The Gold Terrace

Hard is the Way of the World II by Li Bai

The way is broad like the blue sky, 
But no way out before my eye. 
I am ashamed to follow those who have no guts, 
Gambling on fighting cocks and dogs for pears and nuts. 
Feng would go homeward way, having no fish to eat; 
Zhou did not think to bow to noblemen was meet. 
General Han was mocked in the market-place; 
The brilliant scholar Jia was banished in disgrace. 
Have you not heard of King of Yan in days gone by, 
Who venerated talents and built Terrace high 
On which he offered gold to gifted men 
And stooped low and swept the floor to welcome them? 
Grateful, Ju Xin and Yue Yi came then 
And served him heart and soul, both full of stratagem. 
The King’s bones were now buried, 
who would sweep the floor of the Gold Terrace any more? 
Hard is the way. 
Go back without delay!

If you are unfamiliar with classical Chinese poetry, these wonderful verses from Li Bai, written during the Tang dynasty are a real treat. I’m sure that much of the beauty, shape and meaning is lost to an American reading his works in English, but his work is so powerful that its essence shines through both the veil of language and the ignorance of Chinese history.

Were Li Bai to have lived in our era, I fear that he might have had to point to the fact that not only is there no one willing to sweep the floor of the Gold Terrace anymore, but the Terrace itself has fallen into disrepair. Architecture has long given evidence of the central values and finest aspirations of a civilization, and the majestic buildings in the Tang capital of Changan (today’s Xian) were no exception.

What about our era? One international competition points to a shared concern to reach into the heavens, architecturally-speaking. The United Arab Emirates most recently made a name for itself after completing the 2,716.5 foot tall skyscraper named Burj Khalifa, but several other countries are planning or have started buildings with the intention of topping the most recent record.

Whether the current race to the top is motivated by simple, competitive concerns or driven by a deeper subconscious compulsion to reconnect heaven and earth is hard to tell, but in either case it is clear to me that humility and sanctity are no longer core principles of building design. This architectural trend is, I believe, symbolic of a larger shift in human consciousness, one that does not bode well for our future happiness and fulfillment as a species.

The Gold Terrace could just as easily represent a space in consciousness as it does a physical place, a creative field in which and through which the highest and finest essences of living could be cultivated. If we get to the point where the only place that such concerns can be found is in the history books, we must – individually and collectively – “go back without delay!” This does not mean that we try to recreate what was, pouring the proverbial new wine into old bottles; rather, it implies that we reconnect with the spirit of the former times when the relationship between cause and effect, spirit and form, heaven and earth, etc. were arguably better understood.

Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” – Saint Augustine

Winning Friends and Influencing People

Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” turns 75 this year and its publisher – for better or for worse – is releasing an updated version that deals with the peculiarities of the digital age. Carnegie originally wrote this classic in an era where most communication was face-to-face, so it is understandable that those charged with stewarding his legacy are concerned to do what they can to maintain its relevance. The trouble with updating timeless favorites, however, is that they run the risk of blunting the original message.

Take for example these substitutions:

OLD Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.

NEW What will you do when the best road to business growth goes through someone with whom you have already burned the relational bridge?

Have we really evolved beyond the point where we can follow simple advice, without requiring an explanation? Must everything be sugar-coated in our era of political correctness? One of the mistakes many young parents make is that they feel the need to explain everything to the child in great detail, rather than simply expecting agreement and compliance. What this breeds is a child who does not know how to move easily with authority, an especially dangerous trait in emergency situations (e.g. Parent: “Get off of the road!” Child: “Why?”). While I do agree that every child must learn to weigh his or her options against a set of expected consequences, I also feel that at a certain level every child must possess a fundamental building block to character: obedience.

Another of the updates further illustrates the point, albeit in a less obvious way:

OLD “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”

NEW “With so many opportunities to be heard, many seem keen on thrusting forth their right to speak when someone else is wrong, yet they just as quickly shrink into their right to remain silent when it is they who are wrong.”

The updated version is an excellent observation, but like the previous example, it dances around the core message rather than laying it on the table in plain sight. In my experience, when it is time to swallow a bitter pill you are wise to hurry up and swallow it. There is rarely any advantage gained by hemming and hawing, insisting that it be coated, packaged or delivered in a different way. If you are a male of the species, then man up; if you are a female of the species, then put on your big girl panties and deal with it. By all means, never delay the necessary!

