Wisdom First

Does anybody begin life wishing for wisdom? Is that what one wants to be when they get older? Or is it a good job, a big house, lots of money, and of course lots of stuff? And when we come to the end, to our deathbeds, will any of those things matter? Hoping to have it ready available to you in the afterlife, will you bury your wealth with you like the kings of old?

“Yes, getting your wish would have been so nice. But isn’t that exactly why pleasure trips us up? Instead, see if these things might be even nicer—a great soul, freedom, honesty, kindness, saintliness. For there is nothing so pleasing as wisdom itself, when you consider how sure-footed and effortless the works of understanding and knowledge are.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5:9

Ah wisdom, that which Solomon chose first and foremost when God asked him what he wanted most. Imagine the djinn bursting forth from the lamp granting you any wish you desired, what would you say? Would you choose riches, power, or maybe a long life? Or would you, like Solomon, ask for wisdom? Riches come and go. Power is fleeting. Even a long life eventually comes to an end. But wisdom, it was there in the beginning and will be there in the end.

“How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is preferable to silver.” –Proverbs 16:16

Yet so often, we go for the riches first. It is the gold we are after, thinking that’s the vehicle that will get us to all the places we want to go. But if going for the riches is our priority, when will we go for the wisdom?

“Riches have shut off many a man from the attainment of wisdom; poverty is unburdened and free from care…After you have come to possess all other things, shall you then wish to possess wisdom also? Is philosophy to be the last requisite in life—a sort of supplement? Nay, your plan should be this: be a philosopher now, whether you have anything or not—for if you have anything, how do you know that you have not too much already?—but if you have nothing, seek understanding first, before anything else. “But,” you say, “I shall lack the necessities of life.” In the first place, you cannot lack them; because nature demands but little, and the wise man suits his needs to nature.”  –Seneca, Letter 17: On Philosophy and Riches

My wish is that you would push to become a millionaire. Oh, don’t get me wrong, not exchanging in gold but in the currency of wisdom.

“There is something infinitely better than to be a millionaire of money, and that is to be a millionaire of brains, of culture, of helpfulness to one’s fellows, a millionaire of character –a gentleman.” –Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front

A Father’s Instruction

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That was one question that as a child, I could never answer. I didn’t know. Sometimes, I still think I don’t know when I grow up. When I was a child, it was all interesting to me. To pick one thing to be was absurd. I didn’t think there was a limit to my capabilities. If it was humanly possible, it was in the realm of possibility for me. There was just one problem. How would I learn? I didn’t grow up with YouTube. It didn’t exist back then. Role models? They were out there, but I didn’t know how to ask or even if I was allowed to ask. The possibilities were in my imagination, but unfortunately that is where they were left to lie dormant.

The best Christmas I ever had.

Of course, I loved getting presents at Christmas when I was a kid. Who doesn’t? But toys only have so much shelf-life. Soon they get forgotten about or discarded. Some other kid has something better that leads to the never-ending desire to acquire more.

There was one Christmas that I will never forget. It was the best one and came in my early thirties. I think it was the second Christmas with my wife. We had just moved to a new house in Tallahassee and her parents came up for the holiday. When it was my turn to receive a gift, I was told to cover my eyes. I did and soon my imagination ran wild as a key was placed in my hand. Eyes still covered and clutching that key, I was led out to the garage. Little did I know that my life was going to change when I opened my eyes. In the garage was a red, shiny, brand new…toolbox. That Christmas, I got all the tools every guy should have. Sixteen years later, I still use them on a regular basis. Here was the beginning of some of the possibilities I imagined when I was a youth.

Before I met my Father-in-law, Hank, I never worked on a car. I never worked on a house. I don’t think I ever built anything that wasn’t preassembled. After being married to his daughter for almost seventeen years, I can say that has all changed. Most of what I learned how to do over the years has in some way or shape been because of what I have learned from him, even if the lesson was in the possibilities that it could be done.

How much money have I saved over the years doing my own work? Does the money even compare to what I will be able to teach my own son as he grows into a man? That is actually the greatest gift. If I would have had children before I met Hank, I would not have been able to teach them much in the ways of self-reliance. My only advice would have been to get a good job that can pay for the things you want or need to fix.

