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Month: February 2016

How You Are Remembered

PrintThis week, to offer new voices and a different perspective, guest writers will contribute to Winter of Kindness. I have reached out to my friends and colleagues and asked what kindness meant to them. Some responded with opinions, others their musings, and all have a rare story to share…their own.

Today, my father, Wayne Barnes, who introduces himself in his tale, shares how kindness can stay with someone. He is a man who lives by the phrase, “recruit everyone, everyday.” His unfathomable awareness and calm allows him learn and befriend just about anyone he meets…but most of all, to make a memory in the process. Enjoy…

A year ago, when we were planning for Germantown High School’s 50th reunion, I realized our attendance numbers had been dwindling over the decades, because of girls changing last names upon marriage, and people moving out of the area and just losing touch.

Having been in the FBI for 29 years, where I used to find people who did not want to be found—and were actual fugitives—I told the search committee I would be glad to take on the list of hard-to-finds. After a few hundred calls to people with the same names as our fellow alumni, (even if not still in Philly), a number of classmates, who had been “lost” to us, were found, and came to our reunion. The advent of computer database searches did the trick, and it felt good.

In going through the lists of already-found people, I saw your name, but would not be speaking with you because you weren’t a “fugitive” alum. I figured I would see you at the April 25th reunion and have an opportunity to speak with you then. As events would have it, you were not able to attend, but what I wanted to say to you sort of festered away at me. There was an incident in my life where you played a pivotal role, although you might not have thought about it even a few days after it happened, but believe me, I did.

Leeds Junior High School had a soccer team. If you can recall back that far, we were in around the 8th grade, so it was probably 1961 and we were thirteen. Back then, I used to sit in the front of every class, both because my last name began with an early letter in the alphabet, but mostly because I was the shortest one in the class. I recall that dear friend Freddy Turoff and I, literally, saw eye-to-eye, and he went far in his gymnastics at Temple, where short stature was an advantage. But it was what happened on a fateful day, when I was “the smallest kid on the block,” that was imprinted on my brain for all time.

I had wanted to play soccer. I figured I was a very fast little runner, but Senior Diggs, our Spanish teacher, and the Leeds soccer coach, demanded all players have cleats. I was from “south of Upsal” Street in West Oak Lane, and our families had lower incomes than those farther north in Mount Airy. The point is, there was no way I could ever afford cleats, and my normal Converse sneakers wouldn’t cut it for Mr. Diggs. Standing on the edge of the soccer field at Mt. Pleasant and Lowber, with the team practicing most of a block south at Sedgewick, right across from Leeds, I was lamenting my plight when a gang of bigger boys came walking up the street. I knew who they were, right away, and saw only bad things about to happen.

The previous week, a friend in my Boy Scout troop, Johnny Lonholm, and I had been in the schoolyard at St. Raymond’s Elementary, several blocks away. He was a real prankster. The Catholic schools started classes a week before us, and he stood outside their classroom windows taunting those inside who were already condemned to attend class. I was with him, but wasn’t taunting. I even tried to stop him, because it was a stupid thing to do, but to no avail.

So now the “big kids” from St. Ray’s, walking up the street, saw me and rushed to surround me. There were maybe half-a-dozen and, as always, I was the smallest. They began to taunt me, as Johnny had taunted them through their classroom windows. But now it was getting nasty, really for no reason, but to push their weight around. They wanted to know where Johnny was but, of course, I had no idea. They began to rough me up, pushing me back and forth between them and knocked me down. So, yeah, while I had been an innocent bystander, the previous week, now I was in the thick of things taking the wrath of guys out to get somebody else, and I was the whipping-boy for their anger. (It would be years before I would learn the finer points of “freedom of association” in law school, but little good it did me in 1961.)

My clothes were already a mess, now being tossed around on the ground, and my greatest fear was actually that my mother would be upset with me. But they were about to get down and real dirty, and I had a genuine gut-wrenching fear they would all pile on and do the worst by me.

Then, like a herd of stallions kicking up a cloud of dust, I heard the stampede of many cleated feet coming across the field, with you in the lead. You were so much taller than me—you looked almost like a giant—and others were behind you. You stepped right into the mix and made your presence known. You proclaimed I was a friend of yours, and—What’s the problem?

From my position on the ground, I could only be an observer, but you had taken my fate from their hands and it was now in yours. There was never a hero, to me, quite like you, and at that moment. I recall your hands flexing into fists at your sides—something not lost on the Catholic boys—and I don’t even remember who else was behind you backing you up. It was truly a them-against-us moment, and the most intense I had experienced.

Then, as cowards do, when confronted with greater size and strength, especially when their forte is bullying-for-bullying sake, the St. Ray’s kids skulked away. I never saw them, again, assiduously avoiding their schoolyard for the rest of my days in the old neighborhood.

You leaned down to make sure I was okay and helped me up. Then you all went back to the other end of the soccer field to resume practice, and it was over. Well, it was over for you, but I never forgot it. Even when we started at Germantown High in the tenth grade, I was still only five-feet tall at age 15, weighed 100 lbs., and was the smallest boy in the school. But I would grow thirteen inches in three years, eventually reaching 6’1”. I would be on four athletic teams—swim, gym, soccer, and track—and become the Student Government president. I went to Penn State, Villanova Law, and then right into the FBI as a Special Agent where I became an expert at catching spies. Even there, I was always the straightest arrow in the Bureau’s quiver.

You never know what events from your youth will later steer you, or in what direction, but when you suffer an injustice, no matter how short the timeframe, especially when the results could be truly dire, it does affect you. It even sets you up to want to be the hero for someone else in a time of need, and I have been. So, Rich, if you have children or grandchildren, they should know that a long time ago, you did something heroic and came to my rescue. Now, only 54 years later, I wanted to remind you of what had happened, way back when, and thank you for what you did for me.

Our Tenth Ritual of Kindness

PrintSo, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we explored archetypes. They are “themes…or patterns in our lives…that represent behaviors that influence us to act in a specific way.”

First we explored the primal archetypes of wind, water, fire and earth…and how their powers both control and relinquish. We next discussed the lessons our guardian angels teach us, which is “the world is not a random chaos, with no reason for the goodwill or heartache we face, but a paradise, for us to claim our fulfillment if we are bold enough to do so.” And we learned from our inner demon that… “The only way to vanquish this monstrous atrocity is to wish it away. It does not exist, for it is an invention of the worst versions of us.”

We next talked about the good in animals and how it does not matter if it is a tiny ant, or a grand bear…they all have a tale to share. Then we talked about leadership qualities at work, and the difference a kind leader can make. We explored how your outlook on sex is telling of your behavior, and the lessons we can learn from the scoundrels and the gentlemen. Finally we talked about lovers and fighters, how we must be both in a relationship, and how important it is to be so kindly.

And I will conclude our tenth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…as long as you have the right perspective, with eyes to see and ears to hear, you will never stop learning. Seek new points of view, and use your judgment to decide what ideas are best for you. The ones that clash with yours may give you the best lessons. Some will teach you things you are comfortable with, and some will challenge you. Do not shy away from what makes you uncomfortable…even if it is not best for you, for you can least to observe, and find wisdom in knowing what is not right for you.

Your successes, your failures, your mentors, your adversaries, your blessings and your mistakes are the lesson plan of your life. Learning is just one of many ways we can better ourselves. And may you, for tomorrow, always find ways to grow, today.

Lovers and Fighters

PrintAre you a lover or a fighter?

If you believe this is asking if we choose forgiveness and acceptance, temperance and grace when facing adversity, you may see yourself as a lover. If you believe it is asking if we choose strength and fortitude, confidence and commitment when exposed to conflict, you may see yourself as a fighter.

Or do you see the question differently?

Like all archetypes, this is a metaphor for us to challenge the way we view our experiences. Do we choose to see a challenge as a learning experience or an obstacle? We must be both lovers and fighters, when the time is right.

Consider when you are in a new relationship. The experience is rich for potential contention and misunderstanding as you learn more about your partner. Remember, when you are in a relationship you are equals. As I wrote weeks ago…

…Acknowledge you both are on a journey together, as two souls. His or her values and interests, although in most cases are similar or the same, will differ slightly from yours. Be aware of those differences, and celebrate them with him or her.

There will be plenty loving and fighting as you grow together…or apart.

So, how do you fight? When you fight, you can let your emotions fly with involuntary reactions. You may take the boiled-over stress from the day and cast it upon your partner. You may be overly critical of your partner. You may assume intensions, which leads to petty grievances. But these approaches will lead to contempt, regret and not valuing your partner. Or…when you fight, you can control how you express your frustrations. You can focus on voicing your disappointment, even sternly, but always in a dialog. Although upset you are conscious not to hurt who you love, even if they inadvertently hurt you. Most of all, you allow growth during the conflict, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. If you ignore a problem and let it fester, it can rot the relationship and undermine it.

So, how do you love? Remember, we are either loving or fighting. When we do not fight, we love. How do you treat your partner, every day? How we love is a conscious choice, like a muscle we exercise to grow stronger. When you are with him or her, you can actively acknowledge your partner’s value, or be distant and assume your partner’s presence. You can count his or her wants equal to your own, or make most of the decisions for the both of you. You can enjoy the learning process of getting to know your partner, or not care about details. You can be giving and generous, or expect your partner to fulfill your emotional needs. And you can relish shared joy, knowing the happiest moments make the most impactful memories…or will you be remembered as being disinterested?

Whether we fight and love…no matter how angry we may be, or content we are in the moment…we must acknowledge the power of kindness, and its ability to breed further kindness. It has the profound ability to defuse and uplift, give value to those who feel unloved, and nurture a relationship.

We are both lovers and fighters. May we always be so, kindly.

The Gentleman and the Scoundrel

PrintI believe men and women can be anything they want. We discussed this when we explored the chivalric code weeks ago. I wrote…

Gender roles exist, but a man can be dominant or submissive, just as a woman can be either. The ability to be vulnerable, to show sensitivity and to allow a person to perceive your emotions is not a counter to the chivalric code…to have the will to purposely, with confidence, show such qualities is a strength.

