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Author: Storyteller

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.

Our Sixth Ritual of Kindness

PrintSo, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we started with a simple concept…how can we find happiness every day? We focused on how to make the most of our time, such as in our jobs or careers. I wrote…

…Remember a sense of purpose is not the same as a sense of self. People sometimes feel powerless in their jobs or careers because they are not fulfilled…we can have the most profound impacts in the simplest of ways…do not lose ourselves in the belief that what we do has to have meaning to the world…it only has to have meaning to ourselves…The ordinary job should not be loathed. The ordinary job should be celebrated because we find meaning in it.

We explored our attitudes while we are studying our trades, and the purpose of education is not to learn, but to prepare for the road ahead. Knowledge is a tool to help us achieve our desires, and the ability to manage challenges, in our professional or personal affairs, is the true lesson we learn as students. I also wrote…

We must all take accountability to run our lives as we would run our profession. We must all become the leaders of our own lives. The opinion you should value most in any room should be yours.

We then discussed the values of leadership. Kind leaders are adaptable leaders, agile in their ability to respond and to empathize with a challenge to bring about the best outcome. Cutthroat leaders who play zero-sum games are nothing but tyrants who are… “one revolution away from being overthrown.”

We paid tribute to the thirtieth anniversary of the Challenger tragedy, and reflected on President Ronald Reagan’s words. His words exemplified kind leadership. And then we concluded the week by learning about two kind leaders, one real, one fictional, but both had profound impacts on our lives…the woman who created the motherboard, and the captain who charted the boundaries of our imagination…Patty McHugh and William Shatner.

And I will conclude our sixth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…we should all aim to live for ourselves, not others, and uphold the values that are important to us, no matter what they may be. If we have the privilege to enable others to be empowered on their journeys by becoming leaders we must do so without ego, without ulterior motives, without zero-sum games to in order to claw to maintain a false sense of “power.” And may we always be leaders to ourselves first, and find happiness every day.

Boldly Go

PrintThe unknown has always captivated me…to explore places beyond our wildest dreams. This was fueled by many places…by imagination, by books of pioneers embarking on epic journeys, but also by my upbringing, and passed on by my parents. My father, especially, introduced me to several television shows.

For these reasons Star Trek was appealing. Besides the fantasy of traveling through space to explore impossible civilizations, the show also challenged us as a society. The pilot first aired in 1966, during the cold war, and focused on a diverse, elite multi-national crew working in tandem, without barriers. Such a concept was impossibly foreign at the time. It taught us universal human values…that diversity is essential, tolerance must be paramount, human will is unlimited, curiosity is the fuel to all great leaps, hope is undying and above all, hold all life in the highest regard.

The leadership of Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, embodied these values. In the series he drew from the crew’s strengths, allowing the whole to become greater than the sum of the parts. He did not fear risks, and knew the consequences of not taking daring leaps. But most of all, he was an eternal optimist who dared to believe there is no such thing as a no-win scenario.

Fast forward to present day…or in the past…from the Star Trek series. My father, a private investigator, was invited to meet William Shatner. Shatner was in town for a convention, and was able to share a part of an afternoon with us. I was fortunate to be asked to join. And since it was my father’s childhood hero, I wanted to learn about the man who was a science-fiction icon and legend.

I was put in awe by what transpired. Shortly after meeting, the two spoke about their “war stories.” William shared his experiences with mutual friends on their globetrotting, non-profit endeavors, and his environmental interests. My father shared exploits from his days working in the government, the high-profile cases, and the stings he lead to catch the “bad guys.” They also talked about their health, as men of that age do, humorously about their hips and knees and various joints.

There was a sincere interest in both parties, and a respect for the conversation to last one story longer, despite us losing track of time. Then William extended me the same courtesy, and asked me about my profession, my childhood, and what it was like to be raised by my father.

There was an opportunity to be treated like a star-struck fan. To answer questions blankly and to not reciprocate interest in the stories we shared. But this did not happen. It was a human experience, despite the thousands of admirers who met him earlier that morning, and the thousands more who would meet him later on his trip. He took a moment for himself, and for two new acquaintances, amidst the chaos of the day. Captain Kirk may have been a kind leader, but the actor who played him is a kind man, because his curiosity served his values of wonder.

They say never meet your heroes, for the image we paint of them usually pails in comparison to the reality of who they are. I was privileged to not experience that.

Mother of the Motherboard

PrintMy “day job” is an IT professional at a prominent software company. Every day I hope to find a creative way to solve a challenge, or to understand a new perspective…these are in abundance in the technical field. In these pursuits I have been fortunate to experience epiphanies that have blossomed my career. I have also been privileged to see the same from colleagues. You can learn something about yourself when you see others grow around you.

I attend local seminars to extend my understanding of other viewpoints. One afternoon I was invited to join a woman’s technology user group. The technology industry is primarily male dominated, and the group’s charter is to encourage and inspire women to thrive in the field. As a man, I can never walk a mile in these woman’s shoes. However maybe I can learn from their experiences and foster their message. That evening I was honored to listen to Patty McHugh.

Have you heard of her?

She is a wise woman, and it is my pleasure to share some of her experiences, for it is the way of kindness. She also happens to be a formidable, business savvy and successful technology leader.

Patty McHugh is the “mother of the motherboard,” a name bestowed upon her nearly 20 years after one of her many career accomplishments. Her invention is known today as the “motherboard,” a component of a computer that orchestrates all of its hardware. She was the only woman in a team of twelve who worked for IBM and developed among the first personal computers in 1981. The device revolutionized the industry, but as is standard in the field, her company owned the intellectual property. This, however, launched her career into other exciting avenues, and allowed her to be at the forefront of decisions that guided the course of technology…including the eventual evolution of personal laptops.

During the talk, she shared with the audience a moment of adversity. Her manager at the time was concerned with her long hours, which was custom in her field as an entry-level engineer, and feared she would not make a suitable wife. This was the late 1970’s and the workforce lacked most of the progressiveness …optimistically…we have today. However when reflecting on the experience her tenacity was unmatched, for she was empathetic towards the man who was in the position to stall, or even a block, her growing career.

“He meant well,” she said, “for he knew nothing else.” But of course this is not where the chapter ends, for this would be no obstacle for her. Knowing she would never have “a fair shake” with the manager, she navigated to find a new team and a new manager. She had other experiences to share, but the common theme…

Make the decisions that are right for you and your loved ones, do not live by any standards but your own.

…such is the way of being kind and is fundamental to loving yourself. If you do not embrace the values that are right for you, you will have great difficulty, if not make it impossible, to bring value to others. Only you can know your journey…where you have been…where you are…and where you want to go. Your journey has a purpose, and you must act consistent with that purpose. This decisiveness had profound impacts on Patty McHugh’s life, both professionally and personally. And this was magnified by her integrity…by being consistent with her actions by never dwelling on decisions after they are made.

“What was the point, after all,” she said. “It was in the past. We can only go one direction, forward.” Her awareness of the moment, and presence of mind is something to learn from.

She closed the seminar by simply stating…

“Leave a clean wake.”

As a boating enthusiast, and having owned several sailboats, she was influenced by harbor culture. Never leave something worse than you found it, for you won’t be asked to return, and you never know when the next storm may be and you will depend on the safety of a foreign port. To understand the purpose of your journey, and to hold it dearly…to be mindful of the journey of others…to live so fiercely to better yourself and your surroundings…it is the way of being kind.

Tribute to Challenger

PrintToday is a solemn day. Thirty years ago was the tragedy of the space shuttle Challenger. It shocked the nation, and the world, for it was the first time astronauts, American lives, were lost in flight, as we dared to explore beyond the boundaries of our planet.

It was a much different time in the 1970’s, as it was during the thick of the cold war. There was global tension and an uncertainty that surrounded all major endeavors. We could have withdrawn into a less vulnerable, more protective position on an expensive and adversarial undertaking after such a horrific event. But we did not.

This is not to remind ourselves of the adversity we faced thirty years ago, but how we answered it. It was the same day Ronald Reagan was to speak to the nation in the State of the Union address. He opened his speech, deliberately, directly, with the events that have unfolded earlier, and called for “mourning and remembering.”

But his simple message to the nation was more than just that. His words were designed like an ointment to a wound, a blanket in the cold, and a hand to pull us upright again. When he spoke about such hardship, in a way the world has never seen before, he did so to more than our nation.

He first spoke to the fallen, bold pioneers. He shared their ultimate sacrifice in sadness of our loss for them, and celebrated their spirit by how they said, “give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” And that “they had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths.” He named them specifically, and gave tribute to their commitment to fulfill “their jobs brilliantly.”

He next spoke to the families who lost their loved ones, never daring to burden the weight of their pain. He then spoke to a group rarely addressed in such a forum…school children. The launch was one of the first widespread, televised events for NASA, specifically tuned in by schools. Tens of thousands of children witnessed the disaster live. He spoke to them, as they are, not yet adults, by saying, “I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery… The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”

Then he praised NASA’s mission, and offered encouraging words to stay the course. “We’ll continue our quest in space…Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue…I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA…and tell them: ‘Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.’”

He also reminded us of what makes us Americans. Our liberties and freedoms that celebrate the achievements that come from good, and honor the lessons learned by pain. “We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.”

This simple yet profound message accomplished its aim without patronization, and without alienating a single group, despite how diverse they were. Nor was there an element of “quit” or scrutiny to question our purpose or a wagging finger of blame.

A kind leader delivered this address. He used his words to unite a troubled nation, and not divide them. Such character should not be soon forgotten, just as he honored the fallen, bold pioneers in his closing words…“We will never forget them…as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

Kind Leadership

PrintYesterday we discussed everyday happiness, and celebrating what we do and how we do it. We spend most of our daily efforts on our jobs and careers, and finding the fruit of our efforts rewarding is critical to that celebration. I wrote:

We must all take accountability to run our lives as we would run our profession. We must all become the leaders of our own lives. The opinion you should value most in any room should be yours.

