Don’t Fool Yourself

I look in the mirror. Whether good or bad, I only see what I want to see. My eyes only see what they have been trained to see. Everything else mysteriously gets dismissed. I find it amazing that a still image rarely matches what I saw in the mirror.

I take another bite. Today, the food looks good. It is pleasant to the senses and delights the palate. Sadly, it is not the best choice of food from a nutritional standpoint. Therefore, I will tell myself to only eat a little. Tomorrow, I am going to have a different opinion. Tomorrow, I am going to look back and wonder what I was thinking. Why did I pick that and why did I eat so much of it?

It is Sunday afternoon. I am feeling a little tired and decide to take a short nap (probably from all the food I ate). I set the timer for twenty minutes and get up two hours later. What happened?

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman

It is easy for me to look around and mentally note everybody else’s flaws. Why is that person so self-delusional? Don’t they know how foolish they look? Why do they eat such garbage and so much of it? Why aren’t they more active? Instead, they are just wasting away the time God has given them.

How is it that I am not so quick to notice my own flaws? In the moment, I acquiesce and give in to my base desires. These are the same desires that I am quick to notice and question in others. Yet, I have fooled myself to such an extent that I can no longer see these same behaviors in myself. The first principle is to not fool myself. Unfortunately, I have broken this principle too many times to count.

How do I improve knowing that I am so easily fooled?

  1. Have a plan. Without one, I am lost.
  2. Have a partner. I need someone to hold me accountable. Even more important, I must listen when someone calls me out.
  3. Check my ego. My ego says I can get away without consequences. It wants me to compare myself to others in a way that only points to my perceived goodness and to their inherent flaws.

To not fool myself is no easy task. Yet, it can be done. It requires vigilance and an honest appraisal of my actions.

Want to Be a Sage?

I have had the same set of kitchen knives for over the last twenty years. The edge on these J.A. Henckels Four Star knives have held up remarkably well with little maintenance. They cut just as well today as they did when I first purchased them.

A dull knife is a poor tool. It is also dangerous to the user who is required to put more effort into the cutting. A sharp blade is efficient and makes quick work of the job, except if the knife is in the hands of an inexperienced user. They may cut more than what they intended.

A spear is not designed to cut. It is made to pierce. However, like the knife, in the hands of an untrained warrior or hunter, it is a poor weapon. Piercing everything but the target can have disastrous consequences.

Moving onto another tool that can both cut and pierce: the tongue. People generally welcome honest opinions. One should be able to freely express their feelings, opinions, and ideas. Yet, caution is needed here. Is this tool helping or harming its intended target? Spouting too much foolishness or having too little restraint will drive away any potential listeners.

The last tool is the flashlight. Oh yes, this is a valuable item to have in the dark. But if you shine it in the eyes of your companions, you will leave them dazed and unable to function. Their temporary blindness will be no help, and they will be wary the next time you hold the light.

The sage is sharp but does not cut, pointed but does not pierce, forthright but does not offend, bright but does not dazzle.

Lao Tzu

The mind of the sage is the ultimate tool. It is a tool for both the master and the disciple. Yet, if it cuts, pierces, offends, or dazzles, its effectiveness is diminished. It will be reduced to a tool left in the shed because no one will want to be anywhere near it. If we want to be a sage, we must be sharp, pointed, forthright, and bright. We must be an effective tool to be fully utilized by all.

More Important than Wisdom

Wisdom was my first real request. I read it in Proverbs at a young age. If I wanted wisdom, I had to ask for it. Desire was the beginning. After that came the real work of knowledge acquisition and application (understanding). Forty years later, I proudly admit that I am still a novice. Forty years later, and I have learned that how much I do not know far exceeds the very little that I do know.

A good many of these years, I had to learn to keep my ego in check. This is not small task, and I still have far to go. Leadership was another issue. I have had many opportunities, yet I never maximized them to the fullest. Along the way, I learned two important points that are paramount to success. The first comes from some of the most powerful leaders I have had to opportunity to know. Great leaders are great servants. The second I learned from the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. A leader doesn’t need the title. I can lead from the bottom as well as the top. Finally, I had to learn that my mission in life, though important to me, is not greater than the success of the whole team. In this regard, my team is my family, friends, and those within my network and community. This was another hard lesson that I am still working on to this day.

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.

Theodore Isaac Ruben

Too often, I chose my pursuit of wisdom over the needs of others. I have held myself distant and indifferent. Yet, what good is wisdom if it is not for the benefit of others? What good is trying to help the people of the future if I neglect those of today? Is there any good in helping the strangers of the world while turning a blind eye to those closest to me? True wisdom requires kindness to all. My wisdom does no good if I push myself away. Who would want to listen to the words of an uncaring schmuck no matter how wise his words? Kindness: more important than wisdom.

Two Minds

Little Minds

It starts with a wish:

  • Want more money.
  • It all to be easier.
  • More comfortable.
  • Worry-free.