There is give and take in traditional gender roles. It allows us the freedom to be forceful or vulnerable, as long as there is mutual respect. But sometimes our vision is clouded in how we value others and ourselves. When we define ourselves by things other than values…such as by appearances, talents or things we own…and see people as objects…for what they can do for us…then we lose common ground and mutual respect. This may be easy to do when we consider sex. How we treat our bodies, and how we let others treat our bodies is a reflection of how we value our lives. And how we treat our minds, and the people who we let enter our quiet spaces is a reflection of our self-worth.

Consider the scoundrel. He is a cruel man who values the material. His behavior is ego-driven, and he seeks instant gratification. He is competitive, and must “win” by having others “lose.” He is compelled by what he has…the most lavish lifestyle, the fastest car, and the desirable women who turns heads. He sees sex as meaningless, as a bragging right…as such a behavior, he believes, makes him more desirable. A scoundrel treats his sexual partners as objects for pleasure. He may view sex as his identity…he values knowing he is sexually desired and dominant. But this will never satisfy him…as I wrote in my novel, Storyteller’s Rose: “Such a pursuit, such a chase, will yield the hunter no prize. It would leave him seeking what does not exist to fill his emptiness.”

Consider the gentleman. Character values guide his behavior. He does not rely on others for satisfaction or a sense of completeness. He treats his friends with mutual respect, sharing common interests that fulfill him. And he treats his partner in the highest regard, considering her wants and desires as equal to his own. At the very least, he may see sex as a casual recreation, but with respect with his partner. Or he may treat it with the greatest of sanctity…for religious or spiritual reasons, as a sacred covet with the woman he is destined to be with. Or possibly, he may see it as the highest form of exchange…when they lay together they are equals, and give all of themselves to the other.

Why do we treat sex the way we do? Why are the scoundrel and the gentleman so different? The scoundrel is not aware of the impact of his actions, and is not aware of why he acts the way he does…only it feels good. He may have all the excuses…because of past hurt, or he learned this behavior from others, or it is the way he believes the world is…but that will not change his intent, or the hurt he may cause others. The gentleman gives no excuses for his actions and does not fall victim to social pressure. He knows why he acts the way he does and holds himself to one standard…his own.

What do you think? Do you have pity for the scoundrel, or cynicism for the gentleman? Do you think there is a middle ground…or should there be? How can kindness impact how we treat our partners, and ourselves?

This is for you decide, for no one controls your life but you.

Working Kindly

PrintIs work just…work?

It can be, if you let it. Consider how much time we spend earning our living. Wouldn’t it be an awful waste of time if we didn’t enjoy what we do? But it’s more than what we do…it’s how we do it…that can make it enjoyable. We must acknowledge our colleagues make up a community, with shared values and interests. We must act with mindfulness of how our behavior may impact those people. This is the way of “working kindly.” But not everyone has that mindset…or knows how. Let’s explore how we may or may not “work kindly.”

The survivor is someone who knows his company is an ecosystem, with balances between groups that make it function. He is not concerned with the means or the ends of his job, but producing the results he is expected, in order to keep his employment. In many ways he is an opportunist, taking advantage of the political structure that runs the corporate machine for his gain. As a leader, he would be a ladder climber…someone who finds validation by hierarchy, and cares more about someone’s title rather than his or her merit. He uses his job as a vehicle, and risks using people the same way because he cares more about surviving than his fellow employee. He is an unkind leader.

The laggard is someone who resists change. He may be a highly effective worker, and views his job as a means to an end. It is a platform to enable his fulfillment, which is something not connected to his job. In many ways he is a rebel, as anything new would challenge his way of being, making him uncomfortable. And at all costs he wants to remain comfortable. Should he exhibit leadership, he may become a lone wolf…leading by example, running a tight-knit team that is reluctant to do anything different than what they have always done. He is a risk-adverse leader.

The mentor sees people as the most important asset of a company. She is entrenched in the company’s brand. She cares about what the company produces and how they produce it. She has a grace in the way she works, and invests in making the people she works with better at what they do. She would become a servant-leader…ensuring her employees have the spotlight to advertise their achievements and setting them up for success. She leads not by hierarchy but by creditability. She is an empowering leader.

The professional loves her job. She is a fanatic in the “how” and what she produces becomes a by-product of her happiness. Her personal style is defined by how she interacts with her colleagues and clients…and she treats everyone equally. She can play any role, on any level, because what defines her is her work ethics, not her job title. When she becomes a leader, she would be executive. Her personal style now becomes the kindness of her employees. She understands what it takes to run a business, and realizes the impacts of what they produce are as important as how they do it. She is a kind leader.

What do you imagine when you consider these types of work archetypes? What kind of leader are you?

Lessons from Animals

PrintAs a child my favorite book series was “Redwall “ by Brian Jacques. It was a tale about woodland animals living in harmony in a grand Abbey called Redwall. The novels usually ended with a horde of vermin attempting to conquer the Abbey, forcing the peaceful animals to defend their way of life. This series was my literary introduction into such a fantasy world, with profound imagery, invented rituals, and inspiring archetypes.

What struck me most, especially as a child, was how Jacques created a world of good and evil. In this world, we found that mice, otters, squirrels, hares, moles, hedgehogs and badgers were peacekeeping animals…creatures we view as “clean” and “compassionate.” And vermin, such as rats, weasels, snakes, ferrets, ravens and stoats, where the antagonists, because we view them as “dirty” and “destructive.”

This analogy is elegant in a tale meant for young adults. In our story…in our lives…animal archetypes may not be as black and white. Let’s explore a few common archetypes as seen in literature and cultural retellings.

Let’s start with what is small. Ants represent industry because of how the whole of the colony is greater than the sum of the parts. They represent community, hard work and teamwork. Scorpions represent vigilance, due to their resilience to survive extreme conditions, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. Battle-ready and deadly, size does not matter when facing a scorpion. And the butterfly is transformation…to start out as one thing and become something completely different. She represents beauty and gentleness.

Now, let’s discuss reptiles and amphibians. The snake is the biblical representation of original sin, a deceiver and trickster. But it also represents rebirth and power by how it sheds its skin. Frogs represent peace and spiritual cleansing. They are hidden beauty, and teach us to trust our hearts before our eyes. The salamander is the spirit of fire, a lore that came to being during ancient times. Salamanders hibernate in rotting logs, and when campfires were started, they would jump from the flames.

Let’s explore animals from the skies. The hawk, due to its predatorily fierceness and keen vision, knows truth, shifting between the physical and divine worlds. She represents intensity of spirit. The raven represents the unknown and explores mystery. She can be both destroyer and builder, and her messages are shrouded in riddles. The owl represents wisdom, as she is the symbol of the Greek goddess Athena. She keeps her knowledge in solitude, but aids others if asked.

Let’s explore beasts. Lions represent leadership and fearlessness. Seen as the king, he supports family, civil structure, and temperament. Tigers, in contrast, are solitary creatures of tactic and grace. They possess great concentration for focus, courage and conviction, and are often viewed as healers. Bears are seen as mother figures for their fortitude and inner strength. They are protectors of their cubs, and able to weather the worst winter storms.

Lastly, we explore canines. The fox is cunning. He senses the subtlest of changes, and slyly responds to outsmart his challenger. The dog is unconditional love and loyalty. She has short memories for forgiveness, and forever companionship. Wolves, in contrast, are spiritual teachers that embrace balance within your life. They show discipline to follow your destiny.

Combining archetypes creates fascinating results. A dog represents loyalty, and a wolf represents learning. But when you have a tale about a sheepdog and a wolf, it creates a natural good and evil plot that uplifts the sheepdog and condemns the wolf. Remember, there is no good or evil in these archetypes, only our perceptions based on what we value. What conflicts with our values will be evil, and what supports our values will be good…such as protecting our herd of sheep from a wolf.

There is wisdom in knowing these archetypes, for they all have a tale to tell, and a value to contribute to our lives. But from this wisdom we must not ignore there are universal evils. There are ideologies and behaviors that cause destruction and death…the anti-life to our fulfillment, to tear down our earthly efforts to watch the world burn. This is the absence of kindness…cruelty…and a theme we will discuss at length in a future week.

Angels and Demons

PrintThis Winter of Kindness has given us a few themes…empowerment, acting with intent and mindfulness. We also discussed identity. Our identity is defined by what we value, and what fulfills us. For it to be healthy, it should not be based on physical characteristics or ideologies. For example, if you identify yourself by physical appearance, you may have a crisis when you become old. Or if you identify yourself by an ideology, like a strict conservative or liberal political view, you may be unwilling to accept an opposing view.

The things that happen to us also influence our identity…both good and bad. If we are blessed with comfort and ease it may be easier s to be positive. Or if we are stricken with strife and hardship, it may be harder to be so. When we are faced with these gifts or obstacles, it is our natural curiosity that gives them a name…its own identity, as it influences our own. When someone is abundantly kind to us we want to know who he or she is, so we can respond to our benefactor. And when someone is cruel, we want to do the same for our enemy.

We want to know who helps us. These are our guardian angels. These are our guides who bring us good fortune…when we discussed finding partners to love they look for things on our “love list” and use sage judgment to find our match. But it’s more than that. Sometimes our guardian angels look for the things we are unaware we want, and introduce them into our lives when we need them most. They are also protectors…our safeguards when we use poor judgment or lack awareness to the calamity around the corner. Their existence is meant for us to find fulfillment…and our destiny. This concept has been in literature for thousands of years. Homer wrote of it in the Odyssey, during the literary Age of Heroes, when Athena, the god of wisdom, visited the protagonist, Odysseus, to guide him to his fate. I am not asking you to believe in a robed man or woman with wings, invisible to the eye, seeking out your next act of benevolence. It is a metaphor to help us believe the world is not a random chaos, with no reason for the goodwill or heartache we face, but a paradise, for us to claim our fulfillment if we are bold enough to do so.

But we also want to know who hurts us. These are our inner demons. When we do not let go of the hurt that wronged us…be it from a physical or emotional scar, “the pain starts to develop an identity, an association with the person who caused cruelty. And when something has an identity, and has burrowed deep into our minds, it is much harder to kill.” When we let our minds wonder, and we start to have anxiety about the past, or doubt about the future…it is our inner demons that gnaws at our identity. It is a nameless, faceless beast with talons and fangs and an unbearable roar. When we become its prey, it commands our fears and seizes our bodies into paralysis. Our inner demon knows our greatest weaknesses…our cracking point in the wall that holds back the worst of us. It scratches at our emotions to question the truths we believe, force us to suspect the motives of friends who never gave us reason to, and transfers the cruelty of people who have hurt us onto people who never would. Our confidence is our shield when combating our inner demons, and with every blow we endure its hardened metal can become cracked and broken. And what is our sword to slay this fiend? We have none. For the only way to vanquish this atrocity is to wish it away. Our inner demons do not exist, for it is an invention of the worst versions of us.

