The Winds and the Waves

We must make the best of those ills which cannot be avoided. ~ Alexander Hamilton

As a small business owner and manager, I am faced with daily challenges that test my mettle, patience and resolve. Not a day goes by where I am free of the necessity of making decisions that affect the lives of my employees, friends and clients. Strangely, though, it is an unceasing responsibility which I am grateful to discharge.

Every morning refocus my resolve to, as Hamilton put so succinctly, “make the best of those ills which cannot be avoided.” No matter how well my team and I plan, prepare and work seamlessly together, we realize that there will always be unforeseen difficulties. Rather than complain, we work together to overcome, together.

He is the best sailor who can steer within fewest points of the wind, and exact a motive power out of the greatest obstacles. ~  Henry David Thoreau

I recognize everyone in my organization as either a potential or proven leader. Leadership roles are shaped and eventually defined by the actions of each one, particularly in times of obscurity or when covering uncharted territory. I’ve noted that the most successful of my team as well as of our diverse group of clients share an uncommon ability: they are unafraid to “exact a motive power out of the greatest obstacles.”

The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators. ~ Edward Gibbon

Anyone who takes the approach I am describing will find that the winds and the waves provide nothing more than a greater abundance of energy with which to work in the accomplishment of his aims. Adversity will no doubt rear its ugly head, but wise and brave is he who keeps his head to the wind, facing the waves, searching both trough and crest for opportunity.

The choice is yours!

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to no one.

I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow elsewhere. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Who do you trust? I mean, who do you really trust, with your life? My guess is that you have a short list and that your list is populated by a few people with whom and for whom you have deep feeling. No doubt these precious few have proven trustworthy over time and in most cases the trust is mutual.

Yesterday we considered the fact that mot people live their lives consumed by care for themselves. This self-obsession is an unfortunate side-effect of the Renaissance ideals of individualism and self-determination having been left unchecked and imbalanced by the failure to honestly bestow care upon others.

Shakespeare wrote that we should “Love all, trust a few, [and] do wrong to no one.” Even in a perfect world devoid of deceit I imagine that trust would be earned and not presumed. True love is not blind and even in a world where love reigned supreme there would be room for errors and omissions due to inexperience or a lack of sufficient perspective.

Even in a world more perfect than our own, this natural margin for error would necessitate that we trust, but verify. In my observation, if you have has been wronged a time or two you become naturally more suspicious of those around you. Fail to do so and you are labeled “gullible” and made a target by those who would seek to take unfair advantage of your blindness to the facts.

Taking it another step, you may have decided to stop trusting people altogether on the theory that abstinence is the best for of prevention. The motto “Trust no one and you’ll never be duped, taken advantage of or double-crossed” replaces “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to no one” and the world becomes a cold, litigious, and inexplicably lonely place. Sound familiar?

One of my favorite sayings was born of the brilliant mind of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He penned: “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” I invest copious amounts of trust in those around me. My hope and my expectation is that they will, over time, show themselves great. Is that too much to ask?

I’ve found that investing trust just beyond the point where the recipient trusts him or herself creates a refiner’s fire. The individual either steps up to the plate and delivers a strong return on investment or he or she cuts and runs. When someone trusts you there is a natural pressure that builds up, the pressure to perform. Trust, in this sense, has an incredible ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Trust liberally, but verify and you will find that the world around you begins to take on a new shape. Friends who favor only fair-weather will blow away with the high pressure system that dominates your personal atmosphere while those who will stand with you no matter how things look, feel or appear, will be friends that you can trust; that you can really trust.

The Finer things in Life

Harvest Moon, Image by Wikipedia

On Fields O’er which the Reaper’s Hand has Passed by Henry David Thoreau

On fields o’er which the reaper’s hand has pass’d
Lit by the harvest moon and autumn sun,
My thoughts like stubble floating in the wind
And of such fineness as October airs,
There after harvest could I glean my life
A richer harvest reaping without toil,
And weaving gorgeous fancies at my will
In subtler webs than finest summer haze.

What is it in your life, in this world or beyond that calls forth your finest thoughts? Is it stories of great men or women who overcame the enormous gravity of mediocrity? Or perhaps the simplest revelation of nature’s many beauties? Is it time alone with Bach’s heavenly Suite for Solo Cello in G Major – Prelude or maybe time shared with friends while savoring Caciocavallo Podolico, the only cheese in Italy which is not, and cannot by definition be, industrially-produced?

Our lives are filled with influences that will, if allowed, produce mediocre thoughts. The trouble with mediocre thoughts is that they tend to generate mediocre actions. There is an old alchemical principle worth noting here: “As above, so below.” Your thoughts are higher than your actions in the sense that thought precedes action. Finer thought, therefore, generates finer action.

Some actions may come with little forethought, as with habitual or instinctive reactions, but living a reasoned life – especially in today’s day and age – requires the ability to think finely in coarse situations.

Excellence is nothing more than the finest thing in the room. It is a relative thing and as such excellence is available to everyone in any situation. You can hold an external standard in mind to assist you in your quest for finer thoughts, but ultimately it comes down to you. It matters not what another would do were he or she in your boots, what would, better yet, what should you do?