There are many types of leaders, and it takes all types to make a change. You do not need to be a CEO, or a Vice President to impact the world, only to question for a better way when there is reason to do so. We are all intelligent, rational people capable of wondrous curiosity…all we have to do is live up to that expectation.

There are many studies on leader archetypes…templates for agile minds to create the most benefit. We must remember these “types” of leaders are only guides, and are not “the way.” We must wear many hats when attempting to drive change.

First, there is the Mastermind who can be a chess master or an inventor. She can move the team towards a vision like pieces on a board. She can also be an innovator to revolutionize a way of doing something, making a complex problem seem simple.

Next there is the Champion who is a guardian of talent or assets. She can build people around her and harness their strengths despite their weaknesses. She sees across her team and understands how to make all counterparts run smoothly.

The Negotiator is a superior communicator or dealmaker. She understands how to apply leverage to influence support for her cause. She understands her competition, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and flourishes at verbal combat.

Finally, the Architect is a crafter of destruction or construction. She is blessed with the entrepreneurial spirit and can grow a team from acorn to oak. She can also look at something dysfunctional and broken, tear it apart to make it better than before.

Do not limit yourself and assume you fit only within one “leadership archetype.” These “types” are a tool to assess, not determine, someone’s behavior. All leaders possess similar qualities: they are critical thinkers, adaptable in the face of scarcity and open minded to admit when they are wrong.

Consider the leaders you know. What “checkboxes” do they fill? Do they “stick to what they know” or are they capable of change? Do they show respect, integrity, humility and conviction? How do they answer a challenge, and respond to adversity? Do they make their team stronger or weaker? How do they handle defeat?

For these to have positive responses, a leader must behave ethically. A leader must be mindful of how she impacts her team, and make her team better with every challenge. These are all attributes of a kind leader. Now, ask yourself, is a kind leader a good leader? We often confuse what is cutthroat, what is perceived as dog-eat-dog, that we must behave cruelly to lead…but these behaviors do not bring about a great leader. These behaviors bring about tyrants, and all tyrants are but one revolution away from being overthrown.

I challenge you to reflect on what you see on the news, as we are in the middle of the great race for the presidency of the United States of America. We will not talk politics, but will consider the behaviors of our leaders. What do we see of our leaders, and what are we tolerating? How often do the candidates bash their opponents to make themselves appear more worthy? How often do they compare track records and build barriers between viewpoints when we are all Americans? How often do you see an “us verses them” mentality, where “if you are not with us, you are against us?”

But “that’s politics” some say. No, it is a zero-sum game that can have us lose sight of the real meaning of a campaign. Be mindful of not just what a candidate stands for, but how they behave, for that philosophy will impact their leadership.

May you lead kindly, and demand the same from our leaders who represent us.

Lessons of the Road

PrintPeople are profoundly curious. We innately wonder to expand our minds. Some of us thirst for it, while others let it happen naturally. We are all constantly being taught, whether it is by a teacher in a classroom, or by life’s events unfolding around us. And how do we respond to our teachers? It is up to us to refuse or embrace these lessons and do something meaningful with them. Sometimes the most impactful lessons are the ones we did not realize we were being taught.

Yesterday I wrote…you worked through your youth to strengthen a talent that formed into a trade so one day you can earn money and become financially independent.

Remember, you took conscious steps to become whatever you are, professionally. High school, college, trade school, internships, seminars…are more than just building blocks to get you where you want to go. And the “score” at the end of each milestone…your grade point average, your class percentile, your honor roll…may be validating, but is not what really matters as you start the next chapter of your story.

Academic education is not the most important thing you learn in school, or any formal teaching. Knowledge is only a tool to use for your future pursuits. The most important thing you learn in school is adaptability against adversity. It is how we deal with difficulties to overcome challenges. It is developing a thickness of resolve and perseverance. It is how we deflect the little annoyances, handle social anxiety, wrestle self-doubt or harness the discipline to prevent detrimental temptation.

Life after school only gets harder, and the learning never truly ends. The exams we take come upon us every day, whether we plan for it or not. The greatest challenges do not come in the classroom. And a student’s hardest times are most likely ahead, in face of great loss, profound fear, or uncontrollable powerlessness.

Do you find this daunting? Or empowering?

Do not worry about the trials ahead of you. Do not worry about how you may not be prepared, because in most cases we never are truly ready for what comes next…we learn the most as we go. Be worried if you choose to stop learning, choose to ignore the lessons being taught, or are blind to who our teachers may be. Sometimes they are people who do things poorly, so we can see how not to behave. It is paramount we all invest in ourselves, to treat ourselves kindly, either by focusing on our emotional, physical, or mental needs.

Be mindful in this lesson. We can be unkind to ourselves and not know it. We do this in so many ways, and have grown accustom to these habits, because that is the way we have always done things. Consider the last time you knew you were not going to be the best at something, such as running a race you couldn’t win. What did you do? Coast the whole way or try your hardest? Or when something out of your control impacted your ability to perform, such as a lazy team member on a project. How did you present your results to your professor, and how did you treat your fellow student?

Giving excuses, blaming others or quitting are all ways we ignore life’s lessons. We turn away the opportunities to become better critical thinkers, and rationally problem solve the adversity we face. We become consumed with ego-driven behavior and let the worst of us conquer the best of us, and prevent the learning to become our better selves.

We must all take accountability to run our lives as we would run our profession. We must all become the leaders of our own lives. The opinion you should value most in any room should be yours. The rest is leveraging the experiences of others, and trusting the lessons they have to teach.

To master these things are the true lessons of the road.

Happiness Every Day

PrintEveryday happiness. What little, or big things will make you happy, today? It can be as simple as a soothing cup of coffee in the morning, seeing your child laugh, or embracing a loved one.

But, why does this matter? Why can’t we bulldoze through he day, regardless of the mood we are in, just as long as we get to where we need to go? You certainly can, but I doubt you would do so kindly. Because if you admit your mood is sour as you hurry along, you would hardly be kind to yourself.

Consider the “one thing” we do that consumes most of our time and effort. For us to find happiness, every day, doing this “one thing” should make us the happiest. If not, then we should at least enjoy it. And if not, then at least it should not contribute to undue stress or frustration.

For most of us, this “one thing” is a job or our careers.

Years ago, when I was attending university, my business professor spoke candidly to her class. Sitting in the escalating seats of the lecture hall were young adults, immersed in studies to lead them to their careers. They, and I, had no idea what it was like to “go to work” outside of our hourly service or delivery jobs. She looked at her class and mused about our “future careers” and how some people would only view their jobs as a means to an end, and would likely not find happiness doing it. These words felt alien to me.

Nearly a decade later, I was at a weekend getaway, similar to a summer camp, but for adults. The event had the typical activities…water sports, mountain climbing, archery, campfires, and talent shows…but with the adult mix of co-ed sleep facilities and alcohol. There was only one rule: you cannot ask your new friends what they did for a living. The rule was a trick to maximize the vacation, and enhance the experience. And it worked. It felt like the kind of vacation we took when we attended university.

Why do we trick ourselves into thinking we need an escape from what we do?

Let’s take this further…what type of worker are you? Do you work to make due? Are you driven by a work ethic, or because your job excites you? Do you work to award yourself with an escape? And, more importantly: do you like or dislike what you do? Consider this, you worked through your youth to strengthen a talent that formed into a trade so one day you can earn money and become financially independent. What led you to that pursuit? Did you fall into it? Or did you chase after it? When you wake up Monday morning, what is your first thought? Delight or dread?

You have no excuse to not love what you do. Consider the energy you carry when you do not want to be someplace, or do something. It impacts your behavior, and how you treat those around you. Perhaps you feel your career is at a dead end. Perhaps you feel you are a replicable cog part of a greater corporate machine. Perhaps you feel your work doesn’t help the world be a better place.

When we feel this way remember a sense of purpose is not the same as a sense of self. People sometimes feel powerless in their jobs or careers because they are not fulfilled, because it feels there is no meaning in what we do. We can have the most profound impacts in the simplest of ways…we do not need to invent a device that will revolutionize the world. Sometimes it only takes helping a single person to smile. Do not lose ourselves in the belief that what we do has to have meaning to the world…it only has to have meaning to ourselves.

In my novel, Storyteller’s Rose, when the main character, the Vagabond, questioned his purpose, his mentor, the Storyteller, said: “Aye, but man can live for more than one purpose. There are many purposes: happiness, achievement, truth, love, and most importantly, life. You may find your purpose has been with you all along.”

We should not fool ourselves that it is normal to dislike what we do. The ordinary job should not be loathed. The ordinary job should be celebrated because we find meaning in it. May you have happiness every single day, and find happiness in the everyday activities of what you do.

Our Fifth Ritual of Kindness

PrintSo, how has kindness inspired us this week? We talked about morality and ethics as one of the three pillars in kindness. We explored the origins of morality, which dares to answer the question: “how ought we live?” We viewed morality in terms of virtue, rationalism, irrationalism and religion. We asked ourselves if we are hardwired by consequences, and pondered our fundamental purpose.

We explored how social emotions evolved when “survival of the fitness” no longer depended on the individual, but a community. We looked at prevailing virtues across civilizations that included knowledge, bravery, fairness, and self-control…but also humanity, namely virtues of love, social consciousness, and, kindness. We looked at kindness exhibited by animals, and how the common traits of mammals surviving in groups emoted similar, but primitive “social emotions.” And we looked at morality as it related to non-humans, with programs designed to be amoral, and the ethical ramifications.

We then blurred ethical lines and explored Kant, utilitarian and virtue views when lying. We also applied some of those ethical perspectives to a cruel game…the zero-sum game, which shed only the briefest of light into cruelty.

And I will conclude our fifth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…ethics and morality is only a framework meant as an attempt to explain “right” and “wrong” behavior. What is ethical today may be condoned in a thousand years. And was ethical a thousand years ago is likely considered barbaric today. Do not follow social rules, code of conducts or any authority for that matter, for the sake of following because it was written into law. Follow rules, conducts and authority because you understand the consequences of following, and understand the consequences of disobeying. Ultimately we are rational beings, and have the power of free choice. Respect your capacity for tremendous reason, and never take it for granted.