Know your angels and demons. They will be your guide to the best and worst of you.

Wind, Water, Fire and Earth

PrintWeeks ago we talked about how we can be the heroes of our stories. Just like the stories we see in movies, or read in books, our life’s story has many of the same elements. There are characters that support, accompany or challenge us. There is a setting, a place where our story happens, that influences how we live. There are also events that unfold into a plot, depending on what chapter we are in our lives, be it our childhood, adolescence or adulthood. But there are also themes…patterns around us that influence how we behave. If we are aware of them, and embrace them for what they are, they can be tremendous to our growth.

These themes…patterns in our lives are archetypes. They represent behaviors that influence us to act in a specific way. One such archetype is knowledge…usually represented by an apple but acquiring it comes at a cost. Another is an obstacle, such as a mountain and exists as a challenge for us to overcome. This week we will explore a few archetypes and their power to influence us.

And today we will start with the most basic of archetypes…natural elements.

Wind is freedom, it is liberation, and it is constantly changing. In my novel, “The Storyteller’s Rose,” I wrote… “The wind has no restrictions. No leash commands its course. No whip harnesses its power. It is carefree and unobstructed, intangible and uncontrollable.” Heroes are often associated with the wind, as it is the symbol of the journey. It also shows us control is an illusion. We may rage against it, but the wind will always rage harder. If we accept this we can flow, and not be thrown, by it.

Water is creation, it is reflection and it is cleansing. It can nourish and it can heal. It offers a sense of ease and relaxation. It is often the symbol of a supporting character in a hero’s journey. But water can also come at us like a torrential rain, a tidal wave that represents inner struggles. When we face a flood it can be an opportunity to wash away the filth that clutters our lives or it can drown us. When a hero submerges in water, and reemerges, she is reborn.

Fire is intensity, it is power, and it is passion. It can burn and destroy but it can also fuel and catapult forth. It is your warmth and guiding light when all has gone cold and dark. It is often the symbol of the warrior. It is also a symbol for beauty and seduction, a smoldering energy within you that drives your earthly desires. But you must be careful for it can consume you. It can be an intoxicating and fickle force that turns you to ash. But if you are careful, and respect its beauty, you may learn it cannot be tamed…but can be harnessed. And although it can rage, if not nourished, a calm zephyr can extinguish it.

Earth is fortitude, it is strength and it is growth. It can be trusted since it is a constant presence in all our lives. It is often the symbol of the mentor in the hero’s journey. It represents stability, temperament, and a balance between life and death. It is the cradle in which all life blossoms, representing fertility, longevity and endurance. But Mother Earth’s equilibrium is like a swaying pendulum. It can veer to calm, peace and tranquility, but also swing to quakes, eruptions and hurricanes.

So…who and what are the wind, water, fire and earth archetypes in your life? How do they influence your behavior? Who are your heroes, supporters, warriors and mentors? No one archetype is a strength or weakness, as they all have roles to play in your story. Remember, these archetypes, in their own way, can guide you toward kindness. May you embrace it and grow.

Our Ninth Ritual of Kindness

PrintSo, how has kindness inspired us this week? This was “Random Acts of Kindness” week and we explored the organizations and things people do to promote kind acts, aspiring to make the world a better place. I also shared advice a friend offered…

“The greatest contribution we as individuals can offer is the betterment of society…to make the world we live in a better place. It does not take a revolution to do so, simply a conscious act of will, every day.”

We then explored ways to inspire kind deeds. We talked about small, everyday ways we can do this, such as complimenting someone. While others you may need to plan, like buying someone a meal. And some you may need a larger commitment, such as volunteering a weekend to help a cause you believe in. We reinforced these ideas by sharing stories of kindness, and encouraged you to share yours too.

At the root of kindness there is teaching and learning. I wrote that…Kindness is taught by seeing, by doing, by repeating. “Random Acts of Kindness” day is a “cultural phenomenon” and shows how “how good breeds further good.” The value of teaching kindness has not gone unnoticed by larger organizations and they have produced media to encourage the importance of kindness. They also share “kindness techniques” to express empathy and manage conflicts.

But we must also teach ourselves how to be kind. As with any behavior we want to exhibit, we must practice to strengthen it. We talked about several self-improvement books we can explore and investing in our emotional health. And, “we must become our own best friends when investing in self-kindness.”

And I will conclude our ninth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…your reasons do not matter, as long as you have the purity of your intent. It does not matter if you are driven by religious beliefs, aspire to a calling greater than ourselves, support “pay it forward,” or simply enjoy how it feels when you do good. What matters is the indelible impact you have on the people and things around you when you make the most of that moment to be kind.

Kindness is a means and ends onto itself.

Self-Kindness

PrintYesterday we explored how kindness is taught to others. Sometimes the most impactful lessons are the ones we teach ourselves, and that is why it is important to invest in self-kindness. Kindness is a behavior…a way of being…that we must practice to maintain. There is no “kindness quota” that once we meet a number of kind acts we can “turn off” being kind for the day. Kindness is always “on” to how we treat others and ourselves, and we should invest in ways to improve our mindfulness in how we can be kind.

Reading is one such way. I cannot say what books will guide you to an epiphany, for an author’s style and ability to connect with a reader will vary from person to person. However, I did find clarity by reading “If the Buddha Dated” by Charlotte Kasl. The reflections of her spiritual guide allowed me to realize acts are sometimes ego-driven, and they can distort how you can become the best version of yourself. “The Power of Kindness,” by Piero Ferrucci was a sage reminder of the values instilled by kind acts and those who perform them. It allowed me to ask better questions to lead me to be more mindful. There are many books you can explore…these are only two that touched me.

Perhaps the most important tool we have for self-kindness is investing in our emotional health. Think about it…when our bodies are hurt, we nurture it back to health, be it with a Band-Aid or a trip to the doctor. But we so often neglect the same behavior when we experience emotional injury, such as loneliness, rejection or failure. Indeed, these daily occurrences are as harmful as a wound, and they are all too often left untreated. And what happens when a wound is not tended to? It can become infected. When we fall into the despair of loneliness we twist our perceptions into believing we are unloved…when our family and friends care for us very much. When we face rejection, it only compounds that loneliness and we build false stories about how we are viewed, tearing ourselves down into something untrue. And, when we face failure, we sometimes put up roadblocks in our minds to prevent us from trying again. By comparing our non-successes to others we become paralyzed to try a different approach to become successful. The only difference is how we see the challenge we face…instead of avoiding rejection, and therefore pain when our frail emotional state is already injured, we brave it.

One powerful technique to reinforce positive behavior when faced with negative emotional urges is a distraction. When you sense your mind replaying a destructive scene, or anticipating a hurtful future…do something else, if only for a few minutes. Phone a friend, read an inspiring chapter from your favorite book, grab a drink you enjoy…only long enough for the urge to pass. Also be sure these distractions are not vices, such as toxic relationships or drugs…you do not want to escape your feelings, but overcome them consciously. You will find this technique, when reinforced over time, will reduce how your mind dwells on negative emotions.

We must become our own best friends when investing in self-kindness. Build self-confidence by reminding yourself of the good you are capable, the positive energy you put into the world, and the acknowledgement of your self worth. No one has the power to take that away from you, especially those who cast destructive forces of loneliness, rejection and failure. By being kind to ourselves, we will gain the clarity to become kinder to others.

Teaching Kindness

PrintThis week I’ve had an opportunity to learn about some of the people who rally with the organizations that aspire kindness. Their causes were all noble…be it in response to tragic loss, or religious beliefs, or to “pay it forward,” or to have a greater purpose, or just to have kindness be a reason into itself. And all these organizations had something, besides kindness, in common…

…To teach how to be kind.

Kindness is taught by seeing, by doing, by repeating. Kindness is instilled and encouraged as a quality we want all people to exhibit. On days such as Random Acts of Kindness Day, we witness to a cultural phenomenon…a collective decision to go out of our way to “do good” for others. And when people see how good breeds further good, it has a resonating affect. Hopefully the reverberations from that impact are a reminder that we do not need a dedicated day to behave this way.

Some organizations take this idea a step further, and provide media to foster kindness education. They target youth and reward specific values, with the goal of molding behavior into a kinder outlook. Elementary lessons plans range from sharing, to following the rules, to understanding feelings, listening and good manners. As children become less self-centered, lessons include learning how to problem solve, how to help others, empathy, respect and managing stress. As they become more advanced they are taught healthy communication with integrity, how to resolve conflicts, combating peer pressure and learning to love yourself.

I believe this is the most indelible result of kindness. We can do a kind act, and perhaps make someone’s day better. We can behave kindly, and influence the people around us to consider a new way of being. We can all be subject to daily stress, or experience sorrow, or have anger and fear from life’s twists. But if we are able to instill in others the bright beacon of kindness then perhaps the darkest days of the people we meet will not be as bleak. For when you are not around, they can look within themselves and realize we are all helpless…all of us can be victim to hardships as well as lucky with prosperity…and all we can do is to get out and help someone, even if that someone is ourselves.

I hope kindness teaches you something, every day.

Stories of Kindness

PrintI hope yesterday was aspirational. Any day can offer opportunities to rekindle our “faith in humanity,” and I hope yesterday of all days gave you moments that took your breath away. I was fortunate to witness and read a few stories that took place on Random Acts of Kindness day. I would like to share a few of them…to reflect on how things ought to be.

As you read them, consider this…put yourself in the moment of the kind act. Imagine your thoughts as you observed the unfolding event. Then consider if you were committing the kind act…what must have been your reason to “do good?” Now, consider if you were receiving kindness…how would you feel before someone did good by you, and what would you feel after?

Think about how these three people were touched in that moment of kindness. How are they encouraged to foster such behavior in the future…and how would they treat others? If we are in a position to do good…to make things better…why wouldn’t we? I hope you think about the power we have to change our lives and others…the only thing stopping us is the decision to do so…

A man always picks a random dinner party when he visits his favorite restaurant, Cracker Barrel, to pay for their meal. He times it just right so he leaves before the waiter can point him out to the receiving dinner party…he is never interested in accolades, only the message the waiter is instructed to tell them, which is to “pay it forward.”