When conversation turns south, do you fly along unquestioningly like a migrating goose? When your spirits are low, do you allow thoughts of desperation, impotence or perhaps despair to corrupt your mind? When a friend asks: “Are you feeling well?” does your mind turn easily from rosy, productive thoughts to lesser things that may not even be true of you in that moment?

If so, you have some work to do. Your mind is a remarkable instrument that, properly used, can rise to produce precious and wonderful thoughts that are perfect for the occasion. Think about your life and ask yourself when you did your most creative, constructive, salient thinking. If it was only in the past, why? What changed?

If it is now, well, kudos! You’re on the right track. Your mind – if you’ll pardon the cliché – is a terrible thing to waste. Exercise it rightly, feed it well, reveal excellence where you would normally settle for mediocrity and your world – our world – will change for the better.

Epitaph on the World

Henry David Thoreau, Image by WikipediaEpitaph on the World by Henry David Thoreau

Here lies the body of this world,
Whose soul alas to hell is hurled.
This golden youth long since was past,
Its silver manhood went as fast,
An iron age drew on at last;
‘Tis vain its character to tell,
The several fates which it befell,
What year it died, when ’twill arise,
We only know that here it lies.

Are we really powerless in relation to those things in our communities, in our country and in the world that cause despair, disgust and woe? Or do we yet have a voice? Thoreau declared the death of the soul of the world we inhabit, yet I have to believe that deep in the heart of man is a glowing ember of conviction that life can, and should be better.

I’m often astonished by how quickly change occurs in the human experience. What was hardly imaginable just months ago can become the new normal in the blink of an eye, even without cataclysmic change!

The human being is an extremely adaptable creature. At the same time, we human beings are creatures of habit. The status quo is malleable concept, not one that is set in stone. What is new, especially in American culture, can become the new norm with little ado.

Warren G. Harding, Image by WikipediaWarren G. Harding‘s campaign promise when he ran for President in 1920 was for “a return to normalcy” (i.e. a return to life the way it was before World War I). I’ve wondered throughout my life what “normal” really is. Is there an original “normal” from which we’ve strayed in the course of human history?

We like to think that we’ve evolved form our humble beginnings as primates, yet I have to hold out for the possibility, at least, that the theory (and it is just that) could be faulty. I would be remiss from a scientific standpoint were I to fail to leave room for other explanations, until the matter is resolved conclusively. There is evidence scattered about the earth – things that make you say “hmmmm?” – that doesn’t fit within the tidy theories that have their roots in another theory, that of uniformitarianism.

Solon, Image by WikipediaSignificant evidence suggests that there were mighty and advanced civilizations on earth that were lost due to cataclysmic events. According to Plato’s dialogues “Timaeus and Critias, the Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet, Solon (638-558 B.C.), visited Neith’s temple at Sais and received from the resident priests an account of a forgotten ancient civilization.

Then there are massive structures around the earth, the Great Pyramid in Egypt, for instance, that has been described by modern architects and builders as being impossible to build using today’s technology. Built to exacting standards that far surpass and building parameters we use today, it is hard to imagine how a bunch of slaves could have managed their construction so long ago. Part of me has to wonder if there is more to the story…

At any rate, Thoreau laments the loss of the “soul” of our world in his poem. I too feel a certain sadness when I stop to consider the general condition of our world, of humanity and of the future. I cannot help but ask myself, “is this the best that we as human beings can do?”

No matter how far we think we’ve come, I hesitate to resign myself to the explanations that are so far given in both religious and scientific circles for who we are, why we’re here and from whence we’ve come.

What about you? Have you stopped to consider whether you have deliberately or perhaps just by default given up on the world? Say it isn’t so!

Honor and Life

“Life every man holds dear; but the dear man holds honor far more precious dear than life.” ~ William Shakespeare

I daresay this morning that virtually every unpleasant element aspect of the human condition came into being through the words and actions of men and women who held their lives more dear than their honor.

Is your honor in tact? Do you live life nobly? One way to check how you are doing in this department is to ask yourself at the end of the day – the end of every day – “Did I do my best today to assist others to their fulfillment?”

Take time today to help another. How? Be creative. Pay attention. Pay it forward. Pay homage to someone you’ve respected in secret.

Pay Attention

Look into the eyes of those with whom you converse. Stay focused. Multi-tasking is overrated, especially when one of the tasks is a conversation. Let others complete their sentences. Don’t interrupt. Hear them out.

Pay it Forward

Benjamin Franklin articulated this valuable concept in a letter he wrote to Benajmin Webb on April 22, 1784:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.

Ralph Waldo Emerson also described how to pay it forward in his 1841 essay Compensation: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”

Pay Homage

You have no doubt been witness to a “PDA” (Public Display of Affection), but when was the last time you were witness or even party to a “PDR” (Public Display of Respect)? Take time to publicly recognize those whom you hold in high esteem. Others may snicker or sneer, but the world is in desperate need of honor and genuine homage.

When honor becomes your central concern, one of the last things on your mind is how you feel about your life at any given point in time. In fact, honor and integrity banishes self-centeredness.

Have a wonderful Sunday and be not the Knave that stops the progress of a good deed.