Infinitely Precious Things

Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” – Oscar Wilde

You are not defined by what you have (e.g. your possessions, talents, position and appearance), rather, you are what you express day by day, moment by moment. As such, the quality of your expression should always be reflective of the highest and finest expression of which you are presently capable.

In so doing you’ll find that the physics of life begin to work out. Those who are responsive to the best you, the real you, will draw near while those who react to your expression will naturally be driven away. Integrity obviates the need for judgment.

How you handle those who reject or react negatively to your expression is a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, you are wise to scrutinize the criticisms leveled against you for any truth they may contain and make adjustments to your orientation, motivation and course as necessary, but you needn’t dwell on them or feed them through reaction. The greatest friend of truth is time.

Rare but precious are those who rise to this standard. Yet no matter how few they may be in number at any point in time, their expression inches forward the weave of the golden thread of integrity through the loom of time. An ounce of integrity in expression outweighs the sum total of everything less than it in any given moment. Integrity is infinitely precious.

An Exceptional Person

With expenditures projected at $5,800,000,000 the 2012 presidential and congressional elections will be the most expensive on record, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Campaign strategists estimate that 80% of the money spent is wasted, but the 20% which does hit its mark somehow does so through a public which has historically proven to be deeply cynical about political advertising.

It’s hard to see the substance through all the mudslinging and calculated cheering for American exceptionalism.

I started reading Candace Millard’s book on James A. Garfield’s unbidden rise to the Presidency of the United States last evening and I must confess I had to force myself to put it down long enough to write this post. Garfield is relatively unknown today, perhaps because his Presidency was cut short by an assassin, but his story bears retelling.

To make a long story short, Garfield detested the self-promotion so common in politicians in his time. He took the opposite approach and never sought public office, instead, it eventually and repeatedly sought him.

The most dramatic instance of this occurred during the 1880 Republican National Convention. Garfield was in attendance and gave an unprepared, albeit brilliant speech introducing one of the candidates that turned the tide of the convention and set in motion a wave that eventually – and against his personal preference – carried him to the White House.

On the second ballot, a Pennsylvania delegate named W.A. Grier cast a vote for James Garfield. His support stayed at one for a number of ballots thereafter, but on the thirty-sixth ballot Garfield won – to his personal astonishment – the Republican nomination with 399 votes.

Garfield went on to lead the first front porch campaign for the Presidency, an approach to stumping which stands in sharp contrast to the current election process. His reluctance to promote himself, coupled with his courageous willingness to stand by his own convictions, made him a truly exceptional person.

I have always said that my whole public life was an experiment to determine whether an intelligent people would sustain a man in acting sensibly on each proposition that arose, and in doing nothing for mere show or demagogical effect.” – James A. Garfield

Relax into the Pressure

The exercise of judgment destroys your capacity of discernment. In no instance is this more self-evident than in the matter of handling pressure. The ability to relax into pressure rather than judge it and consequently react negatively or withdraw from it is one of the greatest keys to unlocking your full potential in living.

Increases in pressure, whatever their provenance, test the integrity of your body, mind and heart at any given point in time. If you dedicate your life to the pursuit of truth, for instance, you will bring pressure on anything related to the subject at hand that is not aligned with the truth.

Those who have invested in faulty logic or reasoning, so that their understanding is composed of the “bricks without straw” of human opinion instead of on the immovable rock of truth, will tend to see those who represent the truth as foes, rather than as allies. That reaction or friction will tend to create an unnatural pressure and that pressure, dear readers, is your friend. By relaxing deeply into the pressure you overcome the reflexive mental and physical constrictions that harden you to the forces at work and put you in opposition to the increased energy inherent in pressure. That reflex is not instinctual, it is conditioned and most people are trained incorrectly from a very young age in this regard.

Rather than scanning your life in a attempt to affix blame somewhere else, why not skip that step and assume full responsibility for how you handle pressure? When the heat comes on, resist the temptation to blame, complain, withdraw or lash out.