During a wintery day a woman, with her infant baby, noticed an elderly lady struggle through the snow. The mother offered to take the senior where she needed to go, despite the errands the mother needed to run.

A man was taking a taxi to work because his car was in the mechanic’s shop. Along the way he and the taxi driver saw a woman and a child in a disabled car in the middle of traffic. They pulled over and pushed her car out of harms way.

A woman would go to the dollar store sometimes and buy several umbrellas to keep in her car. When it was raining, if she noticed people stranded under overhangs or trees to stay dry, she would give them one.

A married couple would use their sowing knowledge to make hearts out of spare fabric. On Valentine’s Day they would randomly hand them out…just because.

A young man recently became handicapped and was unable to walk distances. While leaving a store, an elderly lady noticed he was having trouble and asked if he needed help. They ended up having a pleasant conversation for an hour.

A young woman kept aspirational quotes in her purse and would look for opportune places…such as a library book, a waiting room magazine, a restaurant table…to leave messages for the next person to find.

I hope these little stories show you it does not matter who you are, what you do, how old you are, or what is within your means…you can always try to make the world around you a better place.

Do Good Today

PrintToday is “random acts of kindness” day. I am, as I hope we all are, an advocate of what this day means…and what it is meant to do…to make the world we live a better place. If I could wordsmith, I would remove “random” from the day. Kindness is a behavior, not an act. To do something randomly kind today suggests the kindness we commit is a whim…a fluke, just for one day. I am confident we do not believe that, for today is a reminder of the good we can do all year. I believe kindness is a decision, within all of us…within all good people…to make ourselves and those around us better people.

I did some research, and fell short in what I was looking for. I could not discover why today, February seventeenth, is random acts of kindness day. I learned New Zealand has a national holiday for kindness on September first. I learned that Anne Herbert first wrote the phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” in 1982 on a restaurant napkin. These words eventually evolved into her best selling book. Other than that, the reason why today is “random acts of kindness” day may be random too. For us, in recognition of this day, I offer a list of possible “acts” you can perform. You do not need to do all, or any, for they range from simple activities to large time commitments. It is meant to inspire what you can do to help others…or even yourself…for a better tomorrow.

You can do these kindness activities among and between what you may already have planned. You don’t have to go out of your way, only take the time to be mindful in how you can inspire kindness in others.
• Offer a sense of cheer or levity to someone who is in poor spirits
• Be aware of your mood or disposition, and exhibit good manners
• Offer compliments freely, call out behavior you appreciate
• Forgive someone who has slighted you, it may not be about you…sometimes people just need to “love themselves” and never realized they did you wrong
• Welcome a new neighbor or colleague to the community or team
• Give your full attention when speaking with someone

You can do these kindness activities with some planning. It may require thought, effort or finance to make happen, but the impact will be worthwhile.
• Buy someone coffee, a drink or a meal…just because
• Send a card to a friend in appreciation of help they gave you
• Offer assistance if you see someone in duress…like offering change for a parking meter about to expire or helping to push a disabled car out of traffic
• Help a colleague who may be struggling at work
• Give up your spot in line for someone who looks like they are in a rush
• Bake treats for your neighbors or colleagues

You can do these kindness activities with an organized effort. With a little research, you can find charitable or social conscious organizations that coordinate events. It may be as simple as showing up and dedicating your time for the day.
• Donate blood, or any surplus of goods
• Volunteer for community focused event, such as school our house constructions
• Volunteer for an environmental focused event, such as a park or beach cleanup
• Volunteer for a cause that will help the unfortunate, such as a food drive
• Offer your expertise to teach others in your community, such as coaching children or participating in a Parent, Teacher Association

…May you have a kind, random act of kindness day, and inspire others with your actions.

People Who Do Good

PrintThis week is a special week, and tomorrow is a special day. This is “random acts of kindness” week, and tomorrow is “random acts of kindness” day. It is fitting we ended last week discussing how to love others and ourselves. These few days are dedicated to people who embody the essence of kindness, all year round. If you recall…

Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, an awareness of the impact of your actions, and a desire to better yourself and others.

While good people act as they do for many reasons…because of their passion for a cause, how it makes them feel, their spiritual beliefs, or to pay it forward…they all strive to make the world a better place. When I was younger, I learned sage advice from a friend. I came to him perplexed about my life’s journey…feeling my ability as an engineer could have been better used in aerospace or energy development…that is, to help take mankind get to the stars, or to help discover a renewable energy source. I felt this would bring my life purpose. His response was elegant, and has stayed with me since…

“The greatest contribution we as individuals can offer is the betterment of society. It does not take a revolution to do so, simply a conscious act of will, every day.”

And that is what these organizations, I am about to share, are doing. I ask you, on the eve of “random acts of kindness” day, to be mindful of your behavior tomorrow, as you should on all days. And if you do not join the campaign, at least share your stories, just as I have, or the stories you have seen. Most of these organizations web sites have storyboards to post your experiences. You have no idea how sharing your kindness can impact another person to do the same…and so on, and so on, and so on.

The World Kindness Movement. An international group will members in over 25 nations with a simple goal…bring together “like-minded kindness organizations from around the world.” Originating in Japan, the group has steadily grown “to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.”

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. A foundation focused both practicing and teaching kindness in schools, homes and communities. Their online site is a media center of lesson plans, and network to connect with people to go out and “do good.” There is also an active blogging community to share your stories.

Spread Kindness. An aspirational organization designed on the principle that kindness is contagious. Free media available with affirming quotes and “pay it forward” kindness cards as a conscious reminder we are all capable of being kind.

Kindness Revolution. Based on a corporate development book to inspire world-class customer service. Their fundamental principle is simple, if your customer care representatives are kind, customers will be treated better, which will have profound results for your company.

Random Acts. An international organization based mostly in North America, parts of Europe and Australia with an ambition to “conquer the world, one random act of kindness at a time.” They have ongoing events, fundraisers, and programs encouraging people to donate and participate to “breed kindness.”

Newtown Kindness. An organization to “promote kindness as a guiding principle of humanity.” They are “committed to fostering compassion in children and inspiring life-long contributors to society.” They distribute programs and media selections to teach and promote acts of kindness. The foundation was established in Charlotte Bacon’s honor, a child who was lost during the Shady Hook Tragedy in 2012.

Kindness Foundation. A foundation that aims to “inspire, education and connect” all people with kindness because “everyone deserves kindness; it is essential for us to thrive.” They offer media and value-based kindness education for school and work scenarios.

ARK Project Now. An engaging, online web journal of a group of young men traveling the United States to commit random acts of kindness in a “pay it forward” fashion. Their ventures are recorded via a blog, with insightful and inspiring media clips. It inspires a kindness epidemic, and a transformation within all of us.

Invisible Thread. A book that is an “inspiring true story of Laura and Maurice and how small acts of kindness can change lives.” It is based on a proverb that an “invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet.” Their online site connects people with helpful organizations for the underprivileged, and offers a medium to promote kindness.

These nine groups are only a few that are available, whose scale is larger than most. Do not limit yourself to only these should you decide to explore “organized kindness.” There are many ways to behave kindly, and I encourage you to walk your own path.

Our Eighth Ritual of Kindness

PrintHappy President’s day…on our eighth ritual of kindness we reflect on our week of togetherness and love. So, how has kindness inspired us this week? We discussed…

”Every relationship is a living thing between two people. It becomes an extension of ourselves, for it creates a new lens for us to view the world. It is also something that must be nurtured, for indeed it is alive, by the people who are in the relationship.”

We talked about relationship values, which are meant to nurture, and explored respect, growth and passion. We then discussed the importance of personal growth, and surrounding yourself with people with similar values can foster that. And…

“In these exchanges of shared interests and values, you rely on yourself for fulfillment, and you seek others to empower yourself to grow. This philosophy will help lead you to become a ‘complete’ person.”

Alternatively, if you surround yourself with people who “give” you things, be it material or emotional value, you may start to rely on others for fulfillment. When this happens in a romantic relationship you may become comfortable with a loved one who is not nurturing your true desires. I wrote…

“We have an epidemic where people fear being vulnerable. Because when we are vulnerable there is the belief we will get hurt. But we must see this is a false belief, because when we are vulnerable, we can…meaning it is a possibility…get hurt, but that is not a guarantee. Some risks are worth the opportunity for growth, and if we never take risks, we will never grow.”

I also wrote… “It is not about being half of a whole looking for that equal-opposite-other. It is not about finding a sense of ‘completion’ by being with a person. We all should be complete puzzle pieces from the beginning. A complete puzzle piece with a complete picture upon it, with a complete sense of identity that relies on values, and a complete sense of self by pursuing things that fulfill us. And the people we choose into our lives, just like puzzle pieces, should fit into us and us into them.”

Next we discussed how we treat ourselves when we must part with what is not meant for us. We do this by coping… a “conscious means to endure pain.” If we do so kindly, “there can be a grace about it.”

We also discussed guardian angels when searching for “our match.” Our guardian angel uses wise judgment to assess qualities and values of our equal-opposite other. I shared with you my list, which was: Must be kind, a good communicator, confident through intelligence, express creativity, passionately and mindful of life’s choices.

We talked about acceptance and forgiveness, and… “We must accept pain will happen, and pain is important to learn, and if we live a life fearful of pain then we will learn little. While pain is inevitable, we do not need to suffer. Suffering is when we let the pain continue to affect us after the harm is done.” With forgiveness we can end our suffering.

But forgiveness is a part of something greater, which is learning how to love yourself. We discuss seven simple wisdoms to guide that journey…

1. Know yourself.
2. Know your happy place.
3. Invest in what makes you happy.
4. Surround yourself with people who share the same values.
5. Focus not just on your mental health, but physical health.
6. Be grateful, and find pride in your accomplishments.
7. Make mistakes and forgive yourself.

To invest in yourself is not selfish, it is empowerment, “for it fosters a kindness within us that will allow us to share it with others.” And to follow this same list is how you love others, except the focus is on your loved one.

We ended this week with a ritual of love, on Valentine’s Day, by encouraging all of us to “become active participants in how you celebrate…[and]… be in the moment…and when you look him or her in the eyes, understand what you commit to your special someone when you say, ‘I love you.’”

