Under Our Skins

I asked an old professor how it was my fault that someone else was getting under my skin. Epictetus, the great Stoic Philosopher, did not give me a direct reply, but he did give me an answer. How can someone dead for two millennia give me an answer? Am I a medium who converse with spirits?

The answer is both yes and no. No, I cannot communicate directly with the dead. I can speak with them, but sadly I never hear their voices. And though I cannot hear their voice, I can hear the spirit of the words they left behind. I’m reminded of what Ben Franklin said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.” And the people I consult with, including Epictetus, managed to have their words passed down through the ages.

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. They can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by them.

Epictetus was a slave for a good portion of his life. And though his master could possess his body, he was never able to possess his mind. I once heard a story about one torture session. Epictetus told his master that if he did not stop applying pressure to his leg, it would break. His master did not stop and broke the slave’s leg. What was Epictetus’s response? He simply told his master, “I told you so.” Consequently, Epictetus would be lame for the rest of his life.

It is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.

The great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, once wrote, “The best revenge is not to be like that.” [By the way, Marcus Aurelius studied Epictetus] What the emperor suggests is easier said than done. When we feel a perceived injustice, we want to strike back. We do this because of our  bruised egos. We feel that because we are grown adults, we do not have to endure this provocation from others. We must remember that the ideal adult practices self-control. If we can be goaded by another, it is really our own fault. It is a lack of self-control.

Whenever anyone criticizes or wrongs you, remember that they are only doing or saying what they think is right. They cannot be guided by your views, only their own…Say to yourself each time, “He did what he believed was right.”

Our puppy Rooster can be very frustrating. Sometimes he will get out and decide to explore beyond our property. If too close to the road, we will fear for his safety. All the other times, it is just annoying. Rooster’s concept of right and wrong is not based on maliciousness. Whenever he goes exploring, he is doing what he believes is natural. Next time he does this, I need to say to myself, “He is doing what he believed was right.” Maybe by doing this, I will be less annoyed.

If someone criticizes or wrongs you, this would be an idea to keep in mind. Chances are if the tables were reversed, you would hope they responded in a similar fashion. Too many social media battles are fought because there is no tolerance for a difference of opinion. If both parties feel they are right, you will most likely be unsuccessful in changing their viewpoint.

The cause of my irritation is not in this person but in me. -Anthony de Mello

Remember when Paul said, “The greatest of these was love.” * If someone is irritating us, let us not take it out on them. We allowed them to get under our skins. Instead we should treat them with love and get to work on ourselves. Do this, and they may not seem so irritable in the future.

*I Corinthians 13:13

For the Good of Others

Could you imagine what it would have been like getting on a steam train back in the mid to late 1800’s? What a rush it would have been going 70-80 miles per hour! Before that, you were confined to going the speed of a horse.

This new mode of travel provided speed, convenience, and less worry for the passengers. Unless of course, there was an accident. And back then, accidents happened often. In the late 1860’s, George Westinghouse patented the railway air brake. This new braking system reduced accidents and gave the trains the ability to travel at faster speeds. But more importantly, it saved the lives of countless crewmembers and passengers.

If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied. -George Westinghouse

Many of us work for our own good or for the good of the organization that employs us. For the good of others is too often an afterthought that comes in the form of some charitable donation. Imagine if our focus was different. Imagine if we worked to improve the welfare and happiness of others. Directing our focus towards that endeavor would improve the quality of their lives and ours. It might be a small drop in this pond we call the world, but how many would feel its wave?

What Is Ugly?

Alec came home from camp one day a little upset. After some coaxing from my life, he finally admitted what was wrong. Earlier in the day, some girls called him ugly. On top of that, they said the art project he was working on was also ugly. For this eight-year-old, comments like that made him sad.

As an adult, the first thing I want to tell him is to not let it bother him. This is easier said than done. I know in some way it would bother me if those type of comments were directed toward me. Nobody wants to be called ugly. Nobody wants their work to be called ugly.

What is ugly?