The old man (said with the greatest respect) has many admirable qualities: A Marine veteran. A teacher. He is able to carry a tune, sling a gun from horseback, and fix about anything that could be fixed. He has been married to the same lady for almost fifty years, a feat that is becoming rarer and rarer these days. I probably can’t scratch the surface of what this man can do or what he has taught me over the years. I call him Hank, but in truth I should just call him father. He took me in and taught me things I wished I would have learned in my youth. He has always been patient with me, willing to go a little slower in order that I may understand. He has treated me as a true son and by his example taught me how to be a good father. Much of what I am today, I owe to the lessons he taught me.

Hush and Listen

 

The scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for the intelligent. –Proverbs 14:6

If a student mocks his professor or the professor’s lessons, he will never learn. Emerson said, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” If you believe everyone has something of value that you can learn, then being humble and respectful is your best means to acquire this type of education. Well, actually there is one more thing you need, and it is something you can’t do if you are talking.

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Merriam-Webster

You need to listen. Not only with your ears, even though that is a good place to start, but you need to listen with your whole body. You need to be observant. You need to watch others. You need to read what they write. The signs pointing you in the direction you need to go are out there. All you have to do is pay attention to them. Watch. Listen. Learn.

Alec has gotten into the habit lately of always saying, “I know.” It bothers me because I was the same way at his age. I was a know-it-all and it prevented me from learning more. When you are blessed with a few fast-firing synapses, the brain sometimes has trouble dealing with pride. And if pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:8), thinking you have knowledge that you don’t is a recipe for disaster.

According to the Army (FM 24-18), communication is made up of two parts: the sender and the receiver. Breakdowns between the two can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Such an occurrence may be the reason why the French language is not considered a universal language and Napoleon isn’t considered some god-like figure in our history books.

Who lost the battle of Waterloo?

There are many reasons why the French did not win this battle. It could have been Marshal Ney’s insane decision to send wave after wave of French cavalry against British squares, resulting in a loss of over 8,000 men and their horses. There are few historians that like the point the finger at Emmanuel, Marquis de Grouchy. He was a newly installed Marshal of France and led part of l’Armée du Nord. He was supposed to prevent the Prussians from entering the battle. The communication he received from his emperor, Napoleon, was not clear to him. The messages he sent back were even more confusing, but Napoleon brushed it off. As a result, the Prussians entered the battle and a third of l’Armée du Nord never made it to the fight.

Finally, I triumphed even at Waterloo, and was immediately hurled into the abyss. On my right, the extraordinary maneuvers of Grouchy, instead of securing victory, completed my ruin. –Napoleon Bonaparte*

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Just finished this account by Bernard Cornwell. Truly an amazing read.

The scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, because he is in a constant state of poor communication. The wisdom coming to him is broken and distorted. Why? Because the scoffer keeps stepping over the sender’s information. In other words, he can’t take his finger on the microphone button long enough to hear the call on the radio. The sender is doing his part, but the scoffer can’t receive the knowledge.

Turn up the television and try to read a thought-provoking book. It is hard to do. The intelligent get this. They know to filter out the noise, including their own noises, and concentrate on the information coming in. The intelligent are listening. They are observing. Gathering knowledge this way is easy.

My son:

You think you know it. But even if you do, be patient and listen. You may just learn something different. It isn’t always easy to do this. I know. I have struggled with it myself. But if you want to grow in knowledge, this is the way. Now hush, my child. Listen. Observe. Learn. Knowledge is there, waiting for you to receive it.


*Charles Angelique Francois Huchet comte de La Bedoyere, The Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Napoleon Bonaparte Vol. 2 (London: George Virtue, 1827) 815. Taken from https://napoleon-series.org

The Skeleton Keys #3: Give to the World

Charity 11/27/2019

I doubt it began with the Egyptian pharaohs, but they are a good starting point. They amassed huge fortunes when they were alive. And when they died, they took their wealth with them to their burial chambers. Why? Maybe they thought they could it would help them in the next life. Better safe than sorry, right? And today, what’s the legacy left for the world? A few monuments and recovered artifacts.

Now, think of the old man. The one you know or the one you have heard about. His goal in life was to accumulate wealth. He was that crabby old guy that living only for himself. He was a hoarder of gold without a charitable bone in his body. When he dies, he will probably do everything in his power to take his loot with him into the next world. And what of his legacy? For a short time, he will be remembered as an old rich guy that died alone. And then as the decades go by, he too will be forgotten.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. –John 15:13

The greatest sacrifice you make in this world is dying for another. We don’t hear of these feats too often. But when we do, we never forget this ultimate sacrifice. The soldier doesn’t think of the consequences when he crosses that barrier between life and death. He is only thinking that he will cross instead of those around him.