And I will conclude our eighth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…we must first learn to love ourselves before we can love others. It may seem like a simple thing to do, but along the way we sometimes forget how to do that, if we even ever knew how. It starts with respecting yourself as the most important thing in your life. It is also understanding you are constantly growing and adapting to changes around and within you. Sometimes growth can be painful…even scary…but the best of things usually are. Finally, and most importantly, there must be passion. Passion to chase what fulfills you, and should you be lucky to grab hold of it, never let it go.

May we all be so lucky to share our gifts of respect, growth and passion with people deserving of our love.

A Ritual of Love

PrintToday, we do something different. We postpone our eighth ritual of kindness to have a ritual of love, in celebration of Valentines Day. As with any holiday, today is one of reflection, to express appreciation for the love we have in our lives. Let’s first explore why most of the world choses to honor love today…be it a celebration of paternal, brotherhood, sisterhood or romance.

There are many exaggerated tales of Saint Valentine, believed to have lived second century Rome. Legend has it he married Roman soldiers against the edict of emperor Claudius and ministered Christianity, which conflicted with Roman theology. He was imprisoned, during which he restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter, Asterius. Emperor Claudius interrogated Valentine. Valentine attempted to convert the Emperor. In response he was beheaded. It is believed this happened on February 14th, 269. Before he was executed he wrote Asterius a farewell letter, and signed it “Your Valentine.”

Numerous traditions coincide with mid-February that encourages fertility and rebirth, but it was not until the Middle Ages this date was associated with “romantic love.” This was the time of “courtly love,” inspired by the chivalric code. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet, solidified these two concepts in his epic, “The Parliament of Fowls.” During eighteenth century England this tradition evolved into a day of celebration between lovers. It slowly grew to inspire the rest of the world.

True, there is plenty of cynicism on this holiday. You cannot validate an argument by disproving its negative, however, in this case, I believe there is a poetic justice by disproving how this is only a materialistic holiday.

An argument in favor of materialism is how the average American spending on this day has steadily increased double-digit percentages year over year. But we must remember we do not pay for company…and also must reinforce this is not the same as paid services…such as a guest speaker. The purchase of a plane ticket or a meal or a material item is the price of admission…it sets the backdrop of how you chose to spend your time with your special someone. It is how you behave and what you expect in that moment that determines its value…not how much money you spent.

Nor is it about giving time and money to “get something” out of your moment. It is about giving yourself to your person because of how you feel. It is not uncommon to believe that one such “something” is sex. This belief is like worshiping a false god, where we deprive our best values, and glorify what is without meaning. We will explore sex in a later entry, but for now I want challenge that sex in its purest form is the highest value of exchange between two people…people physically and emotionally giving themselves to each other.

We can express our love in an infinitesimal number of ways. Weeks ago I wrote, “I believe one of the most phenomenal abilities a person can have is to create something from nothing…To have the ability to take [a] precious moment…and mold it into something we can cherish in our minds for as long as our memory serves us, is perhaps the most powerful gift of all.” This day is about being in the moment with your partner, and finding the means to express your true feelings towards him or her. It is a day to appreciate the passion’s flame you have with your partner, and to renew your vow to never take it for granted. How you choose to do that is up to you. But remember, we all came from nothing, and we are oh so capable of making something out of it.

And I will conclude our ritual of love with closing thoughts…be active participants in how you celebrate this day. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, nor does it matter if you wear the masks of traditional gender roles and expect to sweep her off her feet or to be swept by him. Be in the moment today, as you should in all days, and when you look him or her in the eyes, understand what you commit to when you say, “I love you.”

May we all reflect on how dear this is so every exchange with our loved ones becomes a ritual of love.

Love Yourself and Others

PrintHow do you love yourself? How do you find fulfillment? How do you find a life of peace and happiness? Are these the secrets to a meaningful life?

Sounds like questions you’ll have to climb grand mountains to find a guru to answer. Fortunately you don’t have to. The big secret is there is no secret…only a way of being…a mindset, and a perspective for you to view the world through a new lens. All of these things are within you…you only have to acknowledge the person you already are. Loving yourself allows you to be the best version of yourself. There is no “secret” to the following…only a decision to walk the path meant for you.

1. Know yourself. Every day we experience jubilant peaks and stressful valleys. These experiences may make us doubt ourselves. Should we have an understanding of how we behave, we can acknowledge our responses and bring about the most positive outcome. This is the power to knowing ourselves…by enabling the best possible future. There is a simple yet peaceful authenticity with this knowledge, and acting consistently.

2. Know your happy place. This is more than the day-to-day decisions of where to go or with whom to spend your time. It sets you on the path of your desires. If you know yourself you will know what makes you happy…or at least you will understand what makes you happy. Awareness is a powerful tool.

3. Invest in what makes you happy. Now that you know what fulfills you…double down. Become intelligent in what bring you happiness, or become capable to build the tools to construct the mechanisms that will bring you happiness. In this “pursuit of happiness” there a constant movement of your soul on the hunt for what you are meant to do…and you will see that this “investment” in your “happiness” will be come your life’s journey.

4. Surround yourself with people who share the same values. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do…but whom you spend your time with. Having people in your life who you care about…to share experiences, and to foster the values you believe, will encourage a stronger better you. And do not compare yourself to anyone but who you were yesterday. It is too easy to get caught up with much money someone else makes, or what they have or whom they spend their time with. You are on different paths, and as long as the path you are on makes you happy, it will not matter.

5. Focus not just on your mental health, but physical health. Life is not a sprint, and with all our epistemological, noble questioning we must not forget we are frail beings destined to break. We must maintain our bodies as well as our minds and souls so we can enjoy each day with the highest quality of life.

6. Be grateful, and find pride in your accomplishments. Ask yourself, “how did I get so lucky?” or “what is something I am excited about?” or “what are the best things that happened to me recently?” These affirming questions will reinforce your gratitude for your life and the people and things in it. But don’t forget to ask, “How can I make a better tomorrow?” Don’t be afraid to push to new horizons. And mostly, do not forget to slow down and reward yourself. You will be at your best when you focus on one thing at a time…and celebrate your accomplishments. This is your best life, after all.

7. Make mistakes and forgive yourself. We must accept pain is inevitable, and there is a time for sorrow just as there is a time for happiness…but we don’t need to live a life with suffering. We can do this by forgiving ourselves for the pain we experience, and to have the grace of letting go of the things not meant for us. The better we know ourselves, no matter how painful it may be, we will have the strength to do so.

Remember the greatest value in your life is yourself, and you are the most important person in your life. Rationally, if there were no you, you wouldn’t have a life at all. It is important to value others, as a reflection of your purpose and fulfillment, but you must respect yourself first before you can respect others…and love yourself first too.

But if we focus on all these things, won’t we be selfish?

No. It is empowerment, for it fosters a kindness to be shared with others. The difference between selfishness and empowerment is realizing you are not the only person who matters. We cannot live with blinders as we chase our dreams. We are not bulldozers with one focus…the finish line…as we trample over everyone. We are people, a part of one community…one culture…one family, and we must respect all values we share.

So…how do you love others? We already discussed how. The same investment you put into yourself, you should put into the people you care most about. You should ask, “How can I give happiness to others as I have to myself?”

And for that special someone…acknowledge you both are on a journey together, as two souls. His or her values and interests, although in most cases are similar, will differ from yours. Be aware of those differences, and celebrate them. If nothing else, it is exactly that…to love deeply is to never take that love for granted, and to celebrate it, every day.

Forgiveness

PrintYesterday we discussed “the list” …our guardian angel seeking qualities in an equal-opposite-other. Just as we are looking for a partner to compliment us, we should be in constant search of the best version of ourselves. So…where do we start? We must begin with valuing ourselves for who we are.

But first, there is acceptance.

We must accept pain will happen. We must accept some can be avoided, and some cannot. We must accept we will not be perfect, and people will not be perfect either. And when two non-perfect beings interact, there will be at times conflict, and pain may result. If we rationally agree to this, we should face pain with temperament, not anxiety or anger. Think about the last time someone caused you pain? Perhaps he did it in ignorance and without knowing. Perhaps he did so with indifference, and didn’t care his actions caused you pain. Or perhaps he intended to hurt you. How do you respond to the ignorant, indifferent or purposeful harmer?

To be clear, if you are in danger, you must respond with necessary force to protect yourself and others. We are discussing non-physical pain, based on how you may be treated with disrespect. For now, we must accept pain will happen, and pain is important to learn. If we live a life fearful of pain we will learn little. While pain is inevitable, we do not need to suffer. Suffering is when we let the pain continue to affect us after the harm is done. This is easier said than done, and no one can judge the measure of another’s pain without experiencing his or her hardships.

Let’s save us from suffering.

When a victim of cruelty forgives, there is a change in mindset about the act and the person who caused it. For this discussion let’s assume a cruel act is something that invokes inherit negativity, inwardly or outwardly, to bring about emotions such as self-pity or vengeance. These emotions attempt to “tip the scale” of the negativity brought to your doorstep, and cast it to another, typically the assailant. When we invoke self-pity, we harbor negativity. When we become vengeance, we breed more cruelty. Forgiveness is not excusing, condoning or forgetting the cruel act, as this allows negativity to live on. When we forgive, the cruelty of the act ends with you.

Isn’t it odd, how easy it is to hold onto hurtful memories? Perhaps it was a tragic accident that shook the fiber of your being, or a toxic relationship that wrongly abused you…for years after the pain has stopped, we still hold onto what caused us hurt, and we suffer. Rationally we know if something is heavy and if we have no use for it, we should let it go. This makes us weak, for we will never be as strong as we could be with such a weight. Yet somehow we forget how to drop a burden.

Why can’t we sometimes let go?

Is forgiveness another means of coping? No. Coping mutes the pain. Forgiveness washes it away. Remember for whom we are forgiving. Do we forgive for the person who caused the cruel act? Possibly…but we should forgive for ourselves. It allows us to drop the burden that weighs us. It allows us to acknowledge the pain, take accountability, make amends, and to treat ourselves more kindly.

