Your Enemies

For some high-adventure reading chocked full of action with a healthy mixture of historical facts and figures, I would recommend Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Series. The series follows the fictional life of Richard Sharpe, a career soldier in the early 19th century.

One of Sharpe’s assignments was leading the 95th Rifle Regiment in the British Army. This unit was an advanced skirmisher company. Instead of having to stand in formation trading volleys of gunfire with the enemy, they would employ a type of guerilla warfare and harass them. Much like wolves unable to attack a herd of buffalo, they would look for weaknesses to exploit. They were an annoyance to the enemy and could slow down their progress.

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe by Dennis Budd on DeviantArt

Who are your enemies?

We may not be fighting in a war, but we do have enemies in our lives. And like the 95th Rifles, our enemies like to employ skirmishers. Your enemies could be:

  • Viruses. Whether they are on your computer or in your body, they have one goal. Viruses look for points of weakness to exploit. Once they find the weakness, they can do their work of destruction.
  • Like the viruses attacking our bodies, we have addictions that wreak similar havoc. Sugar, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and all the other ones that give you a temporary high in exchange for long-term, slow-growing problems like diabetes, liver/lung cancer, and all the other self-induced diseases.
  • And then there are other people. For some reason, they have their problems with you. They would like nothing better than to see you stumble in some sort of way. They want to find and exploit your weaknesses. To gain an edge, they will highlight your mistakes, sabotage your work, and spread rumors to sully your reputation.

The benefit of enemies

What can we learn from those who attack our weakest areas? Looking into the mirror, I often only see what I want to see. Somehow, I am less inclined to see the flaws. But if I look at a photograph, the story is different. My eyes noticed the flaws that were overlooked in the mirror. My posture, the way my gut hangs out, and the fit of my clothes can no longer be ignored by the bias of the mirror. Without the mirror, I would continue in my self-deception.

We tend to over-estimate our good points and look beyond our weaknesses. When we do this, we fail to fix the things that need fixing. Our enemies do not look at us through the mirror of self-deception but instead through the photograph. There are no filters to gloss over all the flaws and weaknesses. Once they know where to point their attack, they can hit us where it hurts. And while it does hurt, it also gives us an opportunity to grow. Now that we know what our weaknesses are, we can work in those areas and strengthen them. We should be grateful the enemy pointed this out. Without their help, we would continue in our delusion.

“Pay attention to your enemies,” said the Greek philosopher Antisthenes, “for they are the first to discover your mistakes.” To ignore them would be perilous. But to use them to your advantage would arm yourself against future attacks. Be grateful for the opportunity to grow. You can even take the high road and thank your enemies for pointing out these weaknesses. Who knows? You may even remove the reason why they are your enemies in the first place.

Education…Incomplete…Always

One of the things that impressed me the most from the book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by General Jim Mattis is that Marine officers are given assigned reading which must be completed before moving on to the next level.* If you spend a lifetime in the Marines, you will spend a lifetime learning about leadership and history.

What would happen if I chose to stop learning? Would I become the guy who could not adapt to the times, because I could not recall the past or prepare for the future? Would I become a dinosaur making way for the next dominant species?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Considering Asimov’s words that we are never finished with our education, I am reminded of so many others who have uttered similar words. It is imperative that we continue to learn. It doesn’t matter if it is formal or informal, there is so much waiting to be discovered and applied. We are never too old or too young. The only limitations we set on our studies are the ones we set on ourselves.

Gather as much knowledge as you can. From that knowledge, draw your correlations and seek understanding. From this comes wisdom. There is an unlimited supply to how much you can gather, but only if you are willing to make the effort.

*I am still reading this book and promise to return it to the owner as soon as possible.

All That I Can Be

That old Army advertisement struck a chord in me. I was young and “be all that you can be” did the trick. The tune was catchy, the imagery was macho, and the dotted line was calling my name. When I considered my life back then before the Army, I knew I was not maximizing my potential. What I wanted was to be all that I could be, and therefore I joined the Army.

What I learned about the Army, after the fact, was that without a good mentor and a solid plan going into it, the quest of being all that one can be is not as easy as the jingle made it out to be. Becoming it in four years is a task near impossible. And when I left the Army, I was a long way from that maximum potential.

I used to blame the Army and/or the universe for a bad draw. I could have done so much better if only I had the opportunity. But in this game of life, we never get to pick the cards we are dealt. We can only make the best use of the hand we have. It was not the Army’s job to make me become the “all” I could be. It was mine. I was not supposed to take a passive approach. Instead, I was supposed to go and find my own opportunities.

