The Pony in the Dung Heap, Ronald Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt and You

Ronald Reagan. "The Gipper"
A friend of mine recently told me a joke popularized by Ronald Reagan.  It makes a useful statement on what to do when things look bleak in your life.  I looked it up and thought you’d enjoy the full context: 

An excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson: 

Chapter One
The Pony In the Dung Heap
When Life Buries You, Dig
Journal Entry, June 2002: 

Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes.  “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.” 

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist. 

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist.  Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys.  But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears.  “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?”  “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.” 

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist.  Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure.  But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist.  Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands.  “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!” 

There must be a pony in here somewhere!
“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us.  Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, “There must be a pony in here somewhere.'” 

As we looked at in my previous post “Joan of Arc on Living” (, your outlook on life is colored by your underlying beliefs about  life.  Whether you call yourself an optimist or a pessimist is a matter of perspective, then, as life is life and the facts of the situation are the facts of the situation.  What you emphasize in the situations you encounter will determine the nature of your experience.  Again, it’s not so much what happens to you that matters, it’s how you handle what happens to you. 

If you were able to take snapshot of every aspect of your life – your work, personal situation, home, family, friends, finances and your sense of self – and look at them one after another like flashcards, what words would you use to describe them?  Some aspects of your life may appear more promising than others, but no matter what the factors are, you can always stand to improve your outlook and consequently your approach to handling your life. 

Eleanor Roosevelt in Canada (March 1949)
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”  Everybody makes choices every day.  How effective do you feel you are in that realm of your function?  “I wish I could make better choices,” you might say, and I would say that you can.  

How?  By making sure that you are looking in the right direction and the right place.  Rather than entering a room and immediately jumping to conclusions about what is wrong, what isn’t working, what you don’t like, what you wish was different, go into the same room and ask yourself what is working here, what could you use as a step to the next goal and what can we agree on now?  I can assure you that our Founding Fathers put that approach in the forefront of their minds when they summarized the principles upon which our Great Nation was built.  

They found the pony in the room, but the more important question is, will you?

Monty Roberts, Compassionate Leadership and Principles of Horsemanship

Yesterday we looked at a simple principle that can transform your life and for that matter, the world.  “Return things in better condition than you found them in.”  My friends will tell you that I have been fascinated with the work of a man who inspired the movie “The Horse Whisperer,” Monty Roberts, for years.  Here’s why…

Monty Roberts is masterful in putting the principle we’re discussing to work.  While probably not the first to use this method of “entering” versus “breaking” wild horses, he has done well to articulate how it is done.  Monty’s desire to share it with others comes as a great blessing to the equestrian world and to virtually every sphere of human endeavor.

Fasten your seatbelts and be prepared to cover your eyes while watching this next video.  It portrays an age-old method for breaking wild horses, a method which, unfortunately, is still in use.  

Tragic, isn’t it?  Man’s conquest of the natural world has not always been achieved through gracious and entreating means.  I imagine that in times of dire necessity (such as the early pioneering days or in times of war) shortcuts are perceived as being optimal versus an approach based on compassionate leadership, but in times of plenty, can these types of methods be justified?  I use the example of horse training, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see the implications relative to raising children, to increasing productivity in the workplace and so on. 

Force may achieve a desired end, but at what cost?  Building trust takes longer, but in so doing nothing is diminished.  I thought you’d enjoy this example of what Monty calls “join-up.”  This is Monty Roberts approach to entering or breaking a horse. 

So what does this mean to you, relative to the way you work with yourself, with friends and family, with your peers, your clients and those who depend on you for leadership and guidance?  Here are some of the lessons I have learned:

1.  Never force anything.  There is a right timing for all things.

2.  The right timing implies that the “table is set” for what is about to happen.  The desired event can occur with the least amount of energy necessary to get the job done.  (Think about changing gears in a manual car, for example.  Timing is everything).

3.  Building trust requires consistency, constancy and steadiness in your expression. 

4.  Don’t go straight at the problem.  Work your way up to it by systematically disarming the land mines that invariably surround your goal.

5.  Beware of the approach that is based solely upon the logic “well, that’s just how it’s always been done.”

6.  Be observant.  Care genuinely about those around you.  Listen carefully and find the openings for helping others.  Learn to speak their language as Monty did with the horses.  Equus!

7.  Help others to lead as you do.  Mimicry is a complement, but when others take what you do and expand on it, that is progress!

I wish you well as you look to improve your leadership skills in the days to come!  Have a great weekend.