My take? This framework of “right” and “wrong” is designed to help us be the best version of ourselves. Sometimes that means we must listen to the lessons of others, and sometimes it means experiencing things on our own. So, what is the best version of ourselves?

Mankind is meant to be kind.

Zero-Sum Game

PrintEthics is one of the three major pillars of kindness. 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.

We will continue to explore these pillars in in the weeks to come. We must also explore cruelty as a contrast to kindness to understand how we can stray from it. Sometimes we act cruelly, and not know it, just as we act kindly and not be a completely kind person. We can do this out of ignorance, self-preservation, or to cope, when we focus on the feelings we have in the moment that mutes everything else. Sometimes we even do it as a game.

Have you ever played a cruel game? Perhaps you didn’t know you were playing. Earlier I wrote…

[The zero-sum-game] operates under the assumption that resources between competitors are limited, and one competitor’s loss is the other’s gain. This creates a defensive “us verses them” construct, and ridged boundaries.

There are many ways to play this game. The goal is to get all the “limited resources.” It can be something physical like property or electronics or jewelry. It can be people such as their affection, or their respect, or their love. And it can be a competition, where people ruthlessly claw at points brought by the bloodlust of aggression. If players act with “sportsmanly conduct” the rules of the game will override the zero-sum game. If a player acts dishonestly, because winning is more important than integrity then he no longer plays the sport, but a zero-sum game.

A few weeks ago when we discussed villains, I wrote…

Some believe the best way to unite a group of people is by creating a common enemy. This manipulative tactic may have short-term effects to mute disharmony within a group, but when that enemy is vanquished, possibly for the wrong reasons, what remains is a dysfunctional faction, and a false hero who leads them.

Consider “utilitarian ethics” from yesterday that argued even unethical behavior might be moral if it brings about the most good. So consider when you are working with a team that doesn’t like your leadership style. Would you manipulate them to see another group as a “common enemy” and unite them behind you? This may improve team productivity, but at long term costs to team trust. Or consider applying for a promotion and you must compete with two colleagues. Do you discredit their efforts to appear worthier? Or do you perform your responsibilities at your best?

With virtue ethics, every act tries to foster possibly multiple virtues. This comes naturally when we act in kindness or goodness. This also applies to cruelty, but instead fostering virtues, we foster vices…and they corrupt.

What vice do we foster when we play cruel games?

We foster greed, and fear, and desperation. We are greedy for the “limited resources” and are unwilling to share. We are fearful of the “limited resources” because if we do not get them, we will be at a loss. We are desperate for the “limited resources” because without them we will suffer.

Why do these “limited resources” create these vices? Because we forget in ordinary circumstances there is no such thing as “limited” and we forget if we are presented with only two choices, we have the ability to create a third. If you are looking to expand an enterprise that may steamroll innocent bystanders…there can be other routes to market. If you are competing over a promotion and think you may have to compromise your values to get it…there will be other jobs. If you are playing a sport and think you need to cheat to win…there will be other games.

Remember, something can come from nothing. How else did we get here? But that is an entry for another time.

Moral Immorality

PrintCan you do right by doing wrong?

There can be no contradictions, especially in ethics. But poor behavior may support a virtuous aim. For example…your rights end where another person’s nose begins. Which means a person should never physically hurt another. But what if you are attacked, and are in danger, and need to protect yourself? What if another is in harm and you must act, forcing you to hurt another?

The ethical lines drawn by these examples are thick…if you do not defend yourself and harm another, you could die. Your actions in these extreme scenarios assume your life is more virtuous than the threatening actions cast upon you or others.

Now let’s blur these ethical lines. When is lying ethical?

When was the last time you lied and why? Perhaps it was a “white lie” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or you faced an authority that would use the information to harm someone, or you wanted to give hope to someone in a hopeless situation, or you felt deceiving someone would benefit a greater good.

Let’s explore three philosophies that may…or may not validate ethical lying.

First, ethics as rationalized by Immanuel Kant. He argued lying was always immoral because humans have the gift of being rational, in ways never observed in any other animal. This reason allows us to make our own choices…he described it as “to have the rational power of free choice.” When we deceive, we disrespect this innate ability for reason by misinforming and therefore stealing that otherwise “free choice” from another person. Kant states that lies ultimately corrupt what makes us humans, as it erodes our “moral worth.” The freedom of choice should be held in the highest regard, and our respect for that freedom should be equally matched.

Second, “utilitarian ethics” considers the consequences when we lie…by viewing it as a means to an end. It argues lying is moral when the outcome brings about the most good, and eliminates the most harm. Applying this ethic may come at a great challenge, for it demands a possible liar to consider all consequences, good and bad, independent of themselves, before acting. Arguably most people, in everyday situations, will dramatically underestimate the consequences of their actions, or couldn’t reasonably know all impacts.

Third, virtue ethics bases the “rightness” or “wrongness” of actions as they relate to virtues, such as integrity, respect, humility, conviction and so forth. Lying would be unethical as it compromises honesty. But, consider the need to lie when faced with an authority that would use the information to harm someone. Your compassion protects a possible victim. What is “right” and what is “wrong” when two virtues are in conflict? To become the best versions of ourselves we need to embrace all virtues, equally. And different situations require us to act differently. Virtue ethics asserts lying can be moral if we do so in order to become a better, not worse, version of ourselves.

I believe in everyday situations lies are immoral. Following Kant rhetoric, when we live and thrive with our friends, loved ones, or even people we may not like very much, we should embrace mutual respect because of our ability to reason. Just as we do not second guess the value of our lives in extreme scenarios, nor should we blur this line when we respect others and ourselves.

What do you think?

Amoral Programming

PrintIn the last couple of years, the European art group, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, introduced an installment called the “Random DarkNet Shopper.”

What is this work of art? It is not a sculpture sheered from wood, chipped from marble or fused with metal. It is not a painting splashed across a canvas, or a wall or any surface at all. Nor is it a collection of objects, like a soup can or a manikin, presented to emulate everyday life. No, the “Random DarkNet Shopper” is a computer program.

How can a computer program, lines of code within a machine, be art? It is art because the program’s purpose provokes emotion and makes you think. It scours the “DarkNet” to purchase random products using a $100 weekly allowance. These purchases are then delivered to the !Mediengruppe Bitnik exhibit facilities for display. To clarify, the “DarkNet” is a network of communication protocols, such as connecting your personal computer to another, or a vast network of devices designed to share files. An important aspect of the “DarkNet” is it isn’t regulated…hence the “dark” part. Any activity on this network may not be legal.

This means the “Random DarkNet Shopper” is capable of purchasing illegal items.

Would you be surprised that this work of art has bought a fake Lacoste polo shirt, a pair of Nike trainers, a baseball cap with a hidden camera, a set of firefighter master keys and a fake Louis Vuitton handbag?

But would you also be surprised that it purchased drugs and a fake passport?

This brings to question: who is responsible for this illegal activity? Switzerland police had once confiscated the program and all of its purchases, only later to release all of it, with the exception of the illegal ones, and pressed no charges. Why? Switzerland police spokesman explained:

“We decided the [drugs] that is in this presentation was safe and nobody could take it away. Bitnik never intended to sell it or consume it so we didn’t punish them.”

The intent of the program, as art, was to provoke, and provoke it did. Let’s consider what we learned about morality and how law is written by man to “protect.” The program has the ability to purchase legal and illegal items, but is not programmed explicitly for either.

Now consider a weapon, which can be used in self-defense or to assault. It can perform legal and illegal acts, just like the “Random Darknet Shopper.” The difference between a weapon and the program is a person with reason and the capacity for “social emotion” pulls the trigger of the gun. An algorithm with an artificial intelligence that does not share the same human facilities is pulling the trigger to purchase possibly illegal goods.

So, is the program moral, immoral or amoral?

We can program for immorality. We can program for morality. The “Random Darknet Shopper” is programmed for amorality, for it “decides” arbitrarily what it purchases regardless of legality. But can we program to decide consciously between the three, and for it to understand its reasoning? Humans have evolved from primitive mammals, to nomadic tribes to communally aware civilizations to develop “social emotions” and to know the difference between what is moral, immoral and amoral. This evolutionary step may be one day possible for technology, but this program does not exhibit it.

And just as you should not arrest the gun-maker when his weapon fires upon someone, the program owners are not culpable for its purchases. But my two-cents on this “Random Darknet Shopper” is it should not be firing amoral shots into the dark if it is capable of ethnically compromising acts.

What do you think?

Animal Kindness

PrintThis week we discussed how our behavior might be hardwired by consequences, and our actions may follow a risk avoidance philosophy to prevent or mute pain. I challenged this by exploring how we evolved as a people to need kindness in order to not just survive, but thrive. Let’s reinforce these ideas by exploring how animals behave kindly. Yesterday I wrote:

But mankind is no longer surviving for survival sake. We have advanced and our ability to weather the elements and compete with nature and predators is no longer dependent on an individual, or a pack or tribe. Instead we rely on a vast network of communities, cultures, and civilizations that itself, is able to evolve.

Animals do not have this vast network of “communities, cultures and civilizations,” that are an “evolutionary outcome” of “social emotions.” Yet, we have seen fundamentals of “social emotions” in nature, especially in the phenomenon of reciprocity. Animals that live in small groups in areas where food sources are unpredictable exhibit restraint when hunting or foraging. This is so that other, less successful providers of the group may feed. Why? Because there may be a time when they require that same restraint from other members of their group in the future, hence returning the favor for survival.

Consider two mice in a box. One is trapped in a cage and the other is free to roam. The mouse that is not caged has access to food, and a button that will free the mouse in the cage. The mouse in the cage does not. Can you guess what the mouse outside the cage will do, almost every time? Yes, it will free the caged mouse.

