Better than When We Found It

It might have been a mess when we got here. It certainly was far from perfect. What will it look like when we leave?

How will the impact of your presence affect:

  • The lives of those around us
  • Our community
  • Where we work
  • The world

We can’t expect to walk into a good place, but we can make it better than when we found it. We can’t expect others to do it, but we are not accountable for their actions. We are only accountable for our own.

We are here on earth to good to others. What the others are here for, I do not know.

Matthew Arnold

Feature photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

How to End the Struggle

I wake up. I struggle to get out of bed. Instead of checking in on how I feel, I look to the sleep section on my Fitbit app. Ugh. Another mediocre night of sleep. I think about the long day ahead and force myself to get dressed and go workout.

I am at work and check my email. I check my schedule to make sure I am where I am supposed to be at the appropriate time. I reach for the coffee to help me get through the meetings with those that do not want to meet, to get through the tasks that need to get done, and to get through the reports that need to be completed.

Back at home. Chores, dinner, a wound-up kid with tons of energy that need to be burned, and a spouse whose day wasn’t much different than mine.

Bedtime. Will I be able to get to sleep?  Tomorrow is a new day with a new set of struggles like the ones of today.

The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.

Neale Donald Walsch

What if the day looked different? Of course, it would be the same day with the same set of obstacles. But what if I had a different perspective? Instead of drudgery and have-to, what if it was opportunity and want-to? What if…

The alarm goes off, and I take a moment to check in with myself. I made it through the night to see another day. Not everybody gets that chance, but I do. I get dressed and exercise grateful that I have a mind and body that can still do it.

At work. I have a job that pays the bills and allows me and my family to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle. I have a chance to help others and make new connections. Somebody finds value in what I do. I find value in what I do.

Home. I have a wife and child who love me. There is food on the table and shelter over our heads. Our basic needs are met.

Bedtime. The bed is comfortable. Sleep comes with the knowledge of peace and security. Sleep comes because I did not squander the day in idleness, but instead made the most of the opportunities given to me. And if I am given another tomorrow, then I am given another opportunity. I am given a gift to be grateful for.


Feature photo by Amadeo Valar on Unsplash

A Friend to Yourself

Let’s start with friends and five things to keep in mind…

1.  Forgive imperfections. Your friends are not perfect. Does it matter? No, not if their good qualities exceed their bad. It is those good qualities that we really admire, and one of the reasons for the friendship. In this way, good friends make good role models and help us along in our own personal development.

Of course, nobody is perfect, including our friends. But that is okay. You would grow weary of a perfect friend eventually creating a rift in the friendship. Like you, they are imperfect human beings trying to survive in this world to the best of their abilities. For this, we should cut them a break.

If thy brother wrongs thee, remember not so much his wrong-doing, but more than ever that he is thy brother.

Epictetus

2.  Encouragement. Good friends want to see their friends succeed. The better off your friend is doing, the more pleasant it will be to spend time in their presence. And when they are not doing good, the relationship becomes strained. So, when we see them struggle, we try to help them. The right encouragement helps them to shift their viewpoint. It gives them a positive affirmation that they can overcome their difficulties.

My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.

Henry Ford

3.  Be kind. A smile goes a long way. Kindness goes even farther. We all have the monsters in our lives that need slaying. And when your friend is in a battle with the monster of the day, derision never helps.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Plato

4.  Speak the truth. If you lie to your friends, they won’t be your friends for very long. They don’t need that in their lives and will eventually find a way to separate themselves from you. A basic principle we must all adhere to is to speak the truth because our character is what attracts people to us.

Life is short, and truth works far and lives long: let us then speak the truth.

Arthur Schopenhauer

5.  Don’t neglect them. I have lost touch with one of the greatest friends I ever had.*  Even with all the technology available to us, I can’t find him. I no longer know his phone number or his address. He has zero social media presence. I miss him. I want to know he is okay.

We do not know what tomorrow will bring. This might be the last day you see that friend you love so much. With that in mind, we cannot let the time slip by neglecting our duties as friends. That day might not ever come around when you get around to making that call. Check in, make sure they are doing okay, and let them know you are there for them.

Let us greedily enjoy our friends, because we do not know how long this privilege will be ours.

Seneca

Now that we covered friends, let’s move on to you…

What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.

Hecato of Rhodes

1.  Forgive your imperfections. Your friends are not perfect, and neither are you. After all, you are human. To not be perfect is okay. It doesn’t mean you can neglect your own self-development, but you don’t have to keep psychologically abusing yourself.

2.  Encouragement. You are more enjoyable to be around when you are doing better in life. Only if we all could be doing better in life! Sometimes we struggle, and sometimes there is no one we feel we can go to for encouragement. You are going to have encourage yourself. You must tell yourself to get up and to forge ahead. With or without a cheering section, this is your path and no one else can walk it for you.

3.  Be kind. Your battle is hard. The fates have dealt you a bad deck of cards. What should you do? Smile. Even at the worst, you are still alive. You still have much to be grateful for. Self-derision is not the answer. Give yourself the dignity you deserve.

4.  Speak the truth. Look into the window of your soul and see it for what it is. Don’t lie to yourself. Putting on the blinders of self-delusion will lead to a pitfall. You can’t improve if you don’t know your issues. If you refuse to believe you are in a battle with the monster, you cannot win.

5.  Neglect. You can’t do it to your friends, and you can’t do it to yourself. Take a moment and check in with yourself. Put down all the distractions and see how you are really doing. If you ignore yourself, you might end up losing yourself.

Become a friend to yourself. Learn to love yourself. Some would say this is the only way you can learn to love others.


Feature photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


* Bernie: I don’t know where you are, but I hope you are doing well. Our circle, our most inner circle from way back when, are concerned about you. You were the best of friends, and we miss you. You may never read this, but hopefully somebody we both know will get in contact with you. Peace my friend.

Going Around and Coming Around

Walking down the street, you direct a smile to a stranger. What usually happens? The stranger smiles back. Such a small gesture with a profound impact. Enough, that it could change a person’s day.

You come home. Your spouse is angry and sends a few angry comments your way. They were undeserved. Rather than letting them go, you retaliate. All hell breaks loose, and nobody wins.

You check your Twitter feed and notice something curious. A negative and inflammatory tweet went viral. Not really that curious, it is like the news. The negative reigns supreme. In this case, it goes through the echo chambers of the world, bouncing off the walls of cyberspace and spreading like a bad virus.

Life is an echo. What you send out comes back.

Zig Ziglar

What goes around comes around. The universe has a curious ability to return what you send out. Consider today what that will be. Positive or negative, the choice is ours.


Feature photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I Am Medicine

I have been thinking about this lately and may make it my new mantra:

I am medicine.

Powers to heal and to destroy

Proceed from my mouth.

Will I practice good medicine?

Or will I practice bad?

When I am in another world and fail to be mindful of another’s presence, I must remember: I am medicine. What I don’t say can hurt as bad as not saying anything. And when I am fully present, I must not use more medicine than necessary. Whether good or bad, too much medicine can become toxic.

When someone is angry, confused, or suffering, how will I use my medicine? Will I prescribe the bad stuff to counter the bad stuff, or will I try to heal with love? Sending out the bad medicine will never make things better. And since we are all fighting a hard battle, I should remember Plato’s words and be kind. Through kindness, I may prevent making someone’s battle harder than it already is.

This medicine that we have is easy to administer, yet its power is immense. Bad medicine will intensify in the mind of the recipient long after you left. In a similar fashion, words of love linger long after they are spoken.

Our words can evoke a powerful magic sending its healing energy to those in need. It is a power we can all tap into, because we are all medicine.


Feature photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

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