they feel tremendous pressure to do things fast. They don't want to work for a week on the project--they want it done now. This is a problem that has been around for some people for quite a long time, but one that seems to be getting increasingly worse as pretty much everything in our society becomes faster, from finding information on the Internet to cooking meals in the microwave to having printers at home that can print almost anything almost immediately--remember typewriters and type setters?

This is sad to me in one part because these young people--just as many of their elders--are not learning about process.  They aren't learning about taking the time to do things well, and to let some things happen slowly because that's the best way to have them happen. There are some dishes that we can cook, for example, that take a lot of time because different parts of them take time to prepare. I like making stew, for example, because there are several different parts to the process that all take a bit of time to prepare, but in the end you have a very delicious dinner to eat. When I make a pumpkin pie out of real pumpkin, the pumpkin has to be cooked first, and then the rest of the process can be done. It's not like taking a premade frozen pie out of a box and throwing it in the oven, or buying the completed pie in the bakery section of the supermarket. The process of making it over time gives us not just an extremely tasty pie, but also the sense of accomplishment that comes from taking on a task and seeing it through to the end.

I'm writing a book right now, and I'm working on it about an hour or an hour and a half a day. I don't need it done tomorrow, and by following this process I'm allowing a lot of ideas to develop and grow in my mind. Of course, I have to be true to the schedule--if I stop spending the allotted time on it each day, it will never be finished, of course. But I know from experience that if I set aside an entire week of just writing, all day every day, the book won't get done at all. For me, it's very important to take my time and to pay attention to the process of writing, rather than trying to get it all done in the shortest possible amount of time.

I wish we could teach young people better about processes. I wish we still taught them how to cook good meals instead of ripping open packets and throwing things into the microwave. I wish we taught them how to tear apart engines and put them back together. I wish we taught them about taking our time to make and be friends rather than expecting new people to be our friends immediately. As a teacher, I notice that the young people who have grown up on farms or ranches have a huge advantage in today's world, for they've learned about processes and cycles and patience from day one--after all, you can't make a crop grow any faster and you can't make an animal deliver a baby any quicker. They tend to be much more likely to understand the processes involved in almost anything they do, from reading to writing to mathematics to business, and they're much more likely to be patient when things take their time to reach the point we want them to reach.

Be patient. Recognize that the things of this world work in their time, and that our attempts as human beings to speed things up generally haven't made us happier or healthier (with the obvious exception of many advances in the medical field). The more closely we observe and appreciate the processes of life, the more patient we become, and the more in tune with our planet and the things on it we grow.

Quotes and passages on patience

05 July 2016

Learning of Value

I saw something a bit disturbing last week.  I had to stop at a drugstore to pick something up, and while there I saw a kid about thirteen years up buy a Monster drink, about 24 ounces of caffeine fix.  That in itself saddened me, to think that this very young kid has been seduced by marketers and peers to think that a caffeine fix is a positive thing in life.  I was shocked, though, to see the price affixed to the can:  $3.49.  This kid was spending more on one drink than anyone making minimum wage earns in half an hour of work--and I feel taken when I have to pay $1.19 for a large soda at a gas station when I'm traveling.  I couldn't help but think that this kid never had been taught of the value of money, and of the concept of exchanging the money for something of comparable value.

I see this principal all over as I go through my day.  I see rims on car wheels that cost upwards of $500, just for a little bit of decoration on a vehicle.  I see people spend four or five dollars for a cup of coffee, hundreds of dollars for cell phones that they almost never use, thousands of dollars on huge television sets that they almost never watch.  All around us are ads and commercials that keep us wanting to buy things, that keep us dissatisfied with the way things are, and those ads and commercials are trying to convince us that if we just buy some more stuff--no matter what the cost--we'll be happier and more content.

But somewhere along the line we have to learn to make our own decisions about value.  There's a common law of economics that states that many poor people will stay poor because of the decisions that they make about how to spend their money.  How many people have you known or known of, for example, who have little money yet who buy a very expensive car with high monthly payments?  And how many people are in trouble right now because they bought houses that were more expensive than they could afford?

While I wouldn't say that the answer to our money issues would be to skimp and save every penny and never have any fun in life, it is important that we learn about value and about when to spend how much.  A few years ago, for example, my wife and I had cell phones.  At the time I worked half an hour from home, I was on the road with sports teams a lot, and my wife also was on the road quite a bit.  The cell phones made sense, even though we didn't use them much--at least we knew that if anything happened, we could contact one another.  (This was in the days when we still had a landline at home.)

Then we moved someplace where we didn't need the phones any more, for we both worked close to one another and we weren't on the road much.  Suddenly, the $75 every month to keep the phones made no sense, so we got rid of them.  They were now just a luxury item, no longer as necessary as they were before.  They simply didn't have the same value that they had had before.  And even though it had been quite convenient to make an occasional phone call from wherever I happened to be, that convenience was no longer worth the amount of money we would have had to pay to maintain it.

It's unfortunate that money is such a huge part of our lives, and that it affects our lives so very strongly.  But that's the way things are, so the best that we can do is learn to define the value of our money for ourselves and to exchange our money for goods and services that have equal or even greater value.  While a woman I know who is broke can go out and spend almost a hundred dollars on a new hairdo, I know that she really can't afford it, and that its value is not nearly as much as she thinks it is.  When my wife and I go on vacation in a few weeks and spend $400 for three nights in a hotel room in Yosemite National Park, though--which is much more than we've ever spent on a hotel room before--we both have considered the cost, the location, and the reasons for our vacation, and we both agree that there is great value in the price that we'll pay.

Money is here, and it's a part of our lives.  We can live with it and have it work for us, or we can squander it and lose it and become angry and frustrated with our loss.  The choice is ours, but one thing is for sure--the path to happiness doesn't lie in exchanging our money for goods or services of little value; rather, we need to make sure that the money we spend is money well spent.  Only then can we avoid the resentment and frustration that will come over having wasted money when we didn't need to.