These days, my primary focus is moving that needle a little closer to my max potential. It is a long, slow grind, but it is the only way to secure any possible fruits of labor.

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. -Ernest Hemingway

When I consider my “why,” it is not to lord it over others or to be arrogant in my attitude. It is my own personal quest to be better than I was the day before, to become better than that foolish soldier who failed to become all that he could be.

Do you want to find true nobility? Become better than who you were yesterday. Move the needle a little closer to your maximum potential.

Useless Things

What are useless things? Timewasters are the obvious. But what about the not-so-obvious: multi-tasking, dwelling on the past, or anxiety about the things that are outside of our control?

You could go back and beat yourself up over all the useless things you have done, but this also is useless. After all, you cannot go back in time and change it. A better solution would be to use those past failures as learning opportunities and try to make better decisions.

If there is no value added than it is useless. If there is one thing that I absolutely despise, it would have to be micro-management. As the managed, having someone constantly looking over your shoulder is frustrating. Your productivity is diminished, and you lose the ability to make your own decisions. As the manager, you spread yourself too thin and fail to make any solid gains. The manager can only maintain the status quo, while never developing the talent of his subordinates.

During the creation of this post, I stopped and checked my phone. I saw a video of someone doing something dumb. This led to watching more videos of dumb stuff. The deep guttural voice of Miyamoto Musashi kept ringing in my ears, “Do not do useless things.” And here I am, doing something useless. It sneaks up on you when you do not realize it. Stay vigilant my friends and have a great day.

Rekindle the Spark That Leads to Mastery

This week I started reading the book Mastery by Robert Greene.

What does it take to become a master? Well for starters, it starts at childhood. It starts with passion for doing something that you really enjoy doing. Children have a natural inclination to do what they like to do. Unfortunately as adults, we like to coerce them into doing the things they “ought” to do instead. We do it because we want what is best for them. We figure that conformity is best. As a result, we take them away from the things they enjoy doing and give them other tasks for their own good.

To be a master, you have to reconnect with that love for doing something, like you once did as a child. You have to find your passion in a field and go after it with all the passion of a religious zealot. It is more difficult as an adult. But even as adults, we still have the ability to hearken back to those days of old when wonder sparked within us a desire to know more. We have the ability to rekindle that fire and begin again.

As a father, I have to remember to encourage this with my son. As a somewhat responsible adult, I have become enamored with responsibility, duty, and what ought to be done. And though I like that structure and feel free working within those boundaries, I want him to find his own discipline while at the same time pursuing his passions. It is a balance I am hoping to find not only with my son but with myself.

To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity. –Friedrich Nietzche

It would be stupid to forget the reason why I am on this earth. It is a miracle that I am even here, and to squander it would be a shame. This week, I am going back in time to remember what I used to be passionate about and how they line up with what I am doing today. In the days to come, I am going to look at the things my son is passionate about and how I can encourage him to explore those passions.

Farewell.

Who Would You Copy?

Imagine 1760. Books are expensive and hard to come by. And if you don’t know how to read, they will do you no good. Heroes are legendary, because their deeds are passed down by word of mouth. If you want to learn a trade, you find someone who will take you on as an apprentice.

Imagine 2020. Today. Books are easy to obtain. We literally have the wisdom of the world available in our pockets. Heroic deeds go viral and seen moments after they occur. If you want to learn a new skill or start a new career, the path is easier than ever.

All this power and opportunity stands before you. How will you improve to take advantage of it? There are plenty of positive role-models out there, both in the past and the present. In a blink of the eye, you could take advantage of this treasure-trove of wisdom and improve your life beyond your imagination. All it takes is the desire and the willingness to put in the work.

And what will it cost you? Maybe one less game. Maybe a little less time going down a social media spiral of insanity. You would have to sacrifice your wasted time for productive time.

Who is this you I am pointing my finger at? Maybe it is you, but it definitely is me. For I ask myself the same questions every day? Who can I learn from? How can I improve? How can I not waste time?

There is an abundance of role-models out there. Seek the good; beware the bad. The time to improve is now.

People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy after. –Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)

Clear the Malfunction

One of the acronyms I will never forget from the Army is SPORTS.

Slap

Pull

Observe

Release

Tap

Squeeze

When your weapon jams up, you apply SPORTS to clear the malfunction. Practice SPORTS enough times, and it becomes second nature. You won’t even forget it twenty years later.