Sometimes the people who are hardest to forgive are ourselves…we trick ourselves into believing we cause our pain by the choices we make. That we stayed in that toxic relationship too long, or stayed out too late with friends and were made vulnerable to a tragedy…but no one can tell the future. All we can do is make the best decisions in the moment. If your heart tells you to stay, and your brain tells you there is no danger, it is better to listen than to shut out all feelings. And if you do experience pain, once you process those feelings, it is important to forgive yourself. It is better to have experienced it and grow than to not have at all.

So, how do we become the best versions of ourselves? We must love ourselves, first. The best way to do that is to forgive ourselves for the pain we let happen to us. But this is only the first step. For the rest, we explore tomorrow.

Must be Kind

PrintThere are seven billion people on this planet and growing. If you believe in soul mates, how is it possible to find him or her, especially since we are confined to one part of the world most of the time? I believe we are not looking for a person, or an idea of a person, as this is an illusion and expectations will never meet the reality of our imaginations. No, I believe we are looking for a match…a match to the complete puzzle piece we are, based on qualities and values.

So, how do we find a match based on qualities and values?

Simple…we make a list…but it isn’t just a list. “Just a list” will force us to check boxes and rule out possibly meaningful people in our lives because they do not meet arbitrary criteria. We need a “list” with judgment, and certain values are more important than others depending on how we know ourselves. I cannot stress this enough…the value of knowing yourself. This is a topic we will explore later this week. The combination of our “list” and “judgment” becomes a guide…like a guardian angel to our love lives.

So, what is your guardian angel looking for?

I am an eternal optimist, and consider myself a profoundly hopeful romantic. The dedication of my book, Storyteller’s Rose, summarizes my thoughts….

To my East—those who I loved before my birth, and will love after my passing: my mother, who bore me into this world; my father, who raised me to be the man I am; my two brothers, who taught me companionship; and my two sisters, who taught me compassion. And to her who is teaching me hope, for we have yet to meet as I write these words—but I long to meet with each sunrise.

I now share a few qualities my guardian angel has been seeking. By no means is this “list” universal. You must look inside yourself and see how the notches and grooves of your puzzle piece would best match your equal-opposite-other. You should consider the qualities and values that will both compliment and encourage growth within you. I hope you enjoy my moment of vulnerability…

1. Must be kind. As this is over the fiftieth entry on the topic this winter, this has special resonance to me. Be sure to seek out people who embody your most important values, and find inspiration by them. This also means being supportive. She doesn’t have to agree with everything I am, but she must know what is important to me. This is inclusive of other qualities, such as acceptance, forgiveness, humility, compassion, and to allow herself the vulnerability of loving deeply.

2. A good communicator. To be aware of her own feelings and to know how to express them. We all have faults and doubts within us, but to self-deprecate when we are not perfect, and to bottle up our emotions when we are frustrated, especially to the people who matter most in our lives, will only lead to dark roads. A balanced temperament is paramount. Raging emotions that control words and actions will lead to unnecessary conflict.

3. Confident through intelligence. I am looking for a partner, capable of standing on her feet, to be an independent person with her own identity. The outward awareness she has in the world, to take action, live her ambition, and fulfill her dreams is driven by multiple factors…but especially by intelligence.

4. Express creativity, passionately. Passion’s fire will always keep a couple warm, no matter how it ebbs and flows in a relationship. While my creative spirit allows me to write, and conjure reality from words, it is important my special person shares a similar pursuit…be it dance, art, song and so forth.

5. Mindful of life’s choices. What we think, and how we act are reflections of who we are. We make mistakes, and lose ourselves along the way, but there are certain lines we should never cross. These are trustworthy qualities of earning and giving respect. It also includes how wisely she spends the fruits of our labor, and how she keeps herself healthy. But this also includes the wisdom to laugh at herself, being spontaneous and expressing herself playfully.

Thank you for allowing me to share this brief list, and may it inspire yours.

Coping

PrintYesterday we discussed how relationships empower, grow and strengthen us. We also discussed toxic relationships that offer false validation that put us at risk of losing our sense of self. So what do we do when we come to a crossroad, and must walk a different path? It could be because he or she has gone where you cannot follow because of beliefs or values. Or you must walk your path, alone, because it is what you need. This is when you realize the person you are with is not meant for you…because of a lack of respect, or you had grown apart, or the spark had faded. Remember, a relationship is alive, and when the flame goes out it is a reason for mourning, for something once cherished has passed.

How do we treat ourselves when we must part with what is not meant for us?

We cope…whether it is a welcomed or saddened loss. In psychology coping is a means to endure pain. Some coping mechanisms help us eliminate or avoid pain, while others allow us to survive it. It is a conscious activity that doesn’t include subconscious defense mechanisms where we react to painful situations without truly understanding the cause. Broadly, there are three ways we cope…

First…perspective change, as the original perspective causes pain. Such as denying facts in order to ignore the pain we face. This also includes distractions by engaging alternative activities to keep the mind off of pain, such as extreme levity to “laugh it off.”

Next…over managing emotions, which often lead to bottled-up feelings, or anger management. This hinges on the notion that stress and fear are all a state of mind and our feelings are invented to manage the reality of danger and harm. This includes practices to calm boiling emotions such as meditation, self-control, acceptance, blame and avoidance.

Lastly…directly dealing with the pain by finding ways to eliminate the reason for the pain. This could be seeking information and rationalizing why it occurred. It could be adapting to the pain, such as avoiding people who have a bad temper if a past relationship was jaded because of that quality. But, there must be a balance with this coping device as it can lead to obsessive behavior.

There are constructive and destructive practices we can use to cope. Ultimately, when you treat ourselves kindly, there can be a grace about it. To gracefully let go of someone takes an act of courage by wanting the best for you. Sometimes you must let go of both what is healthy or toxic, since either may not fulfill you in a way your life demands.

But to gracefully let go does not only apply to people. It applies to dreams as well. To let go of the idea of what we think life may be like…be it a lavish career, earning a coveted award, or achieving a physical milestone. Sometimes we are offered twists in life and end up in a place we never imagined. And sometimes that new destination is bittersweet, as it is not what we wanted in our hearts.

But mostly, we must not be blinded by the idea of the person we see ourselves with. This is an idea we all must gracefully let go, as no person will fit into the mold we create. Your future partner’s journey is a wonderful gift to discover, and to have an expectation of who they are before you meet them will rob an opportunity to experience something that may be beyond your wildest dreams.

Let me borrow a quote, wrongly attributed to Buddha, but still has an elegant radiance… “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

Comfort

PrintYesterday we discussed relationship values to offer perspective in what binds a meaningful, intimate relationship. When nurtured, such a relationship can be very fulfilling. It can be a source of strength. But it can turn intoxicating and overwhelm us. This is why it is important to enter a relationship mindfully.

Let’s first examine an important aspect of social relationships. It is important to surround yourself with people who will help you become a better version of yourself. This can include qualities you hope to explore, perhaps intellectually, or athletically, or for camaraderie. It is important to share interests with others to be empowered. Sharing the same values as others will help to check your perspectives when challenged with a view outside your comfort. In these exchanges of shared interests and values, you fulfill yourself, and you seek others to help your personal growth. This philosophy will lead you to become a “complete” person.

Be wary of surrounding yourself with people who “give” you things, such as gifts, money, free meals or “emotional giving.” They offer false validation without mutual respect, putting you at risk of losing your sense of self. This creates codependency…relying on another’s “giving” to enable your fulfillment. Instead of growing because your partner challenges you, you stay stagnant or devolve. People often stay in this type of relationship because they don’t want to be alone. Or because they are using their partner as an emotional life preserver while they wait to find the next one. Or because they reconnected with a past relationship because it was a comfort they knew, which was better than taking a risk on someone new. All of these behaviors enable a person to lose their sense of self because it is “comfortable.”

Staying in a relationship because what our partner “gives” us and not how he or she “nurtures” our values will lead to a toxic relationship. This alters who you are, distorting your behavior to appease your partner, out of fear of how he or she may react. The results are extreme: having unnecessary dramatic fights, withholding something you care about, retaliating by ignoring you, compromising the fidelity of your relationship, or threatening the “ultimatum” of a break up. It varies, but if you change your behavior to manage the reactions of your partner, you should ask if your relationship has turned toxic.

There is a difference between making compromises and altering your behavior. One enhances your mindfulness. The other alters your identity to become something you are not. That is why it is important your identity is driven by values, such as integrity, and not characteristics, such as a talent. A person would be inclined to alter who they are to be with someone if their defining quality is something they can do…such as sing, or cook or be handy. They become a tool to be used instead of a mind making a decision for their empowerment.

We have an epidemic where people fear being vulnerable. Because when we are vulnerable there is the belief we will get hurt. But this is a false belief, because when we are vulnerable, we can get hurt, but it is not a guarantee. Some risks are worth the chance for growth, and if we never take risks, we will never grow. The only way to grow is to break what is comfortable, even if it is a “comfortable” relationship.

It is not about being half of a whole looking for an equal-opposite-other. It is not about finding “completion” by being with a person. What would happen if that person is no longer available? Will you remain incomplete, or desperate to find another other-half? We all should be complete puzzle pieces from the beginning…a complete puzzle piece with a complete picture upon it, with a complete identity that relies on values, and a complete sense of self by pursuing fulfilling things. And the people we let into our lives, just like puzzle pieces, should fit into us and us into them. When there is a match, it only adds to the complete picture we already had. We form a partnership, not a codependency. Our half to the whole now becomes two new wholes, making something completely new…completely.

May we all embrace, be it the search, or appreciation of our puzzle pieces.

Relationship Values

PrintWeeks ago we discussed character values, and how they guide our behavior. And before that, we discussed group values within communities and cultures that guide them as well. There should be no surprise there are also values in relationships.

What is an intimate relationship? Today we explore something greater than a social relationship…values that influence emotional, psychological and physical intensity.

Every relationship is alive. It becomes an extension of us, for it creates a new lens to view the world. The people who are in a relationship must nurture it. And when we do not nurture it, it becomes ill, for it will cause your partner frustration. This can create a harmful byproduct… complacency. And when we are complacent we can take the relationship for granted, which is a possible death sentence.

I have found three values guide a nurtured, intimate relationship…

The first is growth. The person we were ten years ago is not the person we are today. And the person we are today will not be the person we will become ten years from now. Our experiences, for better or for worse, and our pursuits, however they change or stay the same, will continue to mold us, and shape us. The same applies to your partner. We should seek more than common interests in a relationship because we know our interests will evolve. So, should we resign to the belief that our relationship will also end because of this constant change? Hopefully not, if the relationship grows. If you have common values, not just interests, and the nurturing will to grow the relationship then you will not grow apart.