In 2009 Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, evolutionary biologists, asserted that morality as a behavior is seen in mammals living in social groups…inclusive of wolves, elephants, whales and apes…and define it as “a suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups.” These behaviors include reciprocity, working together, selflessness and empathy. In some cases the opposite but equally as meaningful behavior has been observed, namely, deception, but this is a topic we will explore in a later entry.

Now let’s rewind tens of thousands of years to when mankind were only beginning to develop primitive tools. It was a time when we were highly nomadic. In 1982 Christopher Boehm, a social anthropologist, proposed that the behaviors seen in our modern day morality evolved from how our ancestors needed to prevent quarrels and clashes in unsafe terrain. With the rise of stone weapons this was necessary to avoid needless loss to preserve the needs of the larger traveling group.

In this context, there could be merit in the argument that we are hardwired by consequences. But the consequence isn’t whether we will be successful in beating our competition and securing the limited resources based on survival of the fittest. This will only allow a short-term gain, and incrementally extend the chances for a fruitful life. The greater consequence will come if we do not share, and work together. There is a fundamental difference between survival fitness and “evolutionary” fitness. History has shown the outcome of this consequence.

Human morality, although far more complex than the pack mentality of wolves, elephants, whales and apes, is a phenomenon which inhibits excessive greed that would otherwise hinder the survival of the larger social group he or she belongs.

Think about how this can affect us on a global scale…

With this understanding, mankind is not only meant to be kind. Mankind’s very survival depended on kindness, and would not have flourished without it.

Hardwired for Kindness

PrintYesterday we discussed how we might be hardwired by consequences. This means if we face an undesirable option, we try to mitigate the challenge, do things to mute the pain, or evade what is unpleasant entirely. If we behave this way, we operate under a risk avoidance philosophy…we want to maximize the quality of life by enduring the least amount of undesirable experiences.

I will explore the risk avoidance philosophy in a later entry, but let me be clear, I am a strong proponent for having our best lives now. Relish the positive and don’t hold on to the negative. But do not forget in this “best life now” by “avoiding risk” that there is a time for everything, and we are not the only people impacted by possible pain. For example, helping someone who is mourning. It is a painful situation, and to willingly console a friend may bring you pain. But do you choose to avoid that pain by ignoring your friend? Remember the impact your actions have on others.

As I wrote from yesterday’s entry…mankind is meant to be kind. When you consider evolutionary forces, this statement may be an affront to the concept of “survival of the fittest.” That the strongest, the fastest, the smartest will claim limited resources. For those “best of the best,” this will allow a higher quality of life, longer lifespan and increased chances of reproduction. Being kind, in a world like this…a zero-sum game…is a weakness, correct? Who has time for kindness when it may cost your life?

But mankind is no longer surviving for survival sake. We have advanced and our ability to weather the elements and compete with nature and predators is no longer dependent on an individual, or a pack or tribe. Instead we rely on a vast network of communities, cultures, and civilizations that itself, is able to evolve.

Some anthropologists believe that evolutionary forces, beyond “survival of the fittest,” drove a universal standard of goodness, ethics and kindness. This theory is called “in-group/out-group.” Members of the “in-group” would have certain privileges and adherence to social rules that are not entitled to members of the “out-group.” The shared resources of the “in-group” would increase the odds of survival and reproduction. This also helps explanation how humans developed “social emotions” such as empathy or remorse, by acting with or against “in-group/out-group” social rules.

This now challenges some preconceived notions of morality’s origins. It is not rooted in spirituality or in the cosmos, but from us working together, in order to not just survive, but thrive. And the means to regulate morality comes from emotions that have evolved to trigger in us a behavior to help others in need, and to be helped when we need it. Our tendency towards kindness, or cruelty, is driven by these hyper-evolved traits that only human beings, as far as we know, exhibit.

But then why do we sometimes feel justified when we act immorally?

There is a physiological coping mechanism that balances and sometimes even inhibits these “social emotions.” When we act immorally, and are aware of it, we put into question our self-image, and the values we hold. Yet somehow, we still feel we are moral, despite these acts. This a phenomenon in social psychology known as “moral self-licensing.” When our self-image is threatened by acknowledging we have acted immorally, we can lower that threat by considering how we have acted morally in the past. We mentally “erase the slate” of bad deeds for good. The more confident we are with this balancing act, the more likely we will act immorally again. If we feel or think this way, we must remember the impact we have on others in the present moment is most important, not our past right or wrong acts.

Now let’s explore beyond the individual, and look at “social emotions” on a geo-cultural level. Anthropologists have looked at prevailing virtues across civilizations and across the millennia. It should be no surprise that knowledge, bravery, fairness, and self-control have been observed.

But also, humanity…namely virtues of love, social consciousness, and, let’s not forget, kindness.

I dare you to see beyond ourselves, and at our own hardwiring, that despite all the cruelty we may dwell on, the good outweighs the bad, and mankind, indeed, is meant to be kind.

Morality

PrintWe start this week on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a man who dedicated his life to advocate for peace, non-violent resolution and civil rights, to raise the quality of life for all people. With this, I ask…

How ought we live?

The answer sounds like the secret to life, right? Or do you expect the answer to be affirming words like: “live, laugh, love?” Actually, the answer is morality.

Its origins reveal stunning implications of us as humans…how dark is our cruelest side, and how bright is our kindest? The psychological and philosophical roots of morality attempt to create a system to define what is proper and improper behavior by breaking down intensions, decisions and actions in various circumstances. It attempts to define an objective right and wrong, which may have religious or cultural influences. An example of a moral code this is the “golden rule” which is to do onto others, as you would want to have done to you.

Immorality is the direct opponent to morality, meaning to actively seek the “wrong” behavior as defined by morality, where as amorality is the lack of awareness, or ignorance, of such standards. An amoral person’s behavior may be “good” or “bad” but their intensions are indifferent to the impact they have on others. In either case these are unkind people. This is different than cruelty, which is a concept we will explore in a later entry.

Let’s go back in time to ancient Greece, when Aristotle taught that something has “virtue” if it functions properly, or as it is meant to. For example, a hammer is virtuous if it can effectively hit a nail into wood. Just as with tools and objects, humans must have a function as well, which is to fulfill the needs of a person’s soul. These needs are only met if a person is happy. To become happy one must have a “good character” by having ethical behavior.

Immanuel Kant, in the 1700’s, believed that morality was based on a system of obligations, and was separate from the concept of ethics…right and wrong. He stated that reason dictated moral action based on subjective circumstances. For example, “I am hungry, so I must eat.” The goal was to discover the motivation for why people behave as they do.

In contrast, David Hume, also in the 1700’s, believed that passion and not reason drove human behavior. He wrote: “Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.” He would later develop the “is-ought problem” also known as “Hume’s Law” which stated that you cannot logically determine what ought to be…how you feel something should be…from what is…what actually is. This only reinforces his belief that passion drives behavior.

Several monotheistic religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam, state that morality is defined by their beliefs, as a secular code of conduct to guide human behavior. To be clear, religion is not the same as morality. One does not depend on the other. However, in all such religions, there is a consequence for not following these rules, and punishment will afflict a person’s immortal soul after death. In contrast, in Buddhism, there is emphasis on the intent of a person, and the circumstances he or she is in. This shows right and wrong as subjective. And in Hinduism, this subjectivity is taken further, by being influenced by varying aspects such as social rank, age and kinship.

Now, what commonalities do we see with this collection of knowledge? Morality is highly by a value-based system, where there is a consequence if we do not stay consistent with those values.

Do you think that is true? Do you believe people are hardwired by consequences?

Do you believe if we do not fulfill the virtue of our function we will not be happy? If we do not fulfill an obligation we will suffer? If we do not fulfill our passions we will never be content? And if we do not fulfill our religious beliefs we will be punished?

I will leave it for you to decide. I believe the simplest approach is the one to take, and consequence is not a measure of how we should behave. How we behave is axiomatic to the people we are.

Mankind is meant to be kind.

Two Lights and an Address

Week 4 - Post 27.5I cannot do proper justice to the bright lights of the men that have recently gone out. And I have failed to properly reflect on their passing the day they died, on January 10 and January 14, 2016. While my words are not enough to honor their contributions…how they made the world a better place for us to live in…by inspiring the courage within us to dare to be bolder…perhaps their own words can be tribute.

It is poetic that David Bowie left us on the same day we had our third ritual of kindness, when we discussed traveling kindly. He was an iconic musician, and so much more, touching the hearts and minds of so many. There is no doubt that he lived fiercely, that he: “always had a repulsive need to be something more than human.” He had an opinion about the journey, saying: “The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.” And as for where he is going next, he certainly had an opinion on that too: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

Alan Rickman, a man of many faces, was most recently famous for playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. But he was most known for playing the “character you are not supposed to like.” It is also poetic that he left us the day we talked about characters in our own stories. The characters he played were sometimes the villain, sometimes the anti-hero, but always provoked us to question all we assume. He said: “Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.” And he too, had a opinion about the journey, saying: “I suppose with any good writing and interesting characters, you can have that awfully overused word: a journey.”

They are inspirations, and will continue to be as long as there is music, and as long as there are characters dancing on the silver screen.

I would like to end this “extra” winter of kindness entry to recall the words of our President, Barack Obama, when he delivered the State of the Union address earlier this week on January 12th. Besides the political rhetoric about where we will invest our country’s efforts and how we are perceived in the world, there were several inspirational moments reflecting on how we ought to live.

“We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the dogmas of the quite past. Instead we fought anew. And acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward to the next frontier to more people.”

And there were moments reflecting on how we should continue push beyond our limits and become something greater…that the “spirit of discovery is in our DNA…”

“60 years ago when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight and 12 years later we were walking on the moon.”

And lastly, there were moments reflecting on how we should live kindly, and treat each other with that same kindness…

“This is not a mater of political correctness. This is an understanding of just what it is that makes us strong. The world not just respects us for our arsenal. It respects us for our diversity and our openness, and the way we respect every faith.”