I have always attributed these words in John 15:13, as the end-all be-all for a show of love. And it is, but is there a second best show of love? What could we do now in this world while we are still alive?

A small deviation about responsibility and employment…

When I was younger, I only lived for myself. It was childish. When I got married and had a child. I had to put away childish things and start living for the good of two other people. This is far better than living for just myself. Being responsible for three raises the stakes. It adds a little positive pressure in my life to do the right things.  I hold a certain value in my family’s life. They need me. Oh yes if I was to go away, they would move on. They would find a way to survive. In a sense, it is kind of similar to an employer/employee relationship.

An employer needs an employee. Terminate the relationship and both will find a way to move on and survive. Until then, their relationship is based on a contract. The greater the perceived value of the employee, the greater the compensation the employer will be willing to pay.

Back to the second best show of love…

There is a great joy in being able to help others. The more I help others, the greater the joy and drive to help even more. It brings value to my life and to the lives I touch. I may not have the opportunity to make the ultimate show of love, but I can do the next best thing: I can give my “living” life to my family, to my friends, and to those around me. I can give it to the world in an attempt to make it a better place.

Why the comparison to employment? If you live only for yourself and your contract ends between you and the world, the world will move on. It will forget about you like you forgot about your co-worker who was terminated last year. But if you live for the good of the world, the world will take notice and compensate* you based on your perceived value. Your legacy will be determined by how long you can stay in the memory of those you reached. For example, imagine Shakespeare whose writings will probably be with us in some form until the world is no more.

The first skeleton key to success is to combine your faith with your works. The second is to hope in your own self. The third skeleton key to success is to give it to the world. This is success that goes beyond the grave. It goes beyond our actual time on this planet. Of the billions of people throughout the ages, we have the opportunity to leave our mark by creating a legacy the world will remember.

 

To do more for the world than the world does for you –that is success. –Henry Ford

 

*This could be in other forms of compensation, not just financial.

 

The Skeleton Keys #2: Hope in Yourself

Hope 11/23/2019

America, the land of opportunity. It is the reason so many come to this country. They want a better life than what is possible by staying in their own countries. Here is a chance to live the rags to riches story. Here is the chance for success that they dream of.

This is why my father’s ancestors came to America in the late 1600’s. It is why my mother’s family, fleeing from religious persecution and the threat of communism, came over 300 years later in the late 1960’s. They wanted the freedom to pursue a better life, and not just for them but for their families and their future generations.

As a kid, I didn’t understand the sacrifices that were made by those who went before me. I saw the “have’s” who had more than me and considered myself a “have-not.” It was foolish, but I was young. I imagined all the things I could do if I came from a wealthy family. The aristocrats I read about in my books filled my imagination as well. It is amazing to think there was a time when people got a stipend for having a title in front of their name. Why couldn’t this have been me?

We live in a time when we can peek into the lives of celebrities and stars. We see the where they are today, but we don’t always see how they got there. Some were born with silver spoons in their mouths. Others had to earn it. It is these others that we should really look at. How did they get to where they are today?

This week, I listened to an interview with Shaun White on the Ed Mylett Show. This was the second interview I have listened to with Shaun White and was amazed to hear about his childhood. His family wasn’t wealthy. They made a lot of sacrifices so that Shaun and his siblings could get to the mountains. Where he is today wasn’t handed to him on a silver platter. He had to earn it. He was willing to learn by watching the best until he became the best himself. He is a beneficiary of the America our forefathers imagined. Very little stands in the way of the one who has faith in the future and is willing to work for it.

That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well. –Abraham Lincoln

All through history, and not only in America, do we see the success some are able to achieve despite the circumstances of their childhoods. So many come from very little but are able to attain to great heights. Once again as a youth, I didn’t believe this was something available to me. What a fool! As I get older and continue to work on myself, I now have a different belief. I have a belief that I can do anything that I put my mind to and am willing to work for. If others can do it, so can I.

The first part of this skeleton key to success is to pray mightily and work hard. The second part is to have an unwavering hope in your own self. You have to believe you can do it. If the others can, so can you!

My son, do not think I have forgotten about you. These words are not just for me, but they are for you as well. Our family blood runs strong and the desire for the success of future generations continue to this day. You must believe in your abilities and work to cultivate them. Others can guide you, but they cannot do the work for you. You will have to find your own path and then walk it for yourself.

The virtues of faith, hope, and love make up these keys able to open any door closed to you. Two keys have been discussed, the third is next.

