Progress

People usually think that progress consists in the increase of knowledge, in the improvement of life, but that isn’t so. Progress consists only in the greater clarification of answers to the basic questions of life. The truth is always accessible to a man. It can’t be otherwise, because a man’s soul is a divine spark, the truth itself. It’s only a matter of removing from this divine spark (the truth) everything that obscures it. Progress consists, not in the increase of truth, but in freeing it from its wrappings. The truth is obtained like gold, not by letting it grow bigger, but by washing off from it everything that isn’t gold.” – Leo Tolstoy

How much time do you spend each day considering the basic questions of life? The world is no less distracting in our day as it was when the honorable Count Tolstoy penned these beautiful words. If you’re not careful, you’ll spend all of the days of your life a stranger to truth.

Threads of Central Purpose

Yesterday I had the good pleasure of formalizing two promotions, making a job offer to an intern and extending the internship of a promising student. Today we’re hiring three new associates for our shipping and manufacturing teams. With so much change afoot my greatest concerns are to maintain continuity, to preserve momentum and to keep the peace.

There are threads of central purpose which must be carried through any process of change. Identifying those threads is one of the most important steps in managing a process of change. These threads may relate to the core values of a company, the central purpose of a team or the primary goals of a project.

The failure to identify, protect and apply the threads of central purpose is one of the the most common reasons for failure. It is a primary cause of apathy, passivity and frenzy. Without a clear sense of central purpose, action, especially in times of change, we will most likely be misguided.

What are the threads of central purpose in your job, or more broadly, in your world?

Caricatures of Former Greatness

The idea that we are always evolving from a simpler, coarser state to one that is more complex and refined is commonly held, but is it always true? I have found many cases in my short life which give evidence to the contrary, where well-developed bodies of knowledge were abandoned for new and supposedly better approaches that give the appearance of success, rather than producing genuine success.

Some people content themselves with caricatures, with the appearance and not the fact, but I for whatever reason cannot bring myself to accept a counterfeit in any sphere of my living. I imagine that if you’ve read my blog for any amount of time you likely possess the same concern for substance, for the exactness of an original pattern and not a loosely interpreted approximation.

I came across an excellent quote on this topic the other day while reading through Alois Podhajsky’s inspiring book “My Horses, My Teachers”:

Today, however, few riders know their horses and the causes of their behavior. Everything has become superficial nowadays, except technology. With machines the physical laws may not be disregarded as we often disregard the laws of nature with our animals. The well-founded doctrines of the old riding masters are frequently rejected today with the remark that those methods are old-fashioned and not applicable in our present times, which demand quick success. And what is the result of this training? The standard has declined until the once so beautiful movements have become caricatures of what they once were. And yet a performance of the highest standard must be built step by step and on a well-foudned basis. I have learned by experience that today’s riders may indeed rely upon the teachings of our predecessors, for they are of invaluable help in the reasonable development of this sport. If a rider thinks that he has found a new method he may be sure that if it is any good he has come upon it by instinct or by chance and that it was practiced long ago by the old masters.

Speed at the cost of quality is always wrong, not only in riding When the famous New York City Ballet performed in Vienna I asked the ballet master George Ballanchine whether he would take the so-called modern conception into consideration when training his dancers and shorten the time of their education. Excitedly Ballanchine jumped off his seat and exclaimed: “How could I? The human body is still the same as always. The old schools of ballet demanded a certain amount of time and they were right. Did they not achieve perfection and have they not been our ideals for hundreds of years? Why should we change?” It is exactly the same with equitation if it pretends to be an art.

 

 

The Wrong Drummer

It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigour. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

I must confess a hidden predilection for the agrarian ideal and more specifically, a nostalgia for the simple virtue of America’s rural past. While I imagine much of the lore describing this time paints a much rosier experience than was actually the case, there is something to be said in favor of the rural life and its attendant wholesomeness and naturalness.

It’s hard nowadays to identify exactly where our moral security as a nation rests. The many institutions that claim to safeguard us from degeneracy and corruption seem incapable of keeping the sacred fire alive, especially as they grow in size, wealth and power. From whence comes our help?

Time marches on and now more than nine-tenths of our population lives in urban cities as compared to one-tenth in Jefferson’s time. The industrial and information ages ushered in an era of unparalleled change in the way we work, live and relate to one another. As spellbinding as the last century-and-a-half has been, the jury is still out on the net effect of this so-called progress. Has it benefited humanity or merely perpetuated its march to the wrong drummer?

This morning I have more questions than answers. If my experience holds true, however, the ability to articulate the question is the first step to getting into position to receive the answer.

Maybe you have some thoughts?

The Discipline of Life

In life as in war there are times when the wisest course is simply to stand still, to rest on one’s arms, to watch and to wait. When a mist of uncertainty enshrouds us and life seems to come to a pause, when we do not know just what to do, it is best to await the sunshine of revealing that will show us our way. To active, nervous, energetic natures, keenly hungering for action, the hours of waiting are hard. But they are often necessary; they are part of the discipline of life. It requires more courage sometimes to survive the dull, dead tedium of a siege than the tingling, thrilling exhilaration and excitement of the perils of a close fight.” ~ William George Jordan

There is a time for pushing forward and a time for hunkering and whittling. Both are equally important to sustained progress in living. The key, of course, is found in timing it right.

Hunker and whittle when you should act and your life will stagnate. Push when you should be tarrying and you will burn out prematurely. The oscillation of rest and action are fundamental to effective living and learning to discern and cooperate with the rhythmic pulsations is one of the most important lessons in life that anyone – especially those with a naturally energetic nature – must learn.

Some people take a while to learn their lessons. They charismatically and often monomaniacally try to force nature, the world around them, their circumstances, etc. to conform to their wishes as they seek to accomplish their goals. They seek to impose their will, through intention, or their might through physical force in a way that ignores the larger cycles and seasons in which their worlds are contained. Such people end up wasting their lives (and occasionally losing them) hunting down the Moby Dick’s in their world in an effort to avenge the wounds they received on previous hunts.

Man cannot control nature, neither is he the master of the universe. He is a steward of power, a focus of authority and a means of extending control into the range of creation for which he is responsible. To do so effectively he must learn to balance action and rest.

This balance is not easily struck in the world today. We in the western world, particularly in the American model, are conditioned from a very young age to push and push and when that isn’t enough, to push a little more. Is this a healthy and sustainable approach to living? I have to wonder if we’re not missing much of what is available of living by failing to notice the rests that do appear on the sheet music of life if you are watching and listening carefully to the world around you.

 

What money can buy

While money can buy neither mind nor heart nor soul; it can inspire, it can furnish new opportunities; it can hearten the sorrowing; it can strengthen the weak; it can give new starts in life to those fallen by the wayside; it can give new impulses, new glad hours of fresh hope and the sunrise of new purpose to the struggling, the sad and the suffering.” ~ William George Jordan

The opportunity for prosperity and success is central to the American ethos. Money, a symbol of the American dream, serves as a tool to leverage that opportunity. When the symbol is confused for the thing itself, however, the pursuit of happiness becomes a treadmill upon which lives are wasted, hopes are dashed and suffering is prolonged.

The world is waking up to the freeing potential of money. Markets and countries that were long resistant or perhaps held hostage by the almighty dollar and the capitalistic framework in which it flows are beginning to experience its liberating and empowering qualities. Barriers to personal freedom tend to fall as personal incomes are allowed to rise. If you doubt this relationship, take a moment to find out about the lives of the “untouchables” in India.

The world is changing at a remarkable pace.