May we all travel kindly…

Our Fourth Ritual of Kindness

Week 4 - Post 27So, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we talked about one interpretation of purpose, how it relates to conviction and mindfulness, and the “titles” we earn. I wrote…

We “earn” our identity through our behavior, and when we are conscious of our behavior we realize the recourse of our actions will lead us down a specific path. That path we follow is our destiny

The path we follow will lead us to our purpose. I also explored this concept in my novel, “Storyteller’s Rose.” We next discussed narrative, heroes and villains, the roles we play in our own stories, and challenged you to consider what a hero would be like if his quest was kindness. We then explored how we glorify these same heroes and villain in literature and cinema, and challenge us all to become everyday heroes by writing…

Pain is everywhere, even if we, or the people we directly know, are not impacted by it. Our ordinary is our acceptance of other people’s pain. Homelessness, illness and violence are everyday happenstances that are occurring down your very street. These are ordinary. You are ordinary. What change can you invoke as an ordinary person, with these ordinary situations? Do you dare to challenge the common cruelty? The everyday hurt that inflicts so many, but not us directly? Do you dare to be an ordinary hero? Do you dare to be kind?

We then explored other characters and how we may not be the heroes of other people’s stories. I challenged you to consider how you may be the villain…an obstacle…to somebody else. We then discussed how values guide these characters, and explored the elements of respect, integrity, humility and conviction. We then discussed how we can use these same values to find our way again when we have fallen lost in a dark forest of doubt and affliction.

And I will conclude our fourth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…I challenge you to be the hero of your own story. It is a courageous decision. And I must be clear that indeed it is a decision. You must consciously decide your actions that will lead you to become an everyday hero. And as you boldly trek down your path, be sure to check your compass, your values that guide you. We are all on a journey, and it is ok if we get lost from time to time. Finding your way may again may be the greater adventure than the path we thought we needed to follow, after all.

Finding Ourselves Again

Week 4 - Post 26In yesterday’s entry we discussed character values, and how they guide our behavior. And as we explored weeks earlier, there are values that groups of people share, such as communities and cultures, which also guide them. These “guides” are our judgment criteria that directs our behavior…the “how” of our way of being.

A value is not just a guide. It is also a tool. A compass directs you to possibly avoid peril, just as your values show you what bad decisions not to make in making the wrong company, or wandering down a dangerous alley. But what if you want to use your compass to take you someplace you want to go. Instead using your compass to prevent harm, you use it to find happiness. Where can this compass take you?

It can take you on any journey where you want to nurture something important to you. This includes aspects of yourself and how you treat others. Think about how empowering that can be…your values aid you on your journey of nurturing, to better yourself and others. With these tools at your disposal, you are never taking on a challenge alone. It is the assurance to know if you keep true to your principles everything will be ok, since you are who you are meant to be.

Perhaps it is an ability you want to hone sharper, like running a marathon or becoming a faster reader. Perhaps it is an internal struggle, like building your confidence or conquering a bad habit. Or perhaps it is strengthening an estranged relationship, such as a childhood friend you had grown apart or a family member you’ve kept distant since you don’t often see eye-to-eye. Regardless how these challenges end, if you keep true to your values…perhaps of humility when you face your estranged family member, or conviction when you are training for your marathon, you will be more likely to succeed in your ambition.

But, have you ever lost your way?

Have you ever lost your way in the dark forests of your doubts, a place where you are isolated and afraid, where no one dares to go to save you? Your wrong turn into this dreadful place may have been fueled by depression, or addiction, or dependence on another. And you may feel banished to this place, where it is eternal night, with no moon or stars to shine and light your way, stumbling over roots and rocks and bumping into brush. You don’t know how you got there, and you don’t know what you need to do to get out.

It is ok to have fallen lost. We must accept it is ok to have felt this pain and forgive ourselves for it. Sometimes our greatest personal moments arise from when we thought we would never return from the brink. When we fall victim to this we are allowed a moment of mourning to take stock in what we have, remember what we had, and focus on what we need to do to return from the blackness. Once that moment passes, we must look inside ourselves, and to our compass, which will be the beacon to guide our way.

With this epiphany, and your compass, what now?

You make a plan. It can be as simple as starting at point A, and ending at point B…a metaphor, of course, for the emotional, psychological or physical state you are in and how you wish to transform. This requires awareness of your condition, and mindfulness of the behavior you must have to become the person you wish to be. What next?

You reinforce that plan. Tell your self, again, and again that you are capable and worthy of the ambition you seek. Surround yourself with friends and loved ones to support you. Listen to people who had experienced similar challenges, and become empowered by their messages of success. Have the integrity to keep honest with your actions that will lead you to the results you want. Do not cheat yourself because you feel you have had small successes on your journey out of your dark forest. It is a place where deception and manipulation is common form, and you can be fooled into traveling deeper into its depths.

After you have made your plan, and reinforced that plan, you must reinforce it again. Become aware of your thoughts, your feelings, what you are telling yourself. Are they positive? Are they affirming? Are you your greatest advocate? They should be and you must be. If you do not believe in yourself, no one else will. Double down on the hero of your own story…you.

As I had said, it is ok to have fallen lost. We make mistakes, and mistakes happen to us. It is what we do in that dark forest, and whether we use our compass, that defines us.

Remember, in the immortal words of J. R. R. Tolkien, not all who wander are lost. May your travels always be kind.

Character Values

Week 4 - Post 25What is a value?

It is something you hold in importance. It can be material things, an experience or event, an emotion you keep to yourself or share. It is anything or any one relevant to you. Most values are subjective, until you consider community values or cultural values, which is something we discussed weeks ago. Yesterday when we talked about characters, and the role you may play in other people’s stories, we ended the entry by asking what makes a “good” person. The answer is character values.

So, what is a character value?

A character value is a standard of behavior that guides one’s judgment towards needs, wants and desires that are important to an individual or group.

In my professional life, I was fortunate to work with a man who was on my senior leadership team. When he joined the company, he entered a dysfunctional department. Folks did not see eye-to-eye on many things, there was collusion…factions of people who behaved in an “us versus them mentality”…which created profound productivity challenges and low moral. The man had a theory he needed to prove…was this an issue caused by capability, such as an inability to communicate and people needing to be trained on process, or was it caused by values, where people were behaving out of interests that were not for the common good of the company. He tested his theory with an exercise called the “values wall.”

What is the values wall? It is actually an effective idea. He put up a poster board of a wall and placed it in the common area. He challenged everyone to post with sticky notes things they liked best at work. Some people posted affirming things, such as colleagues and the flexibility to train on the latest technology and aspects of company benefits that were rewarding. Others put things that made you think, such as “my office” or “the size of my team” or the scope of responsibilities they had. Ultimately these posts evolved into character values. Words like community, creativity, challenge, empathy, leadership, appreciation, transparency and balance started to emerge. At the end of the exercise, four values became strongly apparent as the department’s unifying values. These would become our group’s “north star” to guide the way in how we should behave.

First, there was respect. It is the ability to acknowledge a person as a person. A person is not an object that can act as a vehicle to get you to your wants and desires. Nor is a person an obstacle to prevent you from getting there as well. A person, just like you, has wants and desires, and theirs should count just as much as yours. The awareness to actualize this, and to act on it, is the ability to be respectful.

Second is integrity, which is a consistency in how we behave…an internal honesty. The simplest way to put it is how you behave when no one is looking. Are you consistent with your actions when you are around people, be it your coworkers or friends or loved ones, and when you are alone? Do you say one thing to one person, but something different to another based on a subjective value you give them? For example, if you have bad news but avoid talking about it to your loved one because you fear her reaction, or represent it completely differently to a friend because you feel his opinion doesn’t matter as much to you. Do you treat all your actions, just like the people you interact with, the same?

Third is humility, which is the ability to see how you can possibly be part of a problem. That is not to say that you are, but to take a critical look at yourself, and your behavior, and see how you can possibly be the villain in someone else’s story. Remember how we talked about villains in an entry earlier this week? This is not to say you are a “bad” person if you have behaved this way. It only means that you became a perceived obstacle for someone else. But remember what we wrote about with respect? Your needs, wants and desires count just as much as the other person. A conversation, and mutual respect and humility, will hopefully resolve the conflict.

Fourth, finally, is conviction. It should be no surprise that this value reappears after discussing it weeks earlier. Conviction is the vehicle driving you boldly down the highway of your narrative. When you apply the first three values, and have the fortitude to carry your purpose through, despite the challenges that may come your way, you would have exhibited conviction.

These four values made sense to our corporate culture. They helped us see what was important to us, and what we had in common, to guide our behavior in future endeavors. They may, or may not be the same for everyone.

So, I ask you now, what are your “north star” values?

Characters

Week 4 - Post 24This week we talked about your story, and the heroes and villains that fill it. Yesterday I asked if you identify with heroes or villains. So now I ask…

Are you the hero or the villain of your story?

Do we always “do good” all the time? To “do good” is subjective, which we will explore in a future entry. But consider this, when we try to do good, whose good do we do? Do everything we do have a positive result for everyone? The more successful you become in any role…the more influence you have with your ability to impact others…it is more likely people will not like you. Do you agree? Think about it…we all have opinions on how to conduct ourselves, in personal or professional life. Sometimes people hold strong emotional connections with desired outcomes, which may be directly impacted by what you influence. And if people don’t like those outcomes…they will likely not like you.

It takes courage to become the hero of your story. It requires confidence as well as conviction, and depends on your acknowledged purpose. But have you considered other people’s stories? Have you have played a role in their stories, for better or for worse? Let’s explore a few epic archetypes, and how some may relate to you…

Let’s start with the hero…you, right? A person who behaves ethically, is aware of the impact of his actions, and aspires through the story to better him and others. Does this sound familiar? Heroes are kind.

The villain is an obstacle for the hero to overcome. Despite his ability or humanity, this archetype is designed to stop, successful or not, the tale’s protagonist, and the message the hero embodies. How have you been an obstacle for others? Have you considered that you have been part of a problem that impacted someone other than yourself? Are you a villain in someone else’s story?