Sometimes wishes are acted upon:

  • Go back to school to hopefully get a higher paying job.
  • Take the steps to become more efficient or to reduce the workload.
  • Check out from the adventures that life has to offer and watch more television and play more games.
  • Don’t let responsibility be a cause for stress.

Most wishes are well-intended. Who doesn’t want a better life? But for the little minded, it never goes beyond the wish. They are perpetual dreamers without the ability to turn their wishes into reality. As soon as adversity comes their way, they come to a full-stop. Their dreams get derailed, and they find themselves in the same place if not in a worse one.

Great Minds

We have all heard stories of heroes who overcame adversity. They hit the wall, but they didn’t let the wall end their journey. Instead, they found a way to get over, go around, or push through. How were they able to do this when so many around them stopped?

The heroes also had dreams and wishes, but these dreams and wishes evolved into something greater. They have a purpose. As the great yogi Paramanhansa Yogananda once said, “ A wish is a desire without energy.” Actionable purposes are the engines that get us to our intended destinations. Without them, we do not move in the direction we want to go. We remain stagnant.

An obstacle makes us think smarter and work harder. Overcoming it makes us stronger and more resilient to future obstacles. There will always be detours, snares, and pitfalls along the way. Great minds realize this and don’t let it hinder them. Rather, they embrace the challenge it presents. If the purpose is great enough, nothing short of death will deter it.

Great minds have purposes; others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.

Washington Irving

Since this post ultimately ends with action, here is your call to action:

No doubt you have a dream. Is it only a dream or has it become a purpose? If it is not a purpose yet, then it is well past the time to get up and get moving. Put action into the dream and go beyond those with the little minds. To be a great mind, we must have a purpose that will not get derailed by the obstacles in our way.

The Ability to Change

Some are quite gifted when it comes to common sense. They are no-nonsense, practical, and able to discern the ideal solutions to most problems they encounter. If one is lacking in common sense, it would be in their best interest to either get it or stay close to the one that has it.

Others have the book smarts. They can open a book, read it, understand it, and then apply it. Yet not all of them are the ones you would call in a pinch. The ones you do call most likely have the double-bonus combination of book smarts and common sense.

What make a person intelligent? Is it the one who gets the high marks in school or the street-smart individual? Or is it the one who is blessed with both? If any had the right to be called intelligent, maybe it would be this famous physicist of the past:

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

Albert Einstein

The ability to change. This is the litmus test Einstein gave us. We either change or get left behind. We either evolve or die.

It doesn’t matter where you begin. The gifts you were blessed with help, but even that doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do along the way. What matters is how you travel the road and how well you adapt to the environment presented to you. The ability to change–the measure of our intelligence.

Did I always believe this? Of course not. I was too stubborn in my ways. I thought the hand I was dealt was not strong enough to win. Somehow, the deck was stacked against me. I claimed the victim before I even began, because I could not help but notice the stronger players in the game.

Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.

Jack London

If we only hold onto the cards we are dealt, we can never improve our position. We must discard the weaker cards that do not serve us. We must play the game to the best of our abilities and learn as we go. This is the intelligence we seek.

Lessons in History

A quick look back:

  • The Persians thought to rule the world.
  • Alexander the Great did the same.
  • The Romans, a few hundred years later, took up the mantle of world domination.
  • Genghis Khan wanted to claim the world as his. And if he could not do it, then maybe one of his many children could try when he was done.
  • A little guy with a big ego from France traipsed across Europe leaving countless dead in his wake.
  • A madman in Germany. We all know what he was about.

This list is not exhaustive and certainly not excusive to only them.

History Lesson: Throughout the ages, there has always been individuals that have wreaked havoc across the land motivated by power, money, and sex.

The greatest of the world dominators live on perpetually in the history books. But the timeline in between every one of them is littered with lesser men who tried to become like them. As it was back then, so it is now, and so it shall always be.

Chances are that you are not one of these megalomaniacs. And if you not one of them, then are most likely one of their targets.

What has changed?

It certainly isn’t the heart of the villain. But be not deceived, they are some of the greatest students of history. They have studied their predecessors and have learned from their mistakes. Well known super-villains will eventually come to ruin. The advance in technology over the last century makes it even harder to survive. Therefore, it is better to operate in the shadows than to promote your evil in the open.

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all lessons in history.

Aldous Huxley

What is the lesson? Is it to conceal your maneuvering towards world domination? No, this lesson is to identify those that would use us for their nefarious purposes. We must look within the shadows to see who is operating there. We all fear the direct assault, but that is not the most dangerous. They are often from the shadowspawn lurking behind the scenes. We must be wary of the wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Victory from Defeat

‘Tis the season to get thrown down, squeezed hard, and manhandled by somebody else. It is the season where the mind and the heart are tested to see just how far they can go. This isn’t your season for this? Well, after a two-year hiatus from the wrestling mats, it is Alec’s season.