Pleasant Words

Temperance 11/12/2019

When you hear the words, you are refreshed. Invigorated. They stir your soul like a pat on the back or a gentle hand helping you up. It is a cup of hot soup on a cold winter’s day. The heat goes down to your core and warms your very being. We all yearn to hear pleasant words. They are the words that confirm your choices and justify your actions.

Think of that dog with nothing but unconditional love in his heart. Pleasant words and that tail will show it. But if you speak out in anger, that poor beast will shrink away from you, put its tail between its legs, and lower its head.

We want to hear the kind words. They are powerful and have more effectiveness than any venom a person can spew. And as bad as we all want to hear it, we can be the ones speaking them.

Imagine they that struggle. Why beat them down when you can lift them back up? Or the bitter. You could return their bitterness, but what good would that do? Return their words with sweetness and just maybe the harshness of their words will dissipate. Regardless of the outcome, you will be blameless if you return their hatred with love.

To hold your tongue when you are being attacked with words takes great discipline. To not return anger with anger takes humility. And out of love and charity, we can freely give kind words, words that cost us nothing, to those who desperately need it. It might be the difference in their lives. It might bring them the health they need to keep going.

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. –Proverbs 16:24

“Old Blood and Guts” 3 Keys to Becoming Great

Temperance 10/29/2019

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be great? It is possible to be great in specific areas like a sport or in your job. It is also possible to be great at life in general. When they say anything is possible, this is what I want my son to know. It is something I need to constantly to remember:

Anyone can be great!

Are you willing to do what it takes to become great? After all, that is the great question you have to ask yourself. Greatness will not fall into your lap. You will not inherit it from your parents. No one can gift greatness to you. If you want it, you have to go out and get it for yourself. So how do you become great? Let’s take a look at one of the truly great leaders from our nation’s past.

By perseverance, study, and eternal desire, any man can become great. –General George S. Patton

Perseverance. There are many requirements needed to become a general, and time is one of them. For Patton, it took 31 years to get his first star as a Brigadier General and another five years on top of that to become a 4-star General commanding over 200,000 soldiers in World War II.

To build up to that level takes time. It takes perseverance. There is no giving up along the way. You have to keep going, both in good times and in bad.

There are many new employees I come across who aspire to greatness, yet very few make it through the first few years. The excitement falls off. They become stagnant in their progress. Eventually, they get distracted by other pursuits. What they once wanted to be great at no longer seems important, and they end up moving on in life. To be the best in your field, you have to stay focused and continue the pursuit.

Study. We want to put leaders on pedestals and expect them to be flawless. Look at our current leaders today. We have zero tolerance for their mistakes, yet at the same time, we dismiss our own shortcomings.

Old Blood and Guts (Patton’s nickname) didn’t have a perfect track record as an officer. On top of that, he was far from perfect in his formative years before receiving his commission. He wasn’t very good in school and had trouble reading and writing. At West Point, he struggled with his math as well and had to repeat his first year. How could a struggling student finish in the top half of his class? He studied. He continued working on his craft and became a lifelong student.

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. –Harry S. Truman

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If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. –General Jim Mattis

I often ask people what they are reading. I’m curious, and I’m looking for like-minded souls who may have a good book recommendation. There are two reasons why people tell me they don’t read. First, they say they aren’t very good readers. Well, I am afraid there is only one cure to that problem. Read more. Insider tip: Start by reading things you are interested in. Develop your skill set, and then you can move on to more difficult topics. The second reason why people tell me they don’t read is time. They don’t have the time to read. There is always time. You just have to make it. You have to prioritize what is more important in your life. Did you have time to see what all your friends are doing on Facebook? How’s your progress on consuming the complete Netflix catalog? We have time enough if we want it.

In your field, you cannot become complacent. General knowledge of your subject will not take you very far. If you are not the expert at what you do, someone else will be. Depending on your job, this means you are replaceable by someone has who is willing to learn. You have to know your field. You have to study and stay current on the subject.

Desire. Or as Patton says it, eternal desire. You have to want it. Nobody gets to the top unless they want to get there. You can’t want it today but not tomorrow. It has to consume you to do what it takes to be the best. If that means millions of free-throws, then so be it. They say practice makes perfect. Really, it should be said continuous practice over the course of a lifetime and you may find perfection. To practice for the rest of your life, you have to have eternal desire.

The keys to greatness according to Old Blood and Guts, the great General George S. Patton are:

  1. Perseverance
  2. Study
  3. Eternal desire

Good luck on your quest!