The second is respect. It is the idea that your needs, wants and desires count the same as your partner. Respect creates profound intensity. You are more aware of his or her journey. In a social relationship you rely on communication to understand someone’s perspective. In an intimate relationship you have more mediums to sense what these may be. You must be aware, invest your effort, and seek to improve not just yourself but your partner. She or he is an extension of you, after all.

The third is passion. There must always be a spark. It may start off like a firework, and blaze like a bonfire, and at times quell into a candle’s flame, but there must always be a spark. It is a metaphor for the growth and respect, and the very life, of the intensity you have with your partner. Not everyone is wired the same, and some may not need or desire a constant burning fire. Others may believe it’s not realistic to maintain such a blaze for so long, while others demand it. I am, personally, a romantic person who requires an inferno of intensity with my partner, but also understand even the tides ebb and flow. As John Lennon put it, “life happens while we are busy making other plans.”

Never let the spark go out if you believe in it. Fight for your partner if she or he believes in your relationship. And if you don’t know what to do, may these values guide you to the happiness you deserve.

Our Seventh Ritual of Kindness

Week 7 - Post 48So, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we reflected on significant cultural elements and its influence on kindness. We began with the chivalric code, which defined the many relationships noblemen had during medieval times, namely their relationship with god, with his lord, his fellow countrymen…and with women… the most dramatized aspect of the code. I had reflected on this by writing…

First, doing anything is worth doing right…do not create a “non-committal” scenario by inviting her to “drinks”…Second, remember that you are looking for a partner and an equal opposite other, respect the give and take…Third, do not play games. Be direct and forthcoming with your desires…Fourth, and most of all, have respect for yourself, and use that as strength to extend that respect to your potential partner.

Next we explored Greek mythology and saw through legend that “heroism should be celebrated, how we should never forget to honor our heritage, that we must respect what we cannot control, and that a power left unchecked will be abused.” These stories were among the first recordings of man having an “enlightened purpose.”

Then we talked about the Hippocratic Oath, and how the concept of “do no harm” could apply to everyone, not just to caretakers, for we all have immeasurable capacity to help others. We concluded that entry by reflecting on the fable, “The Zephyr and the Dandelion” introduced by Moral Vignette, and shared oaths of kindness, namely to do good, write in ink, earn your title and follow the wind. We then discussed the evolution of folklore, a broad topic, but reflected on how it impacts us as individuals. We reminisced on the stories we were told when we were children, and the qualities they instilled in us. We closed the week talking about the Dali Lama and his reincarnations, and the legend of the Buddha. We explored the religion of kindness, and the path to end human suffering.

And I will conclude our seventh ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…we have more control of our lives, and our capacity to find fulfillment, than we realize. From chivalry and the Hippocratic Oath we learned we can create a code that becomes the best of us. From the Greek myths and folklore we were inspired to embody the best values within us. And from the Dali Lama and Buddha, we learned that our capacity for kindness, to impact others and ourselves positively, is endless. Perhaps this is a fitting place to end this week, for next week, we will explore the frontiers of love.

Enlightenment

Week 7 - Post 47Let’s explore the journey of a teacher who lived near eastern India during the 5th century BC…Siddhartha Gautama. Historians have argued exactly where and when he was born, but the impact of his lessons is undisputed. It was known he was born a prince and his teachings are meant to help people find a path to fulfillment.

Siddhartha Gautama was the Buddha, or “the enlightened one.”

When he was a child, his father shielded him from all religious influences and knowledge of anguish. He wished Siddhartha to become a “great king,” providing him with every material desire to prepare him for the throne. At the age of 29 Siddhartha left the palace and saw a decaying corpse for the first time. He also saw an aged man, and a diseased man. He wondered why people grew old and became sick. He wondered why people suffered. And he wondered how he could enjoy his luxuries when this existed. He then saw a man who gave up all earthly possessions to live a life of meditation…to find a life without suffering. Siddhartha decided to follow that path.

He left his life behind the palace walls and set into the world to learn from wise teachers of a life without suffering. But no one knew. He deprived himself of all pleasures as he was taught a lifestyle of decadence and greed caused suffering. He achieved unfathomable levels of meditative consciousness but still could not find the answer. Legend has it that Siddhartha had collapsed in a lake from exhaustion while attempting to extend his meditation practices through self-mortification. He would have drowned if not saved by a village girl. This was when he realized “the middle path” and that the extremes of indulgence or depravity will cause suffering.

Shortly after, he sat beneath a Bodhi tree for over 40 days in meditation. He remerged into this world enlighten with the knowledge of what caused suffering, and how to stop it. He had achieved Nirvana, a “perfect peace of mind” that is not afflicted by greed, hate and ignorance. In this state a person does not have an identity, as there are no boundaries between one and others. And he discovered the “Four Noble Truths,” the way to end suffering, which is…
1. All people suffer, and we must acceptance it.
2. We cause our suffering by our ignorance, and our desire for what we want most.
3. To end suffering we must live peacefully.
4. To live without suffering, or to walk the “Noble Eightfold Path” we must have the right “view, thought, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.”

This path inspires us to see the world through the eyes of compassion, to be aware that we become what we think, to speak kindly and with respect to one and other, to act consistently regardless of how we are treated, to not hurt others, to do our best at all times and to not waste our best on hurting others, to be conscious of the impacts of our actions, and, to focus on one thing at a time.

The legend of Buddha grew as he spread his teachings. He allowed all into his fold, from the pious to the criminal, for all of us is capable of redemption. Sometimes when questioned on the secrets of the universe and life after death, he remained silent, without answering. Scholars argued this was yet another lesson the Buddha was teaching…that experience alone could answer such profound questions.

While the Buddha was walking the streets of a city spreading his message, a jealous monk tried to hurt him by sending a rampaging elephant into his path. As the raging elephant approached, Buddha’s kindness tamed the animal. The lesson of this tale is “kindness affects everyone.” And, in the Buddha’s words… “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

Religion of Kindness

Week 7 - Post 46“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

This can only be a glimpse of the Dalia Lama’s spiritual influence, and can only begin to recount the extraordinary legends of his lineage, for the history behind the lore has created a ripple effect across the world. If you are interested in our discussion, I strongly encourage you to seek his books on the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism.

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

The Dali Lama, one of the world’s most renowned spiritual figures, is believed to be the rebirths of “Avalokitesvara,” the embodiment of compassion, according to Buddhism. The name loosely translates to “ocean mentor” or “ocean guru.” The first Dali Lama was Gendun Drup, born in 1391, although he would not be bestowed with that mantle until the third of his line. Gendun Drup was born in a cattle pen in Tibet. His parents were unable to provide for him and gave his care to his uncle, a Buddhist monk. With him he received vast exposure to spirituality and education. He excelled in his studies and achieved monkhood, to later found a school, and later lead it. Eventually he became the Abbot of one of the greatest monasteries of the region. When he passed away, it was written that he did so “in a blaze of glory, having attained Buddhahood,” which was a state of “perfect enlightenment,” and one of the four “sublime states” a person can attain.

“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.”

Gunden Gyatso, the second Dali Lama, proclaimed his former life as Gendun Drup at the age of three. When asked to be “taken home” he spoke in verses no child could possibly know, and knew the names of his past life’s closest disciples. He was eventually recognized as Gendun Drup reborn, and taken in for schooling. As he grew in popularity, he embarked on pilgrimages to spread his teachings, built schools, and eventually became an Abbot. As Abbot, he built Tibet’s largest monastery. He passed away in 1542, and the third reincarnation, Sonam Gyatso, was given the mantle of Dali Lama by the Mongolian King in 1578. From then on the linage would be known as such.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dali Lama, born in 1935, is the 14th reincarnation. Although there are 14 recognized rebirths of the Dali Lama, it is suggested there are more…as many as seventy others who have been rebirthed as “Avalokitesvara.” Among these past lives were kings and emperors, noblemen, gurus and sages. The first of all is arguably tracked back to the time of the original Buddha.

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

The Dali Lama teaches “commitments,” that we are all human beings, are all the same, and we are all traveling on our own journeys. He teaches we must respect the human values of “compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline.” He also teaches we want the same things that, “we all want happiness and do not want suffering.” He also teaches several religions are necessary, since when a world community becomes so large, “several truths,” or multiple ways to see the same world because of how diverse we are, is essential. He also teaches despite fundamental differences amongst religions, all of them “have the same potential to create good human beings” by respecting our differences, and our traditions. And “truth” is only important to a person for their sake. We have no right to project our views onto others. Lastly, and profoundly, he teaches a “culture of peace and non-violence.” This culture is not defined by a religion, or a physical location, or an affiliation, but a way of being…kindness.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Stories We Were Told

Week 7 - Post 45Do you remember the stories you were told when you where a child? Do you remember the kingdoms and brave heroes? Do you remember the talking animals and curious children and mysterious wonders? These stories challenged our imagination, forced us to see the world through different eyes and gave us a lesson. We closed yesterday with “The Zephyr and the Dandelion,” a fable that shared a few vows to live kindly from Moral Vignette. Fables are a type of folklore, which is today’s topic of exploration.

Every culture has its own indelible way to share its history and customs and values, through oral storytelling, songs, narrative art and literature. These messages are passed down from generation to generation, all too often by unknown authors. Folklore is a living entity that represents a way of being for a group of people…for those from the same region, or shares the same beliefs…to grow with each retelling.

Folktales are a common type of folklore. They focus on a characteristic, such as gallantry or curiosity or justice, in order to inspire that behavior in their audience. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, also known as the Brothers Grimm, were collectors, writers and publishers of German folktales. Many of the stories that we cherish today have been reimagined from their collection. They are known for over two-hundred tales, but their most well-known are “Snow White,” “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” These stories foster wonder of the conflict between good verses evil, challenge us to not fear the unknown and teach us courage is rewarded. These stories are prevalent across every culture, from the Buddhist tales of India, to African lore, and they can enrich us all.