A lot can be forgotten in two years by a nine-year-old boy. The technique, muscle-memory, and explosiveness must be retrained. His new teammates didn’t take the last two years off, and they are primed to deal out some punishment. And in Alec’s last practice, that is exactly what they did to him. Into the fire he goes where all his faculties are being tested, where all the impurities are being removed. As a parent, I am loving it. No, I am not some kind of sadist who loves to see his one and only son get abused. I am loving it because I see the fire within him burning as brightly as the fire that is testing him. He wants to succeed. He is determined to get better.

A couple of days ago, the coach gave his after-practice speech. He told the boys that the most wrestling they will do this season will be in practice. This is where they can perfect their game. It is where they can try new moves and fail. It is where they can continue trying and then succeed. I loved this message from the coach. I hope the boys take it to heart.

If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.

Zig Ziglar

Learning from defeat. It is one of the best educations someone can get. It is a quality that separates the champions from the participants. Nobody wants to lose, but it is a rare individual who can take the lessons from a loss and use it to become better. Giving up might be accepted in a modern society that doesn’t want anyone to feel bad. They might even get an award for their efforts. But will it have any value in the future? Can it compare to unlocking the puzzle that holds the keys to victory?

Sport is a proving ground that can allow a person to find out how to win in life. It is a practice in resilience, courage, determination, and grit. Therefore, I love seeing Alec go into the fire. As a parent and a spectator, I can witness the evolution of a boy earning his rite of passage into manhood. What an opportunity!


Feature photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash.

Compliance not Recommended

Indoctrination begins at the earliest stages of life:

  • Don’t stand out from the crowd.
  • Do as your told.
  • Behave yourself like a good little boy/girl.

It continues in school:

  • Check this box, not that one.
  • Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there.
  • Stand out as a cool kid, and you are in. Stand out as anything else. Awkward!

That wasn’t enough for some of us, and we needed remedial training. I fell into this category and ended up in the Army. There I was granted the opportunity to live in forced compliance. March, turn, eat, and sleep. Everything in order and on schedule.

What do the rulers of the world (governments and corporations) want from us? They want us to do exactly as we were trained. They want us to be compliant. The outsiders don’t fit into their plans. They need workers and consumers who can be where they are supposed to be and are able to check the correct box. And the result? The average person will put off their dreams, work themselves nearly to death, and then hope they have a little peace in their final years of existence. From their earliest stages of life, they were molded to be compliant citizens working for “The Man.”

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thinking outside the box is only acceptable when it benefits the higher ups.

Our current pandemic has highlighted the world we live in:

  • Small businesses are getting crushed because they do not fit in with the corporate scheme.
  • Compliance is being forced with our freedoms on the line.
  • Make one wrong step or voice one contrary opinion and Big Brother’s minions, the social gestapo, will cancel you.

To be yourself in this world may be one of the hardest endeavors you could undertake. It could also be the most rewarding. That’s why Emerson said it was the greatest accomplishment. It means we can’t allow others to think for us. We must think for ourselves.

Questions, Answers, and Political Divisions

Tony Robbins said, “The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life.” It is such a beautiful idea, but what happens when questions are not allowed?

We live in a world where everything from food, freedom of religion and speech, and what can go into a person’s body has become political. If you find yourself in the minority, your freedom is at stake, your ability to make a conscientious decision becomes limited and can even be taken away. And your questions? Questions to those on the opposite end of the spectrum are frowned upon, condescended, and even censored. No one wants to live under a tyrant, and yet many of us have no problem tyrannizing those who dare disagree with us.

I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.

Richard Feynman

Are the days of open dialogue gone? Do we no longer try to understand the differences of others? It is far easier to shut down the voices opposition than it is to come to an amiable solution. Rather than have a moral backbone, would it be preferable to go over to the majority where there is less opposition? Rather than trying to formulate the questions that determine the quality of our lives, should we only rely on the answers given to us that cannot be challenged?

I am not saying that one side is right and the other is wrong. What I am saying is that we should do the research and try to come up with the questions that can lead to improvement. We might not be able to find the answers now, but at least we are willing to seek them out.


Feature photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

The Shade of Knowledge

Every autumn, the four big oaks in my front yard dump thousands of acorns onto the ground. The deer and the squirrels love it. The dogs bark every time they hit the house like small mortar rounds.

The acorns are a nuisance, but that is okay. The amount of shade those massive oaks produce in the heat of summer is worth the hassle. The oaks are a blessing to those who take refuge among their branches, gain respite from their shade, and feed from their fruit.

It is amazing to think that those trees each started out as a tiny acorn. Such a small seed with so much potential energy! When the combination of earth, water, air, fire, and even spirit work their life-giving magic on the seed, the results are nothing short of miraculous. This is true alchemy.

If we do not plant knowledge when young it will give us no shade when we are old.

Lord Chesterfield

The tree is an allegory for wisdom. We plant the seeds of knowledge. We give them the nutrients necessary to grow. And if we do this, then we will reap the blessings in our elder years.


Feature photo by 30daysreplay Germany on Unsplash