In my younger years, I would compare ugly only in relation to superficial beauty. I might not ever have called someone they were ugly, but I know I have been guilty of thinking it. Could a creature of God really be ugly? Could they be born, body, soul, and mind, ugly? And who has the right to say that someone’s exterior appearance is uglier than they are? What if our standard of beauty of so superficial that we have completely missed the mark of what is uniquely beautiful? If we are not born ugly, then it would appear ugly comes from somewhere else.

We know ugly exists in this world. Its manifestations can be seen all around us. We make poor choices with our bodies that deteriorate us faster than normal. We close off and dull our minds to the extent that we cannot see beyond our own biases. We sin against our hearts and in order to not be disgusted with ourselves, rationalize those choices. In time we allow ugliness to creep into our lives. And the longer we allow ugliness to have its hold within us, the greater the chances it will eventually rear its ugly head and come out, affecting how others perceive us. We might not have been born ugly, but we can become ugly people in time.

“Any man can do harm, but not every man can do good to one another.” -Plato

When our ugliness comes out, it can have a negative impact on those around us. We all have that potential, and to use it as a weapon is an easy thing to do. We also have a choice to not weaponize our ugliness. We can choose nobler pursuits, such as acting in the best interest of the ones we encounter throughout the day. This is a beautiful thing. And the more we behave in this manner, the more beautiful we become.

Simple Progression to Personal Wealth and Happiness

Here is a little wealth and happiness insight from a theologian and evangelist from the late 18th century:

Make all you can. Easy right. I guess that depends on what your definition of easy is. “Make all you can” is not to be confused with “make as much as your neighbor or friends or those around you.” Nope. This is your own race and not a comparative one. Make as much you can whether that’s a hundred dollars or a hundred million. If you want more, you have to be willing to do more. That means you will have to put in the mental and physical power required to make more. By the sweat of your brow, you can do this.

Save all you can. Another easy one on paper. Have you ever read The Richest Man in Babylon? It is a great book with one really, really important lesson that will stand the test of time. If you don’t have time to read the book, which you should because it is a good one, I will go ahead and share the lesson with you. Whatever you make, save 10%. What if you cannot do that right now? It is okay, many people are in that boat. As soon as you can, get yourself to that point. How? Live below your means. Get yourself out of debt. Don’t spend every last dime on purchases that aren’t necessary. Save for that rainy day when the floods of desperation grip the world and the only ones to survive are the ones who threw themselves a financial life preserver.

Give all you can. You have been making all you can. You have been saving all you can. What are you going to use all that wealth for? Will you be a miserly scrooge holding on to something you can’t take with you into the next world? Use your wealth to make this world a better place when you leave. This is a chance to leave a positive legacy. It is a chance to help those who didn’t have the opportunities you had. You could help provide them the opportunities to make and save all they can. You could set the example so that someday they could give all they can to make someone else’s life better. This is paying it forward.

Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can. –John Wesley

This is a simple strategy to personal wealth and happiness. It has withstood the test of time. I hope you enjoyed today’s thought on the virtue of Charity. To be virtuous starts with your own self-development, but it goes beyond the self. It creates a positive force on those within your sphere of influence. This is how you win in life. This is Winning with Virtue.

Have a wonderful day.

A Drop in the Universe, A Speck in Time

I turned out the lights and turned on my Kindle. It was bedtime, and the Kindle my nightly ritual. A little light reading before bed helps me sleep. It tires my eyes and quiets my mind. Usually I read a bit of fiction, but this night I read from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. The translation I have is old. It is filled with thee’s, thou’s, and thine’s. I like it as it reminds me of the King James Bible.

The emperor had a way with words and the passage from the sixth book did its magic on me. After a few minutes of reading, I had to put the book down. I had to digest the words. Sleep didn’t come quick this night.

Consider where we are right now in this time, in this space. Compare it to the big picture of the universe. A small point in time. A tiny pinprick in the vastness of the cosmos. Here we are, veritable miracles of life, so small and fragile. But here we are, together. Despite all our differences and problems, we are in it together, occupying the here and the now.

We have a tendency to make things seem bigger than they are. Our problems, because they impact us personally seem, to matter more than the problems of those down the street, those across the globe. Yet in the grand scheme of things, they are nothing but minor trifles.