Fables are a simplistic folklore, usually including animals with human qualities to teach a lesson, such as tolerance or empathy or patience. A Greek slave during fifth century BC, named Aesop, is accredited for the first fables. These include the “Lion and the Mouse” that teaches that all have a purpose, “The Tortoise and the Hare” that teaches persistence prevails, and “The Wind and the Sun” that teaches great force is not needed for great change. Buddhist and Hindu fables have also influenced these retellings.

There are also fairy tales that tell of fantastical creatures, and take place in make-believe worlds, where the protagonist faces great strife to overcome evil. In seventeenth century France this subgenre became popularized with the beginning, “once upon a time….” Tall tales use hyperbole with larger than life characters. The American “Wild West” introduced many tall tales that had cowboys physically wrestling the forces of nature, and impossible gun-slinging shootouts between sheriffs and bandits. And also, Greek legends and myths are a folklore that explains the universe’s origins and depicts historical records through heroic deeds.

These folktales, fables, fairy tales, tall tales, myth and legends are like a photograph, a snapshot in time, and through storytelling, depicts how a person may have lived, from that moment in history, embodying the ways of thinking from that culture. It allows us to imagine what life could have been like during the initial telling, as many of them follow the lives of ordinary people, using the backdrop of the “everyday” to teach a lesson.

Folklore is a way of kindness, as it allows us to reflect on the thoughts and lessons of people who came long before us, who may have faced similar hardships as we do today. And they answered them with their most important values. We can benefit from these tales, by learning from these values to become, hopefully, better versions of ourselves.

Think about what you learned from the stories when you were young. How have those lessons changed who you are today? Have they inspired your creativity, fueled your ambition, and strengthened a virtue that has allowed you to succeed? Respect the personal growth behind the stories you are told, for it is a way of being kind.

Oath Makers

Week 7 - Post 44The Hippocratic Oath is a series of vows physicians take before they can come into practice. It originated from Greek medical texts, and by the works of Hippocrates of Kos, the “father of western medicine,” who lived around 300BC. He also founded the first school for medicine that allowed the science to emerge as its own discipline from ritualistic practices. The oath originally referred to healing gods and set guidelines to behave ethically. But it evolved over the centuries, and its modern version was written in 1964. To explore only a few tenants of the oath…

• I will honor the knowledge of others, and share it freely as if it was my own.
• I will not be afraid to say I do not know something.
• I do not treat illnesses, I treat human beings and prevention supersedes a cure.
• Medicine is both an art and science that requires a human touch.
• I will remember that I am part of human society, with a “special obligation” to help “my fellow human beings” and not part of an elite profession.
• I will be humbled by the power I have to help others…I will not play God.

What do you see when you read these vows? Within them are values of humility and respect. You see the knowledge of medicine is an obligation, not a position of power, to help others in need. There is an innate “give and take” between the physician who improves upon her skills, and the victim who benefits from her aid. And there is a sincere, authentic mindfulness to “do good.”

What does “do good” mean to you?

There is one phrase many believe to be part of the Hippocratic Oath that is never stated within it: Do No Harm.

Do no harm means a person must have a conscious understanding of her intent, and the impact of that intent, before acting. It means sometimes it may be better to do nothing when facing a problem, as attempting to fix it may make things worse. And it possesses an innate empathy, since all of us, as humans, are capable of hurt.

Do you find it odd there is no Hippocratic Oath for all professions that help others in perilous situations? True, there are other “similar” oaths but they vary from the firefighter, to the policeman, to the soldier. This also applies to professions that help people in high-risk emotional or financial threats…such as the lawyer, or the banker, or the businessman or the politician. And when you think about these high-risk threats, such as a burning building or a bankruptcy, they seem larger than life, that needs a larger than life hero. They must all be bound by an oath.

Remember when we discussed the ordinary man in the ordinary scenario…the ordinary hero? “Do no harm” should not only apply to every help-related profession, but to everyone. I challenge you to “do no harm” in an ordinary, today.

And for my oath…I also challenge you to click the “purpose” link on the Moral Vignette menu bar. On that page I share a few of my vows, written as a fable, called “The Zephyr and the Dandelion.” Enjoy.

Gods and Man

Week 7 - Post 43The legend of the Groundhog on this day predicts if winter will last another six weeks. It seems we will have a few more weeks of this winter of kindness to experience, learn and reflect on its lessons…and its legends. What better place to continue than Ancient Greece, renown for its legends. The first recordings dated as early as 750 BC, and have been grouped into three “ages.”

First, in the age of the gods, life’s origins are explained. The poet Hesiod was acclaimed for his “Theogony” where Chaos was “a yawning nothingness” that bore the Earth, and her siblings, Love, the Abyss, and Darkness. The Earth then gave birth to the Sky and from their union created the first titans…six male and six female. Hesiod’s “Works and Days,” is best known for its stories of Prometheus and Pandora, as an analogy for the pain of living a human life. Prometheus was a trickster titan who challenged Zeus, the king of gods, by stealing fire for the sake of mankind from the gods. Prometheus’ punishment was eternal torment by being eaten alive by an eagle only to have his health restored at night to endure the same torture the next day. To punish mankind Zeus sent Pandora, known as the “all-gift” and the first human woman created by the gods. She possessed a jar, and in it, diseases, plights, evils, vices and human tragedy poured onto the world. However, she shut the lid before hope was released. To the ancient Greeks, hope was the most disastrous “ailments” mankind could have, as hope is a false belief when compared to all-powerful gods. These stories tried to answer, “why is there evil?”

Next, the age of gods and man was a period when mortals and immortals mingled freely. In Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” many of these tales had one of two themes: love or retribution. Tales of love usually involved incest, or the god’s savagery imposing their will on humans. Tales of retribution were about angering the gods, in attempt to explain man’s control of powerful elements, such as fire, domesticated animals and the written word.

Finally, in the age of heroes, gods no longer directly influenced man’s destiny. The stories of Heracles were the dawn of this period. He was a man thought to be half god and known for his legendary feats. The most renowned figure in Greece Literature was the blind poet Homer, who was called the “first teacher” and the “leader of the Greek culture.” Among his work was the Iliad, which told the story of the Trojan War that was ignited by Paris, the prince of Troy, when he took Helen from the king of Sparta on their wedding night. Following that epic was the Odyssey, which told the story of Odysseus, one of the Greek leaders in the Trojan War, and his ten-year journey home. The playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote tragedies about the characters from these legends…namely Agamemnon, brother to the king of Sparta, who launched the campaign against Troy, and the treacherous fate that awaited him when he returned home. Although the age of gods did excite curiosity of our origins, the age of heroes offered history a much greater prize. It was the first recordings of human events.

These stories glorified divine beings and super-human heroes to explain larger than life questions, such as man’s origins, why we follow religious rituals, or why we behave the way we do in political or social settings. They all assumed we were part of something greater than ourselves. It captivated our sense of wonder, and transformed the fears and unknowns of our small world into legends fueled by our creativity and imagination.

When we try to view these legends through the lens of kindness, it may be difficult to see despite the ruthlessness, tragedy and immortal strife. However, if you look at the lessons we can learn, we may see something greater than tragedy…that heroism should be celebrated, to honor our heritage, respect what we cannot control, and power left unchecked will be abused. But most of all, these stories created one of the first records of man having a sense of enlightened purpose.

Perhaps hope was not left in Pandora’s jar after all.

Is Chivalry Dead

Week 7 - Post 42It’s a phrase we utter when we question common decency of how men treat women. But I believe it is more than that. Let’s take a look at its origins to understand why, and go back to twelfth century Europe. Chivalry was a code of conduct for noblemen during that period. We forget how romanticized this code was, as “knighthood” was bestowed only on the country’s elite. Great wealth was needed to keep a warhorse and heavy arms, for “chivalry” loosely translates to “horse soldiery.”

This code of conduct had three pillars: religion, or a measure of a knight’s piety, military, or a measure of his standing as a warrior, and social, or his “courtesy” in his interaction with other noblemen and lords.

Chivalry evolved from “noble habitus” which influenced how military elite would conduct themselves during wartime. Loyalty and forbearance were essential values that drove unity and fidelity in heated conflict. It demanded generosity for those who could not help themselves, to protect a nobleman’s resources. To follow these virtues would achieve honor, and to lose honor was a grave disgrace.

Leon Gautier, a French historian, attempted to summarize chivalry in “ten commandments.” Half focused on a knight’s dedication to church and country. The others focused on social commandments, namely…

1. Respect all weaknesses and protect them from harm
2. Stand up to your enemy
3. Do as you say at all costs
4. Be generous with what you have
5. Do good…as a “champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.”

Literature has launched chivalry into our grandiose notions held today, embodied by epic stories such as King Arthur and Don Quixote. In these stories “knightly duties” drove the protagonist’s behavior…duties to God, to his fellow man, and…to women. How men should treat women is the most popular aspect of chivalry, where a man should “serve” a lady, and treat her with tenderness and courteousness.

Chivalry teaches us to treat all people with respect, and consider their wants and desires equal to our own. And in romance, consider this is no longer a time of barbarism, and a woman can aspire to anything she desires. Gender roles exist, but a man can be dominant or submissive, just as a woman can be either. The ability to be vulnerable, to show sensitivity and to allow a person to perceive your emotions is not a counter to the chivalric code…to have the will to purposely, with confidence, show such qualities is a strength.

And in exploring these chivalric gender roles, I do my best to follow some guidelines, such as…

1. Doing anything is worth doing right. If a man wishes to spend time to get to know a woman, do not create a “non-committal” scenario by inviting her to “coffee” or “drinks.” If you think you can have affection for someone take her to dinner, and treat her to the experience and for the privilege of her company.
2. Offer to open doors, pull out chairs for her to sit, walk on the outside of the street and stand when she enters and leaves the room. Remember you are looking for a partner…respect the give and take.
3. Do not play games. Be direct and forthcoming with your desires. Especially when communicating, do not give yourself a timeline to reach out or respond. Acknowledge boundaries but if you want to speak, contact with intent.
4. Respect yourself, and use that as strength to extend respect to your partner. You are capable of mistakes, just as much as she can be. Own them and use your judgment to weigh if those mistakes compromise the respect you demand for yourself. Do not be fickle with forgiveness.

These are not steadfast “rules” but I challenge you to think of your personal “code of chivalric conduct.” Consider the respect for yourself, what you show others, and expect to receive in return. If you live by those rules, you may see that chivalry is not dead after all.