Look instead to breath the pressure in metaphorically-speaking, just as an Aikido master would draw the attacking energy of an opponent close to himself so that it can be redirected from as close to his axis of balance as possible. Breath out or apply yourself to the solution at just the right moment (it takes practice) and you’ll find that the pressure you once reacted to is now working with you rather than against you.

The Tough Choices

When it comes to life lessons, the hardest are often the most valuable. I had two conversations yesterday that reminded me of one such lesson I learned years ago and I am pleased to share it with you today.

The principle around which this lesson centers is simple and well-known, but not often heeded: cut your losses. Odds are in life that you will not win every hand. Those who play to win every hand often find themselves sacrificing integrity for expediency or foregoing caution out of ego. They have to win every time and they’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

I know an old card player who advocates the previously described approach. He once told me that if you play to win every hand in cards, you’ll eventually get yourself into trouble. His observation that knowing when to fold was just as important in the long-term as knowing when to hold, and at there was no shame in saying “I’ve done what I can here, any further would be foolish”, provided of course that you have honestly given it your all.

Some hands aren’t worth winning. Some people, for instance, prove themselves unworthy of your generosity over time. To pour good money, time or energy after bad after that line has been crossed is a sign of inefficient management if not poor judgment. As uncomfortable as it may be, when the line is crossed, you must seriously consider severing the connection to prevent further abuse or collateral damage.

Nobody respects a weak leader. If your are weak and in a position of leadership, people will walk all over you in most cases. To be respected, a leader must set the bar, define what is acceptable and what is not and stick to his guns when the going gets tough. Allow too much in the way of abuse of the standards you’ve set and your position as a leader will erode quickly.

This can, of course, be done lovingly, without fear, anger or disrespect. You can be tough without being a jerk, dedicated to an ideal without being a zealot and uncompromising without losing your centering and self-control. It takes work to get to that place, but love has two sides to it in the sense that it can both attract and repel.

Love attracts that which is consistent with its nature and repels that which is in opposition to it. Love is not always warm and fuzzy. Love may manifest as a stern warning, a sharp reprimand or a forceful expulsion, provided of course that you do not lose your centering in love in the process.

When in Rome

Justice, the eternal principle of the true relation of man to man, cannot be bought. Money may buy judges, but never—justice. When they tell us that some great corporation, with millions in its control, has bought justice, in verdicts wrongly delivered in its favour, they are incorrect in their statement. Money has bought not justice, but only injustice. If it were mere justice that was desired, money would be unnecessary. It would be a bribe, an insult—but injustice is always willing to pocket money which is powerless to buy justice.” ~ William George Jordan

I’ve often wondered about the sagacity of the counsel given to me on many occasions: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Not one to simply take another’s word for it, I put this concept to the test on a number of occasions while growing up and found it to be helpful in some situations and devastating in others.

Take, for instance, the matter of international travel. When you travel – I mean really travel – and put yourself in unfamiliar situations where you are not quite sure what would be appropriate and what would be rude, doing as the Romans do can make it easier to blend in, to mesh with the local culture and therefore understand it better. I’ve sat through many a meal in foreign countries where the table manners were significantly different than those to which I was accustomed. Observing your hosts or those around you and adopting their approach can prevent the faux-pas that travelers often dread.

On the other hand, doing as the Romans do, can also get you into a lot of trouble if in so doing you contravene truths of which you are aware. Giving in to peer pressure to drink while underage or worse, to drink and drive, for example, can and often does end tragically. If you have to compromise your integrity to fit in, be accepted or gain the approval of another, you are best to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible or at least find a graceful way to say “no”.

When it comes to the way you relate to money, you needn’t follow the majority. You needn’t be mesmerized by it, worship it or be enslaved by it. You may be given some pretty convincing arguments about it’s rulership over human affairs (“cash is king”), but at the end of the day you cannot buy justice with it, only injustice.

It’s better to be a servant in a state where you’ve maintained your integrity than a king in a world where you’ve lost it.