The discomfort of a well-deserved lesson lasts only as long as you forestall the full acceptance of responsibility for misplaced orientation, unclear thinking and misguided action. Once you accept it and move forward, allowing for a permanent redirection, you realign yourself with the power of life that allows you to overcome with much less ado the next time the issue comes to point. Your reputation in the minds of others may take a while to catch up, but if you stay true to the truth that sits at the core of your new realization, you will reveal yourself to be a different person over time.

Worry and Choice

“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Talking somebody down from the wall of worry is not an easy task. To do so you must deftly skirt accusations like “you just don’t understand” and “you’re not hearing me” while reassuring, distracting and refocusing attention on what can be done here and now.

Troubles are fed by the attention you pay to them. Wise is the person who understands the scope of his problems without succumbing to the temptation to fixate on them. Problems are resolved with solutions, not worries.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” ~ Mark Twain

One of the silliest things you can worry about are those things which you have no control over or any means of influencing. They are what they are and stressing about them will only drain the very battery you will draw upon to handle the challenges that pass through your sphere of influence.

If you have a list of worries, take the time to cross out those about which you can do nothing. Next to those crossed out write something you can handle or influence as things are now. You can either spend time worrying or moving in a productive direction. The choice is yours.

“You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.” ~ Pat Schroeder

Give thanks. Your life depends on it!

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
~ William Shakespeare, “Merchant of Venice”

Anyone who performs a good deed in the world the way it now is runs the risk of casting pearls before swine. You needn’t look far to see that goodness and virtue are often devoured as soon as they are delivered. Apologies met with disdain instead of forgiveness, gestures of kindness trampled upon rather than reciprocated and revelations of the heart misinterpreted and unrequited happen with alarming and potentially discouraging frequency.

While you cannot control the actions of others, you can make a difference in this naughty world by carrying yourself with dignity, that is, by refusing to sink to the lowest common denominator. John E. Southard offered helpful advice in this regard when he said: “The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” That single piece of advice, properly heeded, would bring an end to the poisons of vengeance, cursing and retribution.

One of the strangest things I’ve witnessed is when people attack you for helping them. If the nature of your giving doesn’t line up with what they were expecting to get for themselves, there is a chance that they will turn and rend you. No matter how much you give to people there is always the risk that they will refuse to seal the blessings with thankfulness. Blessings thus unsealed quickly leak away.

I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks. ~ William Shakespeare

Giving thanks is the least expensive, yet most effective form of life insurance. It is not hard to do once you’re in the habit and thanks can be given in a million different ways. Henry Ward Beecher instructed: “The unthankful heart…knows no mercies…” and every student of life who seeks a life well-lived is wise to invest heavily in the attitude of thanksgiving.

Where to start? Why, exactly where you are! You needn’t have one single additional blessing to engage in giving thanks, here and now. Even if the only thing for which you can be thankful is that you still have life in you, you have an adequate starting point. If you lack the ability to be thankful for what you have, you’re unlikely to have the capacity to be thankful for what you’re going to receive.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and invest wisely in the world around you. Do so on the basis that you place no expectation on the return and you will discover an inner sanctuary that nourishes, comforts and reassures.

Your Lucky Day

Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the presenters I was privileged to watch this weekend at our annual Energetix Lyceum described the methylation pathways of our body. Methylation acts as an on/off switch that allows the body to learn how to deal with the environment and it controls the body’s ability to detoxify.

With the industrial revolution came explosive growth in the production of new substances that have proven over time to be toxic to all living creatures on earth, including you and me. Plastics, preservatives, food colorings, synthetic fabrics, personal electronic devices and so on have made the achievement and maintenance health an increasingly difficult proposition.

I am certain that in all things there is causality. Cause and effect governs the movement from past to present and conditions the movement from present to future. What people call “luck,” as in “I had a lucky day” or “I stumbled upon the solution by dumb luck” is really another way to say “I am not too clear about the cause of this effect, but I am pleased by its occurrence.”

Similarly, the idea of “bad luck” is nothing more than an admission of the same, followed by displeasure with the outcome. In my view, professing to have good luck or bad luck is a convenient and generally acceptable way to shirk responsibility in and or for any given matter.