An evening thought…


Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “A man is related to all nature.”  Whether you look out over a beautiful scene or zoom in to enjoy the industriousness of a soldier ant, it is hard not to appreciate and relate in some way to the beauty and wonder of the natural world.   

I came across a wonderful poem in my evening reading that I trust will soothe and calm you after a long and fast-paced week.  The poem, written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a rhyme scheme typical of and Italian sonnet, is called “Patience Taught by Nature.”   


‘O dreary life,’ we cry, ‘O dreary life! ‘
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
With Heaven’s true purpose in us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle!  Ocean girds
Unslackened the dry land, savannah-swards
Unweary sweep, hills watch unworn, and rife
Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees
To show, above, the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory: O thou God of old,
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these!–
But so much patience as a blade of grass
Grows by, contented through the heat and cold. 

Look for inspiration in the natural world around you. Tune in to the lovely song of the birds around you.  Admire the geometry of the spider’s web or the spiralling canopy of a tree.  Let your heart and mind dance with the undulating evergreen caressed by the wind.  Take the time.  It’s worth it.   

There are so many lessons that can be learned through simple observation.  Patience is but one, yet how vital that it be known and practiced in all things.  

Have a lovely evening.

Boston Legal, The Environment and my Trashy Habit

I consider it one of my civic duties to collect the garbage weekly from the edge of the public road that runs along the front of our corporate property.  It is amazing to see what flies out involuntarily (my inner optimist) from cars and trucks as they pass by from day-to-day.     

Each week I collect roughly half of a kitchen-sized garbage bag of beer cans, fast food packaging, cigarette butts and soda cans.  Having done this for years now, I’ve often wondered why beer and liquor bottles are inevitably empty while soda bottles are typically discarded with at least three or four gulps left, with the cap on.   I’m still waiting for someone to start throwing money along the road, but that’s just a backup in the event that my lottery ticket isn’t a winner.     

At any rate, I was walking along the road, scanning the ground for goodies, my mind wandered to an episode of Boston Legal, a clever drama-comedy by David E. Kelley that tells the story of the professional and personal lives of a group of emotionally-challenged attorneys.  The particular episode, Finding Nimmo, Denny Crane (William Shatner) takes Alan Shore (James Spader) to British Columbia for a fishing trip to help Alan get over a break-up.    

Denny Crane
Denny, who lacks a filter between his brain and mouth at times, was talking with Alan and the dialogue went as follows:    

Denny Crane: You one of these environmental lawyers?    

Peter Barrett: Is there something wrong with that?    

Denny Crane: They’re evildoers. Yesterday it’s a tree, today’s is a salmon, tomorrow it’s ‘Let’s not dig Alaska for oil cause it’s too pretty?” Let me tell you something. I came out here to enjoy nature. Don’t talk to me about the environment!    

Alan Shore: All reality. None of it scripted. [In a Shakespearean aside]    

Have you ever heard logic like that used to defend some point or another?  “I came out here to enjoy nature.  Don’t talk to me about the environment!”  Pretty funny.    

Careful not to disdain the generous donors who fund my garbage collection habit, I’ve often meditated on why someone would feel comfortable with discarding trash in a public place.  I’ve heard people say: “They wouldn’t do that at home, in their bedroom or garage!”  Well, maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t.  If you’ve ever been to a developing nation, where the public services are less capable of dealing with this tendency or perhaps the citizens are less restrained in their littering, the results are hard to ignore.    

A thought that came to mind one morning after someone passed in their car and tossed a “Biggie” something-or-other out the window as I looked over my shoulder is that there is a shortage of pride and respect in our great nation.   To me the consideration about taking care of the environment seems less about deciding whether I am an environmentalist or not and more about the need for the restoration of a basic underlying pattern of pride and decency in our citizenry.    

If you care about something, you take care of it.  You go out of your way to see that it receives the necessary attention to not only survive, but prosper.  It doesn’t matter if it is a person, place or thing.  As human beings we have the highly developed (if we so choose) capability of acting as stewards of the worlds we center.    

My parents taught me a wonderful lesson about borrowing things that now seems to me to be an idea worth spreading.  If you borrow something, return it in better condition than you found it in.  Borrow a car, for example, and return it with more gas or take it through the car wash before bringing it back.  The principle is simple but its impact is profound.  Not only is the world around you enhanced by your loving care, the trust you build with others will increase exponentially.   