Why do soldiers practice it so much? In the heat of battle, you need to make quick decisions. In a fire fight, the last thing you need is a malfunction. When your weapon system goes down, you can’t call a time-out to analyze the situation. You need to be able to get back up and running as quick as possible, and that is why you perform an automatic action that doesn’t require thought.

Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the fault of others. –Seneca

The great thing about making the study of truth, better known as philosophy, a daily practice is that it becomes second nature. If it is always in your mind, you are less likely to falter. And when you do falter, when you have the malfunction, you are quick the resolve the error. You are able to scrape off your faults.

What are my issues? I have a few, but one has recently come to the forefront. I spend a lot of time working on my problems. Equally, I do my best not to worry about the faults of others. This may be ideal on an individual level, but it often leaves me with the tendency to mentally isolate from the rest of the world. In my youth, I was quick to make inaccurate assessments of others based on first impressions and a narrow world view. As I got older, I tried to be less judgmental. That is good, but to some degree I became less empathetic towards the problems and needs of others. This is a problem that I am working on. Can I really put myself in someone’s shoes? Can I understand their pain, what they are going through?

Today, I am going to continue identifying areas in my life that need improvement. I am going to work on fixing those. I am going to seek the truth and allow it to work its miracles on me in the scraping off of my imperfections. I am going to clear the malfunction.

Wisdom. Courage. Justice. Discipline. Faith. Hope. Love. The virtues that make us better people are calling. Who will heed the call?

This is the very perfection of man, to find out his own imperfections. –St. Augustine

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 Word with the Wise

One of my closest friends told me once to break down the barriers that are preventing me from walking my path.

A boss, who I despised and thought incompetent, once told me to control only what is in my control. The rest is out of my hands.

A dear aunt stated that a person’s energy can be seen only if I took the time to look for it.

Through the years there have been those moments when a slice of wisdom passed through another’s lips and took hold within me. Moments that were collected over a lifetime causing me to stop what I was doing and allow the words to be written upon my soul. Moments that molded me into who I am today and who I want to be tomorrow.

It is those moments I seek out, that my very soul longs for. To be blessed by another person freely sharing their wisdom is a gift. It is those gifts that elevates an individual to new heights. As Emerson said, “The best effect of fine persons is felt after we leave their presence.” Long after the conversation has ended, the wisdom remains.

I have read countless books and articles, enjoyed many lectures and podcasts, and viewed numerous instructional videos. The time slips by in study as progress inches along. But can any of them compare to the one-on-one conversations that bring about a greater understanding and a deeper sense of knowledge? In an instant the third eye opens and one wakes to a new light. In an instant, clarity, whereas before only confusion from merely scratching the surface.

A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study. –Chinese Proverb

Consider this Chinese proverb and how relates to all the virtues.

  • Prudence: Solomon said if you walk with the wise, you become wise (Proverbs 13:20). There is a power in having a mentor.
  • Temperance: We can make it a practice of having more meaningful conversations. We can spend less time talking about the weather and trivialities of current events.
  • Justice: This is the path of righteousness. Here we become better individuals and in turn improve the society around us.
  • Courage: To actively enter these conversations, we have to be bold. Not arrogant, but willing to expose our own inadequacies and learn from those farther along the path.
  • Faith: Can you see it? The destination up ahead? Visualize it and realize that you too can have this wisdom?
  • Hope: Dreams become reality, only if we pursue them and put in the work.
  • Charity: Freely they impart their knowledge to us. Freely we should do the same in return.

 

We can win in life through these virtues, and it starts with wisdom.

A Father’s Value

There are so many things I want to do, but there is one responsibility that trumps everything else. The responsibility is being a father. Is this my great mission in life? I don’t know, but it is my mission now. Is there any way a father can have greater impact on future generations? Is there any greater way to preserve and honor the legacy of a surname?

Tombstones may rot away in time. That’s if you even get one. There is not even a guarantee that the works you do on this planet will last through the years. But a strong word-of-mouth tradition handed down from father to son has the potential to last generations.

One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters. –George Herbert

Teachers can only provide so much education. The lessons are pre-planned, developed for the masses. They are not tailored to the individual child’s growth and development. You can learn the lessons on the blackboard, but do you understand it? Will you be able to deploy that information when the time comes?

A father can share knowledge and help his child understand. He can guide in the ways of wisdom. He can demonstrate the right way to live. Through emulation a child can learn how to be virtuous. A father can teach his son how to be a man, something the school system could never do.

Today as I meditate on my role as a father, I consider the things I can do better. What areas can I improve on so that I may be a better role model? The skills of a father are not developed overnight. It is an art that becomes more beautiful as it is practiced daily.