Intrinsic Value III

Reputation is what the world thinks a man is; character is what he really is. Anyone can play shuttlecock with a man’s reputation; his character is his alone. No one can injure his character but he himself. Character is the sword; reputation is the scabbard. Many men acquire insomnia in standing guard over their reputation, while their character gives them no concern. Often they make new dents in their character in their attempt to cut a deep, deceptive filigree on the scabbard of their reputation. Reputation is the shell a man discards when he leaves life for immortality. His character he takes with him.” ~ William George Jordan

The opinions of others are valuable in that they provide a perspective on your function that you might not have, being in your own shoes, so to speak. That said, only a fool would base his actions on a reaction to the opinions of others. Every thought, every word and every deed can and should be centered in truth.

When you align yourself with truth in all things and deliberately dissociate yourself from that which is inconsistent with truth, you develop integrity. Integrity, in turn, is the medium in which virtues are cultivated. And a virtuous man is a man of great character.

It is said that misery loves company, but less mentioned is the fact that misery hates joy. Those who possess great character are at peace with themselves, no matter how violent the reaction to their presence. When you are virtuous, when you do the work required to build character (none are born with it…it must be developed), you find that you are of good cheer, no matter how restrictive, how intense, how hopeless the situations you face might appear to be.

You overcome the shortcomings of human nature – one by one – as you develop character and you must always remember that all the power, all the resources, all the wisdom you need to prevail is at hand, within you. Remember, too, that obsessing about your reputation will never transmute the colander of your character into a container capable of withstanding any pressure that comes its way, but paying careful attention to your alignment with the truth will.

The Courage to Face Ingratitude XV

Let us forget the good deeds we have done by making them seem small in comparison with the greater things we are doing, and the still greater acts we hope to do. This is true generosity, and will develop gratitude in the soul of him who has been helped, unless he is so petrified in selfishness as to make it impossible. But constantly reminding a man of the favors he has received from you almost cancels the debt. The care of the statistics should be his privilege; you are usurping his prerogative when you recall them. Merely because it has been our good fortune to be able to serve some one, we should not act as if we held a mortgage on his immortality, and expect him to swing the censor of adulation forever in our presence.” ~ William George Jordan

Of all the things that nibble away at the fabric of decency and integrity, one of the most common is the tendency to count favors. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. The saying applies both literally and figuratively, giving evidence of the tit-for-tat mindset adopted by the human race as an alternative to dignified living.

True love and genuine blessing require no recompense.

The minute you begin counting blessings given to others you become another of the devil’s bookmakers. You put down your book of life and pick up the ledger of human nature. Good deeds used to indenture or enslave others are not blessings, but curses in sheep’s clothing. If you bless another with the aim of securing some future repayment, you are usurping the power of blessing by putting it to selfish use. If you do a good deed for another, yet expect to settle up at some point in the future with interest, you are engaged in usury, which is a far cry from righteousness.

Where there is true generosity, there are no strings attached. You’ll find if you play the game as so many do that the strings attached eventually form a web that does not support, but constrains. No matter how well you play it, your freedom will be limited by the web of your own making as you will be forever jockeying for position, rather than occupying the one that would emerge naturally from the inside out were you to let it. The goodness in you is by nature unlimited, so to count it as guard at a road toll is to place artificial limits on an inexhaustible resource.

When you finally commit yourself to doing good in every aspect of your life (yes it is possible), you will find that you have no time for the usual petty accounting duties performed by someone who sees goodness as a commodity in short supply. You recognize the abundant goodness in those around you and complement them in a way that they have no choice but to be inspired to give freely of the goodness in their hearts.

To be an agent of goodness you must be a market maker, not a market follower! You must focus on the greater works, the next opportunity to give, rather than dwelling on events of the past. If you have to pull a favor from times past you’re likely not seeing the resources available in the present.

Don’t be afraid to count your blessings in this sense! See the abundance around you, no matter how poor, neglected or abandoned you feel. Rise to the occasion and start to give more freely, without expectation of return. In so doing you will “prime the pump” so to speak, allowing your body, mind and heart to function once again as a fountain of blessing through which the waters of blessing and life spring forth!