Those who profess to have good luck are either unwilling to accept responsibility for the investments they’ve made that have constrained to a positive outcome or they are unwilling to recognize and thank others for the seeds they’ve planted that resulted in a desirable harvest beyond themselves.

Likewise, those who claim to be the victims of bad luck are frequently avoiding the fact that they didn’t do the work required to tip the scales toward a positive outcome or they have failed to see the fact that the human race is deeply interconnected and that they more often than not are forced by the objective flow of cause and effect to harvest the less-than-perfect actions of their fellow human beings.

Luck – both good and bad – is not a random process. Like the methylation pathways in our bodies, luck is nothing more than the expression of cause and effect. Luck can appear to be random as cause and effect can be incredibly complex, with multiple agents affecting multiple processes that can link seemingly unrelated events and people.

We are all related in one way or another. Whether you read this blog in a Yurt in Costa Rica, the Presidential Suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York or a dorm room at university, your thoughts, words and actions eventually end up impacting people and events that would appear on the surface to have nothing to do with one another.

Health is also the product of cause and effect. You can no longer bank on having health throughout your life by virtue of having “good” genes. Even those with the strongest constitutions are finding themselves challenges by the mounting toxicity in our world. The point is that if you are concerned to have better luck, you must pay closer attention to causation.

The wise man handles both the good in life as well as the bad with equanimity. After a string of “good luck” he doesn’t take the good things in life for granted, rest on his laurels or forget to continue to plant seeds of inspiration, encouragement and refinement. Similarly, after a bad day or worse a bad week he doesn’t resign himself to blame, complaint or dismay.

The understanding of cause and effect is the basis for a generative life. Without this foundation it is easy to fall prey to the many substandard explanations for why life is the way it is at any given point in time.

The decisions you make in your life affect more than you could ever imagine. Think big when you think. Think of others when you think. And most importantly, think when you’re supposed to think, for luck never made a man wise.

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 Simple Things in “L”ife

 

Image by Gregg Hake

 

My youngest son, who is now four years old, learned to pronounce the letter “l” properly this weekend. I daresay that I will miss the “w” that typically stood in the place of a properly pronounced hard “l”, but hey, “wife” goes on. He spent the entire weekend searching for words that began with or contained the newly mastered letter and it was such a thrill to behold that his brother, mother and I proposed a toast in his honor (he wuvved it).

One of my greatest delights in life is when I have the privilege to witness the personal victory of another. No matter how big or small, life’s accomplishments are worthy of notice and celebration. It is on this basis and only on this basis that education becomes and remains something to be looked forward to rather than dreaded or shunned.

The process of education is taking on a whole new meaning to me as my sons begin to interface with the education system in the United States, a system that has its roots in and retains much of its shape from the transition between America’s distant past as an agrarian society and its more recent past as an industrial nation.

Loud clanging bells still mark the hour, preparing students for beginning and end of shift bells in shops, factories and manufacturing centers around the country that are increasingly hard to find. The industrial-era influence continues to shape the architecture of most schools with an austere aesthetic. Sure, computers are plugged into the “wired” schools of our advanced era, but in my view it is generally lipstick on an outmoded jig.

What is needed is a new template, one that takes the realities of our current era into account. For starters, our students need to move around more and eat better. No matter how many facts we fill their minds with, a child who leaves the educational system with a diploma and a diagnosis of obesity is at a disadvantage. Many schools, particularly on the West Coast, are revamping their cafeterias and meal programs with the help of passionate innovators like Jamie Oliver. It’s a good start, but we need more!

With regard to my two previous posts on the future of our country and of the freedom we have enjoyed over the last two centuries, we are in desperate need of programs and tools that help educate the future electorate that walk the halls of our educational institutions. What good is a specialization in this, that or the other if you do not understand what role you have in maintaining the delicate balance between anarchy and tyranny made possible by a Constitutional republic?

In my previous post Civic Virtue and the Rise and Fall of Empires I quoted Benjamin Franklin on the necessity of forming and training our youth in wisdom and virtue. There is no greater challenge faced by educators today. Unless we get this right no effort expended or dollar spent to put the American educational system back in the game will have any meaning.

Education is a tremendously inspiring and engaging process when delivered correctly. The future of the world rests in the hands of an educated and virtuous electorate and we must do all within our power to create a system that meets today’s needs and answers today’s challenges.

As an aside, if we fail on this point we had all better start practice saying: “Wong Wive the King!” No pressure!