This is the call for unity. When you meet your fellow humans, it is one miracle colliding with another. The dog, the cat, and even the bird on the front porch, all miracles, all points in time and space. True charity is that we treat all our brothers and sisters with love despite our differences. True charity is to honor those we meet with the dignity and respect that all creatures deserve. We are one moment in time, one speck in the universe. Our impact may seem small. But to those we come across, it can be enormous. The waves our impressions leave can lift others and sweep them to safer shores, or it can crash upon them shattering them on the rocks. What impact will you leave today? How will you be remembered tomorrow?

The words of the Stoic Emperor have made their marks on my soul. I hope it has the same impression on your’s:

Asia, Europe are corners of the universe: all the sea a drop in the universe; Athos a little clod of the universe: all the present time is a point in eternity. All things are little, changeable, perishable. All things come from thence, from that universal ruling power either directly proceeding or by way of sequence. And accordingly the lion’s gaping jaws, and that which is poisonous, and every harmful thing, as a thorn, as mud, are after-products of the grand and beautiful. Do not then imagine that they are of another kind from that which thou dost venerate, but form a just opinion of the source of all.

He who has seen present things has seen all, both everything which has taken place from all eternity and everything which will be for time without end; for all things are of one kin and of one form.

Frequently consider the connexion of all things in the universe and their relation to one another. For in a manner all things are implicated with one another, and all in this way are friendly to one another; for one thing comes in order after another, and this is by virtue of the active movement and mutual conspiration and the unity of the substance. Adapt thyself to the things with which thy lot has been cast: and the men among whom thou hast received thy portion, love them, but do it truly, sincerely. –Marcus Aurelius, from Meditations Book 6:33-35

As They Ought to Be

“Be good.” It is what I tell Alec as I’m leaving. When I said that the other night as I headed to work and left him with his grandparents, his grandmother said, “He’s always good.”

When I think about it. He usually is good. Why then do I say it? Is it a last reminder before I leave? Am I afraid that as soon as I walk out he will turn into a little monster? Is my saying it an unchecked habit that I have formed?

A few days before that I got upset with him. He made a small error. I got upset. Why? I don’t know. I could make a bunch of excuses but none of them would be legitimate. How many mistakes have I made in my life? How many of greater consequence than the one he made. When I made it, the last thing I wanted was to be reprimanded of it. The misdeed was instantly noticed, reprimands were only piling on. And I of course, hating when it was done to me, I piled on. A few minutes later, I apologized. It was unnecessary, and I was not helping the situation or him to become better. I was the little monster.

If there is anyone I hope to influence in this world, it is him. How can I help him become what he is capable of becoming? I can treat him as what he ought to be, not what he is now. Even though he is still just a child, I can treat him as a fellow human capable of making appropriate decisions. I can guide him along the way into what I believe is acceptable behavior, but I shouldn’t harangue him for every little action I perceive to be an annoyance. I need to keep Solomon’s words in mind, “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not be intent on his death.”* There is no need to engage in psychological warfare. I know what it feels like and would not want it for him. I don’t need to nitpick. I don’t want to become a nag for no other reason than to be disagreeable.

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming. -Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

As I meditate on these words of Von Goethe, I think of all those I with whom I come into contact: those in my community, at church, within my workplace. Are we not all on a path of what we are becoming? Treat others as they were what they ought to be, and we can have a hand in helping them meet their capabilities.

*Proverbs 19:18

And the Credit Goes to… Someone Else

It was a brilliant idea. A couple of months later, someone else was taking the credit. It bothered me, because I wanted to be the one that got the accolades. All for what? Some stupid stuff that truly didn’t matter? But it was my idea! And, it got adopted. When it is all said and done, isn’t that all that really matters?

This idea was pulled out of the ether. There was no work involved to build it. There was no money invested into it either. It just happened to stick. That’s it.

What should I do now? My best move would be to let it go. Let the other person revel in their wittiness. It is pride that is holding me back. I have to relinquish the pride and control the ego. I have to move on and come up with more ideas.

By fixating on my injured pride, I am no longer being useful in the present. Instead I am wallowing in a past that might have been but really never was. To get more accomplished in this world, I have to be in the present moment.

Why is this a charity post?

It is charity in letting the other person take the credit that they feel is theirs. There is no need for it to become a petty fight. Our pride shouldn’t be so great that we sacrifice the happiness of those around us. It just isn’t worth it.