Consider the mentor, a teacher, a sage, a guide…not on the how, but the what. Only experience, the master of all mentors, can teach us “the how.” If you are a mentor, consider your role as a hands-off parent. You need to let your child make mistakes on his own, learn from it in ways that makes sense to his personal journey. You can only tell your child not to touch fire, for it will burn. You cannot stop your child, in all cases, from being tempted by the flame.

The guardian is a “realty check” for the hero. Not necessary a supporting role for the “forces of good” nor is he a true villain. He is meant to challenge the hero, question his values, and remind him, by conflict or by cunning, why he is on the journey, and what he is meant to fulfill. Only if he is worthy will he pass.

The shape-shifter is meant to challenge the hero’s point of view. He may be friend or foe. He offers different perspectives through direct or indirect conflict, physically or psychologically, representing an internal struggle. This internal struggle will be a different kind of journey for the hero, as it is one of identity.

The shadow is a dark force for negative change, or at least the hero’s anti-message. It follows behind the hero’s every step, for it is the absence of his light. The shadow can be represented in the villain, or in henchmen, or in things…any one or thing that is a counterpoint to the hero’s purpose. Shadows are seen as tricksters, a hybrid of the guardian and the shape-shifter, designed to change the hero, and fool him off his path, and away from his hero’s journey.

And finally, the ally who is the friend. He is the helper and confidant. He is a gift to the hero, by offering words of affirmation, services, something physical to aid his journey or an actual companion who travels with the hero. Sound familiar? Yes, it is not a coincidence from an earlier entry. A true ally is an extension of the hero, through thick or think, through conquest or death.

These archetypes are classic fixtures in epic stories. They are agents of change, to evolve the story, and reveal the purpose we, or others, are meant to fulfill. We will explore several of these archetypes in greater detail in a future entry, but for now, let’s begin to discuss what makes these archetypes what they are.

Why does a mentor, or a guardian, or an ally or a villain have the impact that they do to the hero? It is largely to the roles they play, but more fundamentally, it is due to their values. It is their core principles that guide a character to behave as they do. As I wrote in the pilot entry, I believe most people are good. I believe most people want to help others and strive to leave a place better than how they found it. But I believe that most people either do not know how to do these things, or are ignorant of the impacts of their actions, or act out of fear for their own preservation to consider others ahead of themselves.

So, what makes a good person? Let’s explore values in tomorrow’s entry.

Glory

Week 4 - Post 23Yesterday we talked about your story, your own hero’s journey and the villains you face. Although it is an unfinished book, when we look at a story from beginning to end, be it a novel or a movie, we can learn much from its message…its purpose. How the storyteller, be it the author or the director, portrays characters is also central to the purpose of the tale. Who is glorified? Who do we connect with and how do we relate with their experiences? How is our story influenced when we strongly identify with a glorified character?

Let’s explore how we glorify heroes. Consider the NBA star, and the brave firefighter, and the vigilant public defender, and the unstoppable human rights activist. They are all characters with larger than life roles and noble causes. This elevates us, inspires us. Yet why don’t we see these roles in modern literature and cinema in these absolute forms? The NBA player has an addiction. The firefighter stole the credit from his brother. The public defender has a dark past. The human rights activist is a sham. These twists make these characters more relatable, because we cannot identify with a perfect person. No one is perfect, but we can be perfect through our flaws, and perfect in how we do not compromise in what is right for us.

Do you identify with a “perfect” hero, or a “broken” one? What about villains?

When a villain or “anti-hero” is glorified, the storyteller aims to be provocative. It explores part of the human condition that surprises. Consider the tyrannical crime lord, or the ruthless bank robber, or the manipulative conman, or the vicious abuser. They all have dangerous, volatile personalities. They are all toxic to be around. They have narcissistic tendencies that make them predators. But storytellers give them a polished edge…a mask of a person to cover the monster beneath, like a puppet that was wished into a real boy. We cannot relate to a marionette, but we can with a child. In these stories remember any psychopath will believe he is the victim, innocent in his behavior to justify his actions, however horrendous.

I believe we are glorifying the wrong heroes. If an ordinary man was put in an extraordinary situation, and wins the day, his actions would be praised. We must also realize that he was not looking for glory in that larger than life scenario…be it a bank heist, a car that fell into a waterway, or escaping from a burning building. He was looking to survive and help his fellow man. The same goes for an extraordinary man in any situation. He should be measured by his noble deeds, and not his ability. What he can do is only a vehicle for the good things he should do.

No, the heroes we should praise are the everyday heroes. It is the ordinary men in the ordinary situations. We consider the ordinary as a peaceful norm. But this is not true. Pain is everywhere, even if we, or the people we directly know, are not impacted by it. Our ordinary is our acceptance of other people’s pain. Homelessness, illness and violence are everyday happenstances that are occurring down your very street. These are ordinary. You are ordinary. What change can you invoke as an ordinary person, with these ordinary situations? Do you dare to challenge the common cruelty? The everyday hurt that inflicts so many, but not us directly? Do you dare to be an ordinary hero? Do you dare to be kind?

And as I wrote yesterday, I am not challenging you to save the world. I am merely suggesting ways to make the one you live in better…and kinder.

Your Story

Week 4 - Post 22Yesterday we talked about purpose and how you earn your “title” by your actions. The summation of these moments will become your narrative.

What is your narrative?

It is your story…the events that happen to you, by happenstance or by choice. These are your defining moments, the experiences that make you who you are. And your outlook towards those moments, whether it is positive or negative, will make up your character…your identity.

Every story has a protagonist, a hero. Are you the hero of your story? Obviously, yes…right? If you stop and think about your narrative, you may be surprised you may not be. Perhaps the journey you are on is no journey at all. You may be standing still, and letting events pass by you. Let’s explore this concept of the “hero’s journey” and how it may relate to you.

The most recent reimaging of the hero’s journey is taken in twelve steps. The hero’s narrative takes place in a world of the known and the unknown, between what is peace, and the conflict that will alter the hero…for better or for worse. At the beginning there is a call to adventure for the hero, when we learn his identity, and he is challenged to cross the threshold into the unknown. Along the way he may meet mentors and helpers and adversaries all with the aim to prepare him for the final clash when the hero is thrown in the abyss to be reborn. It is then he is transformed into the story’s “true” hero, and he returns from his adventures a different person. You must remember that sometimes the return home is not a place, but a state. As with Aeneas in the Aeneid as a refugee from the Trojan War, or Dante in the Divine Comedy as he treks thru purgatory, there is no home to return to, only a state of enlightenment.

But what is a story without a villain?

We must be wary of the villains we face in our lives. When we view villains as people, or groups of people, like communities or other cultures, we create a zero-sum game. Although we have yet to explore this concept in detail, we spoke of its cruelty and its destructive force in an earlier entry. Some believe the best way to unite people is by creating a common enemy. This manipulative tactic may have short-term effects to mute disharmony within a group, but when that enemy is vanquished, possibly for the wrong reasons, what remain are a dysfunctional faction, and a false hero who leads them.

However, what if the villain is not a person? This concept has been explored before, in catastrophic disaster films of man verses nature (a tempest, Jaws, Moby Dick), and man verses affliction (cancer, alcoholism, mental-illness). But not often is the villain a thing, a problem, a challenge or a question. These non-violent adversaries seem mundane, and therefore a less-interesting narrative, but they offer the greatest conquests. If we passively let this villain go unchecked, think of all the wonder we will never experience.

Consider your day-to-day, the strangers you never meet, the common conflicts you leave unresolved, the victim you don’t bother to help, are all have possible villains you can vanquish but do not dare to because it is not your direct problem. I am not challenging you to save the world. I am merely suggesting ways to make the one you live in better…and kinder.

What a thought…a hero whose quest is kindness. But that is an entry we can explore further tomorrow.

Purpose

Week 4 - Post 21I have been looking forward to writing this entry. It is a topic that is dear to me, as it has inspired my passions for writing, and it makes me who I am. There were several topics we had to cover first, to get to this one. One of the strongest themes we’ve had in the first three weeks this winter has been mindfulness…that if we are in the moment our behavior can invoke the most good. We saw this on our “road trip of kindness” last week. We saw this when we explored the concepts of community and culture weeks ago. And when we discussed confidence and conviction, I wrote that…

“Confidence is a powerful mechanism for you to make dreams into reality. It is the steady hand on the wheel as you drive boldly down the highway of your narrative. If confidence is the steady hand, your conviction is the vehicle taking you to your destination.”

The first step toward your purpose is when you have the confidence to know you are capable, and when you have the convictions to follow through on your ambitions. This is fundamental to the “how” of your way of being, of your lifestyle. This “how” will define you, in every moment of your life, and is your identity. It is the calm that comes with the knowledge that who you are empowers your ability to be mindful. All doubts you once had will be swept away, for there is only one focus… “I Am.”

I explored the idea of purpose in my novel, “The Storyteller’s Rose.” It is a fiction about a young man, a Vagabond, who desires not to be tied down to any one or thing. He wishes to question things he has not yet wondered, do good, and find peace in his travels. But he meets an old man, a Storyteller, who seeks an understudy. Fate has brought together the old man to the young, and they go into a fantastical land of warring nations, divine creatures, disappearing stars and legends.

It also explores the idea of “titles,” a character’s defining aspect that is earned through his or her actions. One of the characters was a heroic man who had saved hundreds of lives from horrendous disasters. But he did not save those people for the sake of their lives. He did so for his own selfish reasons. For this he was known as the “Egocentric Martyr.” Should he have chosen to do “evil” deeds instead of “good” he would have been known as the “Egocentric Villain.”

Later in the “Storyteller’s Rose” I wrote…

“There are no choices in life, merely evaluations. We evaluate the consequences with each situation. What determines our course is the acceptance of the consequences for our actions. We are destined to follow a specific path because of the purpose we each have, yet we have free will because we can evaluate how to achieve our goals with reason.”

