The Sense of the Beautiful

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It’s not so much a question if there are beautiful things out there, for they are everywhere. The real question is whether or not you take the time amidst your worldly cares to sharpen your ability to perceive them.

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” – Albert Einstein

Attitude and Character

Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” ~ Albert Einstein

Character flaws don’t just happen. They are formed over time like stalactites in a cave. They are rigid, yet ultimately fragile and they invariably complicate the passage from this moment to the next. Character flaws are not a necessity, only an unfortunate side-effect of careless attitudes.

If you are concerned to improve upon your character flaws, you must first make a thorough review of your daily attitude. How do you tend to receive the daily challenges which arise in your day? Are you upset by them, angered or thrown for a loop or do you take them in stride, thinking first and reacting later? Far too many people are tripped up on this point alone: they shoot first and ask questions later.

We tend to be creatures of habit. We sit in the same seats in a meeting room or a conference, even if it extends over several days. We drive the same routes to and from our daily stops despite the likely availability of many other routes. We form routines that get us up and going in the morning and that provide an initial rhythm for the day. These habits become engraved in our consciousness over time to the point that more and more of our day can be (and is likely) performed on an unconscious basis.

Most over time develop habits of reaction to external circumstance. When life lobs a sweet opportunity over the plate they tend to respond one way, while the curve balls receive a different, but similarly predictable treatment. This is the basic mechanism behind prejudice, jumping to conclusions and pet peeves.

Why not meet everything that comes your way with equanimity, poise and an eye for making the best use of what does unfold in your field of circumstance, no matter how favorably or unfavorably it is clothed. Think of attitude this way: attitude is the basic inclination with which you tend to confront the familiar as well as the unknown. It is just as easy to develop a habit of emphasizing the opportunity inherent in any circumstance no matter how infinitesimal it might be as it is to complain, deride, whine and indulge in self-pity.

Your habitual attitude in this sense is what shapes your character. Your character is not something you were born with, neither is it your personality. It is built over time, laid like bricks based on how you respond to each and every circumstance that comes your way. Deliberately change your attitude and step by step you begin to reshape your character.

If anything, remember this point: nothing will ever come your way that is bigger than your ability to handle it with dignity, creativity and aplomb!

Goals, Strategy and Tactics

I remember being somewhat daunted in my early flying days at the prospect of taking a long cross-country flight. When I first began doing solo cross-country flights as a student anything longer than 50 miles from my home airport was a long way. Nowadays, I regularly fly to locations up and down the East Coast, to destinations as far as upstate New York to the north and Key West to the south. I have yet to take a cross-country flight in the literal sense of the term, but I am sure that day will come and when it does, I will be well-prepared.

A thought crossed my mind shortly after I began making longer flights on my own that has stuck with me ever since: the epic, long-distance flights are nothing more than a series of short flights strung together. For instance, a 1,500 mile flight in a small plane is naught but three flights of 500 miles, one made after the other. A simple thought, really, but one that makes flights of any distance comprehensible, if not within reach.

So it is with anything in life. Even the most ambitious goals can be broken down into their component parts. Such thinking requires a combination of holistic and linear perspectives; on the one hand, you must be able to envision the entire project or plan, on the other you must be able to define the steps that must be taken to move from where you are to where you’d like to be.

When I take on a large project, such as learning a language or to fly, I state the goal and its accompanying parameters (time frame, cost, etc) as soon as possible. From there I articulate the various strategies I could employ to achieve the stated goal. After considering, weighing and ranking the strategic approaches I pick one and then develop the tactical approach to accomplishing my strategy. My thinking, then goes from the general (goal) to the specific (tactics) by way of an intermediary (strategy).

All of it, of course, is subject to change. I make it a point never to be so rigid that I break when the winds of circumstance blow differently than hoped for or anticipated. The mighty oak’s strength is derived not from its rigidity but from its pliability.

Winston Churchill once cautioned: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” In all my years of piloting I have only had to abandon my strategy of flying home to northeast Georgia in my own plane once. An equipment malfunction precipitated a precautionary landing in Washington D.C. and I had to get back for meetings sooner than the timeframe necessary for the repair. I didn’t balk, hesitate, whine or whimper. I booked a commercial flight and made my way back. Any time you have to adjust your strategy it can be as simple as that…or not. The choice is yours.