 

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. –Harry S. Truman

How Did You Make Them Feel?

Two years ago I read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This was such a good book that I read it again last year. It is now on my annual reading list. The lessons are really valuable. And if I don’t keep them fresh on my mind, they are easily forgettable.

It is a strange title for a book. It gets right to the point, and one would think it would be a must-read for anyone lacking influence with little to no friends. You could even go so far as to think this is a completely selfish book that would help the reader grow in popularity. To some degree, you would be right. But as you take the lessons to heart and grow as a person, it becomes less about you and more about the people you come into contact with. The better you treat others, the more friends you win. And as your group of friends increase, the greater your sphere of influence.

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I’ve learned that people will forgive what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. –Maya Angelou

The feelings of others is a tricky thing. It is easy to run roughshod right over them if you are not paying attention. I try to guard my feelings. I try not to be overly sensitive to the way others make me feel. It works for me, but I can’t have that expectation for others. I have to be mindful of how I make others feel. If I don’t, then I risk losing friends, customers, and co-workers. I could even alienate family members if I am not careful.

Say the wrong thing out of character, and you can try to rectify it. Do something stupid, and maybe in time it will become a thing of the past. But if you damage someone’s feelings, you will damage them on the inside. The wound will never properly heal, because they will never really forget the sin you committed against them.

There’s a few key principles from Carnegie’s book to keep in mind. Follow these and you can create lasting and loyal friendships:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Make them feel important.
  • Call them by their names (which means you have to take the time to learn and remember their names).
  • Get them to talk about themselves. Do it by asking questions.
  • Listen to what they are saying, not force them to hear what you have to say.
  • Don’t criticize.

The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Hero

To be strong and to endure when the time comes, you must train your body. Like steel, you must temper it and remove the impurities.

To perceive the environment and to act accordingly, you must train your mind. Grow in intelligence and knowledge. Grow through experience.

To be able to move forward when those around you are paralyzed with fear, you must train your heart. Your soul. Become accustomed doing uncomfortable things.

Discipline. Wisdom. Courage. Training in these virtues is a selfish pursuit. It is purely to make you better. It is to prepare you for the hard times. To be the hero when the world (or your family or community) is in need of one.

When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness. –Joseph Campbell

The transformation may begin selfish, but it becomes charity. It becomes love. Acting for those who need a helping hand. Acting for those who are unable to act for themselves. You can be untrained and still step up in the dark moment, but will you be as effective?

We plant in the spring, grow in the summer, and gather in the fall. Why? To prepare for the harshness of the winter. In the same manner we should plant the seeds of virtue and cultivate them when the times are easy. For we will need them when the dark days arrive. The world will need its heroes. Be ready when the call comes.

The hero prepares, not selfishly, but to give.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. –John 15:13

Looking for Dirt

Charity 12/22/2019

My job is to find dirt. To be more specific, I look for dirt and other quality issues on the painted bodies of luxury cars. I am an auditor and finding dirt is one of my specific functions. I know what dirt looks like underneath the paint and can spot a speck that is smaller than a millimeter. When I go looking for dirt, I find it.

Before I was an auditor, I built cars for the same company. I didn’t know what dirt looked like and honestly I didn’t care. My focus was functionality and performance. I cared about what was on the inside.

Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it. –Abraham Lincoln

Finding dirt on people is just like finding it on cars. If you go looking for dirt, you will find it. We can find all kinds of things we don’t like about other people. If that is our intention, nobody, not even the good ones, will stand a chance. We will find a way to criticize even their positive aspects. We see it in politics. We see it in our coworkers and even with our family members.

I get paid to find dirt with the hope that our customers won’t see it on their cars. I would rather they focused on the inside which contains the majority of the car’s value. I don’t get paid to find the dirt on the people in my life. Doing so will drive them away and create an unnecessary chasm between us. I would rather focus on their inner qualities. That’s where their real value lies. By focusing on that, we have the chance to strengthen the bonds between us.

This is a good thing to keep in mind this Christmas season. We can begin with the friends and family we will see over the next few days. We can carry our practice into the new year giving us the opportunity for true peace in our lives.