One may think that free will and destiny are contradicting ideas, but when considering how “titles” play in defining a character, they are actually advocates. We “earn” our identity through our behavior, and when we are conscious of our behavior we realize that the recourse of our actions will lead us down a specific path. That path we follow is our destiny. We can try to change that identity…who we are…by evaluating the consequence of our actions, and walking a different path. But in order to do so, we must first be mindful, and earn a new title.

When you do not feel controlled, because you are confident in who you are…when you do not feel caged by the path you take because you have the conviction to follow your ambitions…when you feel no force beyond your control commands you…you have calm in your decisions. You can be present. You are mindful. And as you set down this path you can observe with open eyes your narrative unfolding. And where will that narrative lead you?

That is a topic for discussion tomorrow.

Our Third Ritual of Kindness

Week 3 - Post 20So, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we talked about a “road trip of kindness” where we explored how cities have personalities, which attracts people of its ilk. These personalities are defined by the cultures of its inhabitants that are built over time through historic transformation, social traditions, and an awareness of community. Then we explored if a city can be kind, and what that would mean.

We traveled to three of the top five cities that were voted the friendliest in 2015, which are Nashville, Charleston and Savannah. In all three we saw a strong civil identity, and pride in that identity. For Charleston and Savannah, that pride was defined by its rich American history and unique architecture. For all cities, there was a daily celebration…the city’s own ritual of kindness…around spirited social traditions. For some it was food, an essential activity that grounds a person around family and friends. For others it was music, equally as essential.

Then we explored traveling kindly, and several recommendations to become more open for the “adventure” of a journey, which are:
1. Make it easier to foster a conversation with a stranger.
2. Get immersed in the city’s personality, or even imagine living there.
3. Do not stay at a franchise hotel or eat franchise food. Do as the locals do.
4. Befriend the staff. Actually, try to befriend everyone, but specifically the staff.
5. Learn about a local watering hole.
6. Be open for something different. Be curious, be bold, and to do something new.
7. People watch. What common themes do you see about the city’s people?
8. Slow down, and take the long way.
9. Leave your mark. Give yourself the gift of a moment, and cherish the journey.

In summation I wrote…but why only try these things when we travel? You do not need to travel across state or international lines to journey. You only need to open yourself to a new experience.

Finally this week on the “road trip of kindness” we discussed the “mental-destination” of your journey by thinking about the outcome you expect from the experience. This is influenced by whom you travel with, be it with family, friends, loved ones or by yourself.

And I will conclude our third ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…traveling, be it for work or play, is an extension of kindness. You chose to invest your time, your mindfulness, in the activities to get you from where you are to where you intend to go. Along the way you have an opportunity to influence others, possibly complete strangers, and the opportunity to influence your own perspective with a new way of thinking. Relish the chance to grow.

Mental-Destination

Week 3 - Post 19Regardless of how you travel, you should ask a few questions before you start. First are the practical…do I have the means to get where I intend on going? This could be airfare, gasoline for your car, food for stops along the way, or researching a map for an efficient route…to name a few.

But another, more fundamental question is, what do you wish to accomplish? What do you want from the experience? The purpose is to have an end-state in mind, in order to find and reflect on it. Much like a physical-destination of a trip, you should also have a mental-destination. Traveling is moving from where you start to where you end, even if where you stop is not where you intended. After all, the journey is what lies in between.

Deciding your mental-destination will be influenced by multiple factors…most importantly your companions. For a kind journey, you must consider the importance of the trip to the person or people you are with, and their behavior. Keep in mind that their behavior will influence yours.

When you travel with friends or family you invest in your relationship with them. What you see and do are a backdrop to the energy you cultivate with them. Perhaps you are reconnecting with an estranged sibling or parent, thus transforming your trip into one of forgiveness and acceptance. Or perhaps you are being boisterous with an old college pal, venturing to a spirited place for an escape. The festive venue now reinforces the values you share with your friend.

When you travel for romance, you invest in the flame you share with your loved one. A relationship must be nourished. When it goes out, a piece of you also goes cold, and when it is flaming, you are ignited. It is a fire both of you must be an active participant in order to keep it burning. When you travel it is the ideal time to learn again how you fell in love. And you do not have to travel far for such a feat. Your home can be a physical-destination…your oasis…to invest in your flame.

When you travel alone, you invest in yourself. You can argue that anytime you travel you invest in yourself, because the relationships you build with family, friends and loved ones all enhance your quality of life. However, in that quiet time “alone” you are anything but alone. There is a universe inside you, a constant stream of past memories, future apprehensions, and lightening-fast thoughts processing the present, all happening without your full awareness. This is your time, while you focus on your physical-destination, to glance at the pages that make up your story, and empower you to influence how the next chapter will be written. Few of us realize how much power we have over our own destiny.

Traveling Kindly

Week 3 - Post 18I am not an expert traveler. I am goal oriented, and use critical thinking to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. This may be wise when traveling for work, but after reflecting on my trips to Savannah, Charleston and Nashville, if you only focus on the destination, you can miss some amazing opportunities along the way. This may be easier to do when traveling for pleasure, but I challenge you to make the most of every journey, even if it is just to another part of the country. On my recent “road trip of kindness” I made the following observations…

Make it easier to have a conversation with a stranger. You can do this many ways, but an easy one is to wearing something that represents where you are from. Be clever, and use judgment. For example, do not walk into Boston with a Yankee’s baseball cap, but consider wearing one of your alma mater. On my recent travels I was approached several times about my college’s sport program.

Become immersed in the city’s personality, or imagine what it would be like to live there. What do you feel when you visit one of the touristy spots, and can you imagine returning the next day? How walk-able was the city, or engaging were the locals? Were you gravitating towards pastoral settings or festive ones? What was the energy like?

Do not stay at a franchise hotel or eat franchise food. Do as the locals do, and enjoy the treats and traditions the city has to offer. Local brands are more likely to employ local people, and they can offer a viewpoint you would likely not receive otherwise.

Befriend the staff. Actually, try to befriend everyone, but specifically the staff. They will be the easiest to talk to, it is their job after all, and the most likely to recommend places that deserve your business. They see the best and worst of the tourists and locals, and will give you tips on how to navigate the two.

Learn about a local “watering hole.” Going to a touristy location is like meeting someone new with the lights dimmed. You can’t really see his or her true nature in the dark. At a local “watering hole” you will see the city’s pace, what’s on people’s minds, what they talk about, what they laugh about, what they care about…here you can see the city with her hair down.

Be open to something different. Look for a local tradition, such as its music, a legend or its food. When you do, listen to it, do it, and taste it. This could be taking in a band that represents the city’s sound, standing at the footsteps of a historical marker, or eating a traditional dish. Remember to be curious, be bold, and to do something you normally would not. Ask why from the experience, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. You can learn about these things from a tourist map, but I recommend asking someone instead.

People watch. This one is not for everyone, but I enjoy letting the world pass me by when the streets get busy. When you people watch, you get to see a person in their true element. What they are thinking, how they are feeling, and the energy they are putting out in that moment…all will be a reflection of their actions. What common themes do you see about the city’s people?

Slow down, and take the long way. When you are not distracted the events around you will be clearer. It will leave you open to try something new, or give you the hindsight to ask a question you wouldn’t have thought otherwise. When you take the long way, you may experience things you would never expect, which may open other opportunities for you to explore.

Leave your mark. Earlier I recommended trying to befriend everyone. When you are making new friends, leave something of yourself. It could be sharing a story that will impact your new friend. Giving something material will also work, if it is appropriate. Don’t try to be remembered, but try to leave the gift of having met someone by making it memorable. If you come back a year later, and the bartender recalls your name from “that one time,” you would have succeeded. And most importantly, the same applies for you. Give yourself the gift of a moment, and cherish the journey.

But why try these things only when we travel? When I was younger my father would ask my siblings and I to join him on family errands. Too captivated with our toys we rarely wanted to go. However, inevitably, even if it were to the grocery story, we would make a new friend, see something new or learn something. You do not need to travel across state or international lines to journey. You only need to open yourself to a new experience.

Nashville

Week 3 - Post 17Earlier this year I visited the fourth on the list of friendliest cities. The nature of the trip was different than my more recent ventures to Savannah and Charleston. I had gone to those locations alone, to observe, and to participate when the time was right, with the town’s traditions or the locals. I wanted to see how the city could be kind, and what “friendly” characteristics fostered such a lifestyle.

My trip to Nashville was more self-serving. I was with friends out to unwind.

It is curious how a point of view can change a narrative. This is another lesson in mindfulness…to be in the moment. The sense of escape from day-to-day stress, laughter with friends, the intoxication of a new place that inspires you to behave differently than if you were home…all were in the forefront of my frame of mind. The backdrop of that narrative, Nashville, set the stage for the stories we would share. Now, after reflection, I see the richness of the city’s personality.

Nashville’s size was larger than the last two. Not a metropolis, but big enough to have towering buildings, and a full-sized Stadium near the downtown. In contrast to intimate Charleston, where there were no buildings taller than their highest church steeples, Nashville’s greater dimensions still exuded a similar intimate feeling.

Nashville’s pace was quicker, with a bustle and the clamor you would expect from such a city. The neon lights, glittering displays, Elvis statues on every corner, and the country “twang” that seemed to roll through the streets with the blowing wind…all lived up to the hype of the “Music City.” It was the abundance of that music that made the city feel magical. In every bar, on stage in every restaurant, and every sidewalk, there was a man or a woman singing a song and strumming a guitar. It was not just a “perk” to invite folks into an establishment, but a staple…its lifeblood…to have live music reverberating within the walls of each building.

Its fingerprint is not in the architecture of the city’s stones, its rich history, or the closeness to create friends from strangers, but in its music. It is an irresistible, mood-altering, intangible that, for those with open ears and open minds, will instantly engage you. It is curious how something fast-paced can slow your perceptions. As you become aware of the lyrics and harmony, you are carried away by its rhythm. As with the emphasis on food in Savannah and Charleston, the importance of a festive social tradition provides an acute awareness to its citizens and guests. Although the mirth, ground-shaking excitement, and tumbling energy are a few decibels higher than other friendly cities, this does not diminish its character, and its embrace of anyone who will listen to her melodies.

