True Joy in Life

This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

The funny thing about discovering your true purpose is that it is rarely what you might have imagined it to be.

True purpose emerges from the inside out, and as such you cannot will it or intention it into being. It comes into focus as you serve those around you and gains definition as you wisely steward the resources at your disposal in any given moment. It cannot be attained through self-gratification or self-indulgence, in fact, it is known only as you remain faithful to a worthy purpose.

We all have our ups and downs, for there are a great many factors within us and beyond us that are not entirely under our control, but the closer you come to revealing your true purpose, the less likely it is that you will be turned from fulfilling it. My personal experience tells me that the most critical times are those where the chips are down, the world is pressing in and everything seems to be going wrong. It is in these times that your fidelity to your central purpose is put to the test.

While I wouldn’t wish such things on anyone, they are valuable to those interested in revealing their true purpose because they are typically filled with pressure. They are terribly uncomfortable, yet the pressure that builds can be used in relation to the fulfillment of your purpose if you manage not to react to it. Just as those who excel in the martial arts would use the force and momentum of an opponents attack to his advantage, so to do those who are at rest in the arms of their true purpose. When others are crying “I’ve got to get out of here” those whose life is on purpose are at peace, assured and ready to strike while the iron is hot, saying to the world around them “bring it on…I’m waiting for you.”

If you have not yet found your central purpose, give more, serve more. Let go more fully of the notion that your happiness and fulfillment can be extracted from the world around you, that they will come just as soon as your circumstances and relationships arrange themselves thus and so. Do so, and your purpose will soon come clear. Fail to do so and you cannot help but be reduced to a “feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances,” not because of the forces at work in the world beyond you, but because of a failure from within.

The choice is yours.

 

 

The Courage to Face Ingratitude XVIII

No good act performed in the world ever dies. Science tells us that no atom of matter can ever be destroyed, that no force once started ever ends; it merely passes through a multiplicity of ever-changing phases. Every good deed done to others is a great force that starts an unending pulsation through time and eternity. We may not know it, we may never hear a word of gratitude or of recognition, but it will all come back to us in some form as naturally, as perfectly, as inevitably, as echo answers to sound. Perhaps not as we expect it, how we expect it, nor where, but sometime, somehow, somewhere, it comes back…” ~ William George Jordan

I cannot imagine a more important lesson to teach our children than this: what you put out tends to come back. Sometimes the return cycle is immediate, in others it might take weeks, months or years to come back, but come back it will. While not everything that comes to you is a result of something you’ve personally sent out, enough of it does that it is worth paying careful attention to the quality and the content of what you broadcast on your personal frequency.

The attitudes you express, the words you choose, the actions you take, whether undertaken in stealth or in the open air move out from you in successive waves of influence on a frequency that is unique to you. Anyone with whom you share or have shared an emotional connection – your network of friends, family, colleagues and strangers you’ve bumped into along the way – is likely to be impacted by your broadcast either consciously or unconsciously. This is true for both those for whom you have favorable feelings as it is those for whom you disdain, dislike or hate.

Even if all you can muster is enlightened self-interest, it would make sense that allying yourself with goodness is not a half-bad idea. If, as so many are inclined to remark when something goes wrong to someone who has fallen out of favor, “what goes around comes around,” then why not condition what “goes around” more carefully, so that only blessing, encouragement, respect and inspiration echo from the chamber of your heart?

All of this makes perfect sense in the cool of the day, when you haven’t been wronged by another or when you’re not busy avenging some perceived disrespect, but the true test of your resolve -which comes incidentally as you relax more deeply into the true nature of the perfection deep within you – comes when feelings of discomfort, insecurity and victimization press upon your heart. What you do then tends to be amplified, for the deeper the feeling, the stronger the pulse that moves out from you. Moreover, how you carry yourself in times of pressure and personal discomfort goes a long way to defining the value of your life.

Take care when you are under the gun, when your circumstances are crashing in on you, to stand your ground. What goes out comes back. What comes to you may or may not be as a result of something you sent out, but mind my words, it behooves you to carry yourself in all matters with dignity, equanimity and magnanimity. Why? Because anything less will undermine the expression of who you are at the core of you.

You are a fundamentally good person who has the power to issue forth proclamations of goodness, charity and kindness in relation to even the darkest circumstances. Even if you feel that no one else ever has, does, or ever will, I believe in you.

The Courage to Face Ingratitude XVII

Ingratitude is some one’s protest that you are no longer necessary to him; it is often the expression of rebellion at the discontinuance of favors. People are rarely ungrateful until they have exhausted their assessments. Profuse expressions of gratitude do not cancel an indebtedness any more than a promissory note settles an account. It is a beginning, not a finality. Gratitude that is extravagant in words is usually economical in all other expression.” ~ William George Jordan

In a world where love and blessing are treated as a commodity, where favors are traded instead of given freely, people are desperate to maintain a favorable trade balance so as not to become too indebted to and thus at the mercy of, another. Rather than live righteously, they “cook the books” using any number of tactics to create the appearance of parity in an inherently imbalanced system of payments.