The wonderful thing about the circumstances around you is that they offer feedback on how effective your well-intentioned strategy and supporting tactics are working. I have had to make a number of course deviations over the years to avoid unexpected weather. Most of the time I can fly around or over the weather ahead, but occasionally the conditions ahead worsen beyond my comfort level or my airplane’s operational limitations. Again, when conditions change, don’t be so foolish as to assume that your strategy or tactics are set in stone. Remember that flexibility is an essential component of strength.

If your strategy leads you to a brick wall or a cliff, where one step further would result in tragedy or loss, stop where you are. Assess, modify your approach, but don’t give up! Chances are that the obstacles require nothing more than a minor change to overcome, though occasionally you might be required to scrap an entire plan and start in a new direction. Rather than see it as a failure on your part or confirmation of your stupidity or lack of vision, realize that no amount of prior planning can completely insulate you from the vicissitudes of life which come largely as a result of the free will of each and every person on earth at any given time.

When you are faced with a challenge, don’t buckle under the pressure. Use the pressure to your advantage. Look for the baby steps in your immediate circumstances that will allow you to inch your way to your goal. When it comes to forward progress, every inch counts!

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~ Albert Einstein

The Cult of the Individual

“In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

The world economy has shifted significantly over the last few hundred years, particularly in the West. As feudalism gave way to various forms of capitalism, where the means of production is privately owned and operated for profit, the way we viewed our roles as individuals also experienced a dramatic and fundamental shift. In the former model of governance, we belonged to the state, while in our present model the state belongs to us.

The rise of capitalism was both propelled by and defined through the rise of the cult of the individual. In no other era of recorded history have we seen individualism as highly prized, protected and in many ways, worshipped than in our own. Albert Einstein once noted that: “All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development of the individual” and it is difficult to argue with the results of this new paradigm. The progress we’ve witnessed over the last few centuries is mind-boggling!

Moral rectitude and civic responsibility temper the more dangerous facets of economic systems that place so much emphasis on the individual as do unfettered free-market and other varieties of capitalism. Absent these moderating qualities, things get really interesting as individuals driven primarily by the concern to serve their own interests enter society.

If those in society are incapable of governing themselves, laws, regulations and the like provide artificial and often inefficient constraints on their behavior and function. Whenever a society becomes overly reliant on this bandaid approach, trying to control the symptoms rather than addressing the deeper causes, its members unwittingly donate the bricks used by a future tyrant to build his fortress.

Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Problem Solving 101

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” ~ Albert Einstein

My riding lessons are a constant source of inspiration and realization for me and I’ve found that lesson learned in the ring translate into valuable principles for more effective living. The most recent realization came as a result of challenges I was having performing gymnastic exercises in preparation for jumping.

While working on transitions from one gait to another, my horse managed to find holes in my abilities and he quickly gained the upper hand, foiling my attempts for more work at every turn. In this particular case he was using various strategies to transfer weight to his inside fore leg, which alleviated the pressure on him but frustrated our mutual progress.

Without going into the details as to why and how he managed to control the process, the point I wish to make clear to you, my dear readers, is that the tendency on the part of the rider – and perhaps any human being in the larger sense when faced with something that is stuck or not working – is to zoom in, fixate upon and become tense about it, to the detriment of perspective, balance and wisdom.

The problem in the example given is caused by a a number of potential factors. If the rider fixes his attention on the symptom (the tension and heaviness on that leg), he will likely act out of reaction to the problem and drive the problem even deeper. An inexperienced rider will tend to take a head on approach to deal with what appears to be the problem, rather than taking the time to discover and address its underlying cause.

So it is in life. When you are confronted with a problem, rarely is it useful to do more of the same and expect a different result. Neither is it helpful to obsess about a blockage or to struggle directly with it. More often than not the solution lies somewhere deeper in the chain of causality. This applies to health, relationships, communication, finances, state governmental budgets…you name it!