Some have said that we are borrowing the earth from future generations.  An interesting concept, isn’t it?  Nothing on this basis is excluded.  Your friendships, your possessions, the public spaces that you don’t own but that you enjoy and so on can and will all benefit from taking this basic approach in living.     

If you care about the future, please return everything in better condition than you found it.

Joan of Arc on Living by Gregg Hake

Joan of Arc
“One life is all we have  and we live it as we believe in living it.  But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”  – Joan of Arc (ca. 1412 – May 30, 1421)   

Joan of Arc, also known as the “Maid of Orleans,” etched a remarkable story into the pages of  history in the 15th century.  Born a peasant, Joan of Arc led the French Army to several critical victories in the Hundred Years’ War.  She was a remarkable force to be reckoned though she only lived to the age of nineteen.    

France in the early 1400s was under great pressure.  The war, essentially a struggle over succession to the throne, was raging and France was still recovering from the ravages of the Black Plague.  It was as depressing and discouraging a time as any in the history of the Western world, yet Joan of Arc rose above the lugubrious pall of death and tumult in a remarkable fashion.   

When this story is set against the challenges you face, how bad are your troubles, really?  Sometimes a little perspective helps to manage a situation.  Does the future of your nation hang in the balance of the decisions you will make today?  If it does, I feel for you and encourage you to read this blog for inspiration.  If not, the decisions you make will still have a great impact on your immediate world, so you likewise should read on.  Everyone counts.  Everyone matters.   

The quote above is one that merits deep consideration.  You live your life as you believe in living it.  If you were asked, how would you articulate your core beliefs about life?  Are you convinced that failure is inevitable or do you believe that you and mankind were born for success and greatness?  Perhaps you live your life as Charlie Brown or Eeyore, always convinced that life has it out for you?  Or maybe there is a spark of magnificence, struck from the flint of nobility, somewhere deep within you?   

Whatever your core beliefs, your life will tend to take shape according to their outline.  The envelope of possibility for your life is established by your convictions.  You can’t think you’re way into a great life, but your fundamental beliefs do provide the platform upon which your character is built of from which your life expression proceeds.  Never underestimate the value of a solid foundation.   

Some claim not to have belief in their lives, but isn’t that a belief in itself?  Whether you do believe or don’t believe in something doesn’t matter, it all gives evidence of belief!  Everybody in that sense is a believer.   

So many unfortunate people are convicts of their own restrictive convictions on life, yet strangely enough, haven’t you found that those people tend to be the most prone to blame an external oppressor?  For instance, those convinced that Murphy had it right in his Opinion (is it really a Law?) suffer from a terrible and constraining belief, for “we live it as we believe in living it.”   

Now that’s not to say that awful things won’t happen to you, to me, because of a revision of our core beliefs for the better.  We live in a highly inter-connected world.  No matter where you live, what you look like, what language you speak, we are all connected and your every move impacts the world around you.  While not everything is your fault it is likewise true that not everything is someone else’s fault.  Regardless of the cause, what matters most is not the failure but the remedy.    

My call to you through the emotive and passionate cries of Joan of Arc is this: inspect with brutal honesty the beliefs that condition your living.  Those beliefs that constrain to death, destruction, failure and limitation have no place in your heart, your mind or your world, for they sacrifice what you are.   

Every thought, word and deed born of you in this “one life” must pass through the lens of your beliefs.  If you long for meaning, for excellence and for the wise use of the remaining years you have, embrace life with all that you are, all that you have.  See to it that your fellows are blessed and uplifted because of a fundamental belief in the irrepressible source and strength of life.

Words to live by from Abraham Lincoln and Gregg Hake

I came across a quote today that would, if heeded, save a great many men and women a great deal of trouble.  The 16th President of our United States, Abraham Lincoln, spoke these profound, yet simple words:

Abraham Lincoln
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”

Achievement is not success unless it is grounded in righteousness.  Likewise, an accomplished life comes not from a stack of achievements, but from virtuosity in the expression of life.  If you find yourself tempted to take a shortcut to achieve a desired end, caveat emptor, for such enterprise will dim the light that you have.

So often friendships are born of mutual likes or even mutual dislikes.  Deep and lasting friendships, however, are built on a foundation of blessing and generation.  Few people are willing to let their lives be ordered according to this principle.  As a result, their relationships are clouded by the reluctance to “part with him when he goes wrong.” 

Nobility requires decent boldness.  Be prepared to stand alone if you must to stay true.  On this basis and only on this basis is a victorious life assured.