Some are terrified of the game. They keep to themselves, taking great pains neither to extend nor receive favors, eschewing both giving and receiving. Others spend an inordinate amount of time digging themselves out of debt with their support network in the good times, after gorging themselves on the credit offered during the bad. Most seem to be forever trying to catch up, to get their head above water, borrowing more favors than they ever would dare to give out.

Your book of life is not meant to be an accounting ledger. Accounting has its purpose, but when it becomes the means by which life is lived, it is overreaching its purpose. Your book of life is meant to be a living record of the blessings you have sown while here on earth. Each blessing given goes out, interacts with the world around you and eventually makes its way back, albeit in a different and often unrecognizable form.

I’ve known many people who became ungrateful because the blessings they put forth did not come back to them in the timing or the form they had anticipated. Such a reaction gives evidence of an underlying limiting assumption, namely, that true giving is conditional. This basic assumption has created more sad and unfortunate endings than just about any other out there.

Sure there is ample evidence of the abuse of blessings and favors out there, but that is not reason to withhold your own. In fact, it should compel you to give more, in an effort to break the cycle of abuse. Withholding, withdrawing and shutting down in reaction to a perceived injustice only perpetuates the cycle of abuse.

Scan your world for a moment. Consider your relationships with those around you, whether they be close or distant. How do you think about them? Is there any indication that you have been keeping notations in a ledger book as to who owes whom what? If so, ask yourself “am I willing to let this book be thrown into the fire of my love for all people, great and small?” Are you willing to cook the books, once and for all?

Believe me, this is a freeing exercise.

The question is, will you dare to try it?

Facing the Mistakes of Life VII

We cannot relive our old mistakes, but we can make them the means of future immunity from the folly that caused them. If we were impatient yesterday, it should inspire us to be patient today. Yesterday’s anger may be the seed of today’s sweetness. Today’s kindness should be the form assumed by our regret at yesterday’s cruelty. Our unfairness to one may open our eyes to the possibility of greater fairness to hundreds. Injustice to one that may seem to have cost us much may really have cost us little if it makes us more kind, tender and thoughtful for long years.” William George Jordan

I’ve known some people who used the idea that mistakes provide lessons for our tomorrows as an excuse for not giving their highest and finest now. “There’s always tomorrow,” they say, believing that so saying gives them permission to slip up with impunity. Thank goodness that the phoenix can rise form the ashes, but that should only be the approach of last resort and never Plan A!

There must be sufficient momentum to sustain progress individually and collectively. If you, for instance, go through a day where your thoughts, words and deeds only hit the mark in 10 percent of the cases, the resultant drag will likely grind your life’s momentum to a halt if you’re not careful in the days to come. If, on the other hand, you maintain your crown of individuality and as a result, your integrity, dignity and poise, you are more likely to hit the mark, say, 75-95 percent of the time. This has the dual effect of reducing drag and increasing thrust.

Navigating the world we’ve created for ourselves, which is essentially the culmination of eons of free choice and other lesser-known causal factors, is akin to flying. If your airship is well-built, has structural integrity and is free of maintenance squawks, you’ll likely do well, regardless of the occasional turbulence. If, however, you’ve put off the maintenance, disregarded the growing rust on your wing spars and failed to make the adjustments necessary to keep your craft in top shape, the slightest bobble in the air will be sufficient to produce knots in your stomach.

There is mercy in the fact that – up to a certain point – we can learn from our mistakes and move on. Let that not be an excuse for subpar function, in fact, don’t just shoot for average. Go for the gold! The more refined your function, the more aligned your body, mind and heart, the less corrections you will need to make and what’s more, the slight adjustments you’ll need to make to your course will become almost imperceptible to others!

It is true in sports, it is the case in relationships and this principle works out in every other department of life. Just watch those who excel and you will see it in action. Learn to cooperate with it and I can assure you that your life will be a thousand times easier, more productive and less stressful!

Working Together

Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.” ~ Henry Ford

It is interesting to watch teams form up in the workplace. The phases a group of individuals move through as they bond to form a unified team are somewhat predictable, yet the pace of that development varies wildly from group to group. Of particular interest to me are small teams, say of two or three people, as much of the work done in small businesses depends on the company’s ability to quickly form small teams under frequently changing circumstances.

The first step as Henry Ford so succinctly laid out is for the individuals involved to come together. This rapprochement is facilitated by certain attitudes and approaches, such as civility, patience, careful listening and respect and retarded by other less dignified modes of expression like hostility, impatience, pushiness and disdain.

You would think that shared vision would equate to cooperation, but I have witnessed on far too many occasions groups of individuals dedicated who share a common goal fail due to an unwillingness to (1) put aside differences in style, (2) forgive past transgressions or (3) grow internally in relation to the need at hand. Such failures are a sad testament to human stubbornness, really.