Take note of the point of constriction or blockage and then look at the bigger picture. What or who else relates to that area? Is the imbalance a compensation for something else, a less obvious underlying disturbance? Are you still relaxed and centered and therefore in position to bring a healing, balancing or restorative influence to bear on the situation? If you are physically tense, emotionally agitated or mentally upset, the odds of you being a part of the solution decrease and the chance of you making things worse increases.

Einstein’s statement is brilliant. In this example there was obviously something missing in the foundation I had set for what I was asking for, otherwise my horse would have stepped naturally and gracefully into the next exercise I was requesting. If you are unsure as to where to start in correcting a problem, look closely at the foundation. Any weakness there is likely to be amplified, causing the visible problems on the surface that have come to your attention.

You cannot solve a problem using the same thinking you used to create it. New thinking, a new approach, a slightly different angle of attack is often all that is required to resolve even the most intractable issues.

Give it a shot!

Authority and Critical Analysis

The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.” ~ Dalai Lama

We considered in a previous post that you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. Humanity, in this sense, is a collection of agents who navigate their lives within a framework of culture, custom and mores. You, as a member of the body of humanity, receive guidance from parents, teachers, secular and spiritual leaders, family, friends, enemies as well as from your circumstances, yet the direction of your life is ultimately charted by your capacities of reason and critical analysis.

Your capacities of reason and critical analysis, properly nurtured, develop and sharpen over time. Sometimes you might need a little help thinking things through. That’s fine, it’s ok to ask for help! Even the sharpest mind is not designed to function completely independently of the body (of humanity) of which it is a part.

I’ve found in my life that there are, generally speaking, two types of people: those who savor reasoning and critical analysis and those who prefer to remain comfortably numb. Henry Ford likely noticed the same thing when he remarked: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” While I take great care not to judge those who are and those who are not passionate about reasoning, I must admit that my most ingenious acquaintances and productive associates are members of the former group and not the latter.

What about your friends, family and colleagues? Do they fall on different parts of the spectrum which ranges from “I don’t want to think about it” to “I’d love to put some thought to that?” Most people jump around the spectrum according to their feelings about the topic of consideration. If it is something they enjoy, they’re more likely to give it a lot of thought, while if it is something they’re not fond of, getting them to think about it might be like pulling teeth. But why meter your reasoning according to personal preference? Why not give it your all, no matter what? What really do you have to lose?

Albert Einstein once prognosticated that “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” I am inclined to agree. We must give more thought to the directions we are moving in as individuals and as a race. It must be more than a simple rehashing of precedent. We can look back to the past as a guide but we cannot expect the future to conform to its parameters. Far too much changes from one moment to the next.

In my estimation the world is in great need of more original, transcendent thought. Not average thoughts, but thought that rises above the fray, standing tall enough above the crowd so that its unifying, universal and exhilarating nature can be perceived.

What do you think?

Adding Value

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve been meeting with various members of my team about their plans for 2011 and while the details are unique to each one, a common theme is emerging.

Success follows those who add value.

If you care more about adding value than you do about what you can get out of the world around you, you’ll find that decision-making is cleaner, being free of the sticky tentacles of self-concern.

It’s easy to add value. The process begins with being observant, listening and asking questions on occasion and ends with offering whatever help is within your power to provide. It might be a word, a gesture, lending a hand or making a valuable connection. Help comes in many forms.

Many people fill their days consumed with self-interest, desperately trying to find ways to eek more satisfaction, pleasure, financial reward or fulfillment out of their immediate circumstances while dwelling on how the world makes them feel. Whether robed in gold or bronze at the end of the day, such an approach constrains to emptiness.

As the resolutions of the New Year begin to take shape in the womb of your mind, make a point to base your resolutions in the desire to add value to the world around you. Whether it is a fitness goal, a change of heart, habit or attitude, focus on how you can increase your ability to a blessing.

I am convinced that most diets and fitness plans fail because the individual goes into it hoping to get something out of it for him or herself rather than focusing on how he or she might be able to help others more effectively because of the change. Self-improvement is more sustainable when its focus is outwardly instead of inwardly focused.

2011 is full of promise for my team and for you. I trust that best use will be made of whatever comes our way. Onward and upward!