15 Years of Marriage

Today marks my fifteenth wedding anniversary. It seems like it has been an age. We may not even be the same people that we were back then. There has been so much sacrifice. Sounds bad doesn’t it? I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I often joke that these have been the longest years of my life. This joke may be perceived as a bad thing, but I don’t mean it in a bad way. I want the years to be long. I want to embrace all the moments, both the good and the bad, and I want none of it to speed by. I think how time flew by in my youth, and how I now try to slow it all down. There is nothing wrong with wanting it to be slow. And in regards to my family, I want to savor each moment and wish none of it away.

We’ve changed. We are not the same people that got married in 2004. We have been through a lot, and we have grown through the years. Our experiences together have changed us for the better. The tough times, and there has been some tough times, have made us more resilient. It would be foolish to think there will never be any hard times again. But if they come, we are more prepared than ever to overcome them.

Sacrifice. There are so many ways to describe marriage, but for me the best description I can think of is sacrifice. If I act on my own, with my own selfish desires, our marriage suffers. But when we act together, we seem to get stronger. I have to sacrifice many of the things I want, because they are not in OUR best interest. That’s fine. Sacrifice is not bad. Getting everything I want, all the time, is bad. Without sacrifice, I would be the poster boy for the seven deadly sins. Sacrifice is good. It is how we become healthy, wealthy, and wise (Thoreau).

These last fifteen years of my life have been the longest I have ever had. I have completely changed over the years with somebody that has changed as well. We’ve sacrificed for each other. These years have been the best of my life, and for that I am truly grateful.

To Revenge Not

Justice 10/9/2019

Monday night, I caught a little of the Cleveland Browns vs. San Francisco 49ers football game. In this one-sided affair one incident really stood out to me. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa of the 49ers sacked the Browns quarterback, Baker Mayfield. It was an excellent play. Bosa then got up and waved an imaginary flag and planted. This was to mock Mayfield’s notorious flag planting of the Oklahoma flag on the fifty yard line of Ohio stadium. That incident happened two years ago, and must have really stung the pride of Bosa. But finally, he got his revenge of national television.

I admit it is a silly analogy in terms of real-life revenge.

Revenge (rəˈvenj) n. to avenge (oneself or another) usually by retaliating in kind or degree. [Merriam-Webster]

I imagine forms of revenge often. Usually for very petty things. I perceive injustices toward me despite the often non-malicious intentions of the offender. When I look back at the acts of actual revenge I carried out in my youth, I can’t help but think how foolish I really was. In truth, the only injury I sustained was to my pride.

Thinking back on football. When there is a scuffle, who is usually the one that gets the flag? It is the one that retaliated. A simple act of revenge that costs the whole team, because the player had to get back at the instigator. He could have just let it go, but instead he allowed his pride to interfere with sound judgment.


Message to my son:

Revenge is a dish best served not at all. You don’t have to get back. The best statement you can make is to go about your business and not seek retribution. In the end, everything will work out. Let karma do its work without your interference. By not retaliating, you will heap coals on the head of your offender and come away blameless.

The best revenge is to not be like that. –Marcus Aurelius

Build Through Action

Temperance 10/1/2019

My son, Alec, gets frustrated when he can’t do something right the first time. He is still learning that practice is the key to success. Eventually, he will understand the concept of practice. This is not something to get upset about, it is a deficiency. And to overcome the deficiency, you must practice.

When I think about the things I am good at, I consider what it took to get that way. It took hours of repetition. It took patience. It took the realization that glory, if it was to be had, would not come during the practice sessions.

Often, we become good at things we don’t necessarily want to do. We are required by our employer to do job-related tasks. We get good at them, because we don’t want to spend all of our time on the menial stuff. We practice until we become efficient, and then we do the task in the least amount of time possible.

Action is the key to foundational success. –Pablo Picasso

Over 140,000 works of art. That’s what Picasso did. It would take over 383 years to do one a day. Imagine how many pieces he did every day during the course of his life.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a master. That’s twenty hours a week for ten years. I don’t recall giving any one area of my life that much time. Am I even working toward one discipline with that much effort?

There are things that I want to get really good at. There are areas that I want to master. Am I putting in the effort to accomplish these in my lifetime? I can’t say that I am. I only have so many years left to get after it, if I don’t increase my efforts now, when will I?

And what about Alec? Even at seven years of age, he is becoming passionate about different hobbies. Of course, I think it is wise for him to try as many as he can. But the sooner he can narrow down one true pursuit, the quicker he can master it. It is a bit of a conundrum but something I think about, and eventually it is something I hope he thinks about.