To come together, you must be flexible, capable of seeing even the most familiar people in new ways and willing to give people a fresh start…every time you meet. Grudges and other forms of prejudice are the death knell of a potentially generative collaboration.

You can’t really keep together until you’ve come together. Mutual respect is the glue that binds teams together. Anything less than respect dissolves the bonds, oftentimes more quickly than they can be formed. Teams that are held together on the basis of “mutually assured destruction” (I can destroy you and you can destroy me so we had better just get along) will not withstand much pressure, neither will they be much fun to work in or around. The atmosphere of such arrangements whiffs of poison.

Keeping together, without the usual careless expression of snide remarks, disparaging comments and declarations of self-righteous indignation is real progress. Rare is the group that works together cleanly, efficiently and seamlessly, so my suggestion is that you do not wait until you find one, but instead, raise your personal bar to the level that you know is possible and stick to your guns! Don’t take offense if it is offered, never quit and don’t resort to the “devil’s tactics” to get a job done. Gentlemanly and ladylike conduct is of the utmost importance no matter how ugly things may appear round about.

If you manage to keep together over time, through the good times and the bad, you are then entitled to claim that your team does in fact work together. And as Henry Ford said so well, “Working together is success.” When a team works together, the hard earned respect and trust is not compromised by shifts in configuration, changing tactics, differences in opinion the loss or gain of team members. Neither is the level of camaraderie as the pressure rises and falls around the team. Respect reigns supreme when a team truly works together.

If you value friendships, live in a family or work in a company, you are wise to consider the true significance of Henry Ford’s words today. A compromise on any one of these points will tear at the fabric of your team. Conversely, a breakthrough on any one of these points will introduce a unifying, harmonizing force into the team dynamic.

The choice is yours!

Time to Think

A colleague and dear friend of mine gave me an excellent book the other day called “Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind” by Nancy Kline. I read it yesterday afternoon and I am strongly contemplating making this required reading for the entire company.

The author began the book’s introduction with a story about her mother, a woman who had a remarkable capacity for listening. She wrote:

This book is not about my mother. It is not even only about listening – not the way people usually do. It is, however, about what can happen if you listen expertly as she did, if you ennoble people with the depth of your attention and shake them to their roots by convincing them that they can think for themselves, if you take them into your heart, if you show them that who they are and what they think matter, profoundly.

Ms. Kline continues to describe the importance of creating a “Thinking Environment” where thinking for yourself is highly prized and encouraged. During her 15 years of research she identified 10 components of a Thinking Environment:

  1. Attention: listening with respect, interest and fascination
  2. Incisive questions: removing assumptions that limit ideas
  3. Equality: treating each other as thinking peers
  4. Appreciation: practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism
  5. Ease: offering freedom from rush or urgency
  6. Encouragement: moving beyond competition
  7. Feelings: allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
  8. Information: providing a full and accurate picture of reality
  9. Place: creating a physical environment that says back to people, “You matter”
  10. Diversity: adding quality because of the differences between us

As the author notes, “Thinking for yourself is still a radical act.” I’ve often wondered why thinking for yourself is not a popular activity. Perhaps it is a vestigial tendency from the time before the Renaissance, where the individual was neither valued nor emphasized.

You would think that since the last three centuries of human progress were built on the idea that the individual mattered, the individual counted and the individual had a voice, the individual would exercise that right – beginning with the freedom to think freely – regularly. Strangely, though, children are taught through various means to learn to fit in rather than truly think for themselves and rare is the adult who overcomes the misgivings that most have about standing out in this way.

Two mentors in my past stood out for their ability to set things up for others to think for themselves: my high school French teacher, Mr. O’Donnell and my high school counselor, Mrs. Webster. Whenever I was in their presence I felt heard and generally understood. Never once did the pressures of life they were no doubt feeling from day-to-day get in the way of their concern to allow me to think for myself. When I was with them I thought big, I thought clearly and I felt challenged to grow.

There is an old saying “Teach a man to think that he thinks and he will love you. Teach a man to truly think and he will hate you.” Given the twists and turns of human consciousness and the desperate concern to maintain the status quo, creating an environment that encourages others to think for themselves, to know true inspiration, can be a dangerous business.

The human mind is wonderfully built, yet like most things that develop organically, it needs a medium with the right mix of nourishment, encouragement, parameters and activity to function to its highest potential. This is true, as the author notes, in the family, in politics, in our schools and in our love relationships.

The mind is a terrible thing to waste. If you find yourself too busy to take time from ‘doing’ to think, you are likely missing out on the the best part of living. Learning to think for yourself expands your horizons, catalyzes creativity, constrains to efficiency and makes the world a better place.

I highly recommend Ms. Kline’s book. The pace at which our world is changing requires those who can think for themselves.

You can and should be one of them!