Nashville is a kind city, welcoming you with her music, and as long as you stay mindful, invites you never to leave.

Charleston

Week 3 - Post 16I woke early at my bed-and-breakfast in Savannah and enjoyed the complementary meal. I stopped at a local coffeehouse before starting my travels to Charleston, and found a “take a book, leave a book” display. On a whim I decided to leave my novel, “Storyteller’s Rose.” On the title page I wrote:

“What are the chances for your eyes to find my words, of the millions written, of all the stories put to pen and paper? Thank you for the gift of your time and thoughts, I hope you enjoy this journey.”

And so I continued mine. The morning mist was thick, and it cloaked the upper arches of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, a grand cable-bridge that crosses the Savannah River, offering a panoramic view of the marshes and countryside.

Not far into South Carolina I found a cider shack along the highway. It was a simple whitewashed house with open windows and doors and a front porch with rocking chairs. I tried the Muscadine Cider, a tart grape-colored refreshment. Muscadine is a locally-grown grape, and when talking about it, the store clerk smiled…she was prouder of that cider than any other. It was grown in her home county, and it was a drink they were known for.

When I finally entered the Charleston historic district, it felt like crossing a threshold through time. Like a fingerprint, the city’s architecture was uniquely its own, dating back to the seventeenth century. The overcasts from Savannah had followed me, but as before, the main streets were pleasantly walk-able despite the weather. The buildings seemed to grow off each other…taking into consideration the elements of the South Carolina coast and the natural forces around it. They were built with a purpose…the direction they were relative to the cool river breezes, the angle of their decks for the rain runoff, and which walls had windows.

In the market square I met an old artist who had lived in Charleston his entire life. His canvases were painted with mostly watercolors and pastels. His images were hazy yet crisp, capturing scenes from his home city, emphasizing its waterways, ancient trees, and local wildlife. I promised myself to return and purchase a one.

I took a carriage tour, led by Ralph, a twenty-two hundred pound Cadillac of a horse. As we roamed through the many cobblestone streets I learned how the color called “Charleston Green” was actually a blended black, that there are no “porches” or “front lawns” in Charleston, only “piazzas” and “gardens,” that a pineapple was a sign of hospitality, for the benefit of sailors returning from a long voyage, and that Charleston was the second most popular wedding destination in the United States.

Historically, the city’s architecture was strongly influenced by the Civil War, and through various crippling maladies over the centuries, such as fires, earthquakes, and other catastrophic natural disasters. The culture of the city has a resounding resolve, resilience, and stubbornness that will not accept defeat.

I soon learned of, and tried their famous “She Crab Stew,” walked the pathways where Queen met King street, and sat in reflection on the gazebo steps in Battery Park. I was then drawn to one of the tallest rooftop terraces of the city. I gazed at some of the city’s one hundred and eighty-two steeples, a number I learned from the tour-guide. I struck up a conversation with Tim, the bartender, and asked him what made Charleston one of the friendliest cities.

“Its energy,” he said, after a moment. “The pace here is slower, and people are not short-tempered with each other. They just vibe off each other and can relax and not stress the stuff that is not important.”

He added his thoughts on the food, “the best cuisines around. Everyone is happy when you have good food.”

Charleston, a city seemingly stuck in time. Perhaps that’s why people slow their pace…to stop and think. Let’s consider the social aspect of being present, to be in the moment, with other people. When a city fosters this outlook, it seems easier to be friendly. And if you believe people are genuinely good, then without the distractions of daily stress, their actions will also more likely be good ones.

So, can a city be kind?

I found a lot of similarities between Savannah and Charleston. They are both relatively small, each with a sense of intimacy. Both are historic, having played pivotal roles in the founding and growth of the United States. These histories are something to be proud, bringing remembrance for the past, optimism for the future, and cultivating mindfulness in the present. The pace of each city is slower than most, almost encouraging its citizens to identify with each other. Each have strong personalities and strong cultures, which revolve around social elements as remembering significant historic events, honoring time-old traditions…and excellent food.

I believe a city can be kind. So take your time. It is the way of Savannah and Charleston.

Savannah

Week 3 - Post 15Our first stop on our “road trip of kindness” was a bed and breakfast in the heart of Savannah. There was a veiled overcast; clouds were threatening to rain. However through that veil I was struck by the city’s elegance. The houses and parlors seem to grow, organically, from the earth, each unique, and represented the prominent forms of architecture the year it was built. The downtown area was walk-able, despite the gloomy day, and I enjoyed what the locals called “the Squares.” The original construction of the city was laid out in “squares” where residential districts grew. Within the center of these squares are parks or historic markers. There was an intimate atmosphere, and a feeling that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts…that a person living in Savannah is part of something greater.

Walking through the streets I felt a vibrant history…there was a sense of a past from monuments marking important events and ancient trees draped with Spanish moss. There was a sense of future, as families walked their babies in strollers, people out for their afternoon jog, playing with their dogs in the park and bustling street corners. However, what resonated the most was the sense of present moment. There were no distractions, only calm and reverence for the city. It fostered mindfulness, and encouraged an understanding of how you can impact others with your actions.

Along the way I spoke with a few locals. I stopped at a pub and met a bartender, named Dusty, who was ending his shift. He wore a fashionable vest and his hair was tightly tied back. I asked him what he thought about Savannah and why was it one of the friendliest cities.

“The food,” he told me. “The food in Savannah comes from many cultures, that have changed over time. When you sit around the dinner table with family and friends, and eat the city’s food, you are at home. There is nothing friendlier than that.”

He advised about a place to sightsee, and a venue for dinner. I was not disappointed.

Wedged between the city’s watery lifeblood and cobblestones I found River Street. It was now growing dark, and the strengthening cold had brushed away what would have been a larger crowd that evening, but the double-story pathways that lined the riverbanks glowed with warmth and sounds of a few partiers reveling. I found under every archway, and within every nook antique shops, novelties for sale, cheap spirits, and the soft hum of music. I can only imagine the energy at the city’s tourist and festivity center during happy hour at the week’s end, or a celebration worth remembering.

After enjoying the sights I visited the dinner venue recommended by Dusty. I was met with a welcoming staff. I found an electrician at the bar enjoying a drink. She had worked only half the day because of the rain. I asked her what made Savannah one of the friendliest cities.

“It’s size,” she said immediately. “It feels like a small city, and you can’t but go a couple days before running into the same people that were only strangers the day before. You just feel like you know everyone.”

How can a city’s population make it feel friendly? Is it when a city gets too large we would stop seeing people as people since it is harder to identify with so many strangers? Or does a smaller city simply make it easier to be mindful of others, since it fosters a sense of “knowing” another person, and therefore it is more natural to consider their point of view? Can that happen anywhere?

We talked idly about the day, and life in Savannah, and eventually our conversation lead to the city’s history. She told me…

“Toward the end of the Civil War the northern army had broken into the south and had started burning its cities. And when they reached Savannah, they stopped. They could not burn it, because it was too beautiful.”

I prepared for the next day and turned in for the night. Next was the third friendliest city on the list and it was only a few hours away…Charleston.

Road Trip of Kindness

Week 3 - Post 14Earlier this year a publication called the “Traveler” wrote of the top 10 friendliest cities in the United States. Being friendly is an aspect of being kind. Just as one would care for someone, or to take someone in consideration, to be friendly is an act…what you do can be a reflection of how you are. The difference is a way of being…to act friendly or to be kind. However my curiosity was perked. For a city to be one of the nation’s friendliest it must have a “magical” element to make it so.

I wonder, what made a city? Of course you have either manmade or natural attractions, such as skyscrapers or beaches. And probably, you have the historical significance of the land. But at its core I believe it is the people. The people mold community, define the culture, and hold in remembrance the events and traditions that are dear. Now let’s think about New York or Miami. The imagery that comes to mind is different between when you think of the two. True, the two metropolitans have varying climates, but when you consider its people, at a whole, you imagine two very different types of personalities.

Can a city have a personality, which attracts people of its ilk? When considering the example of New York and Miami, I believe so. If we believe that, then can a city have a way of being, and therefore can be kind?

It was then I decided that I needed to see some of these cities for myself. I booked a flight for the next day to visit the second city on that list… Savannah, Georgia.

Why not the first? Number one is Park City, Utah and it is winter. But for now, tomorrow, we will visit Savannah.

Our Second Ritual of Kindness

Week 2 - Post 13So, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we experienced the final days of 2015, and talked about the building blocks that construct community and culture. We discussed how community is a membership that fosters a “unity of will.” This creates an identity where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This has the power to create a sense of belonging and fellowship, but also the power to destroy if disrupted or threatened. Culture is the “how” and the “way of life” of any community. And a culture’s values define its norms, which influence people’s behavior. At the core of community and culture are individuals and one of the most influential aspects of an individual is his confidence. I wrote that…

Confidence is a powerful mechanism for you to make dreams into reality. It is the steady hand on the wheel as you drive boldly down the highway of your narrative.

We discussed the mindset of an over and under confident person, the cruelty of an ego-driven act, and maintaining a healthy confidence. We then discussed the act of remembrance on the final day of the year, and what happens when we reflect with negative energy to be consumed with regret as well as what happens when we reflect with positive energy to honor the past. We discussed that our mind is like a closet where we store our memories, and when we avoid clutter, we can look deep into that closet to see a symbol of nostalgia, that can instill calm from a time long ago.

We next explored the origins of the New Year’s resolution, how it is a self-aware decision toward personal-improvement, and how we can resolve to improve ourselves or help others. Finally we explored conviction, the means to stay true to our resolutions, and what obstacles we may experience as we trek towards our ambitions.

And I will conclude our second ritual of kindness with closing thoughts… mindfulness is a core aspect of improvement both on a large scale and small. In the macrocosms of communities and cultures, they have the power to create and to destroy. In the microcosms of the individual, a healthy confidence and strong conviction is fueled by mindfulness. When we have remembrance, and resolve to grow, the same applies as well. There should be no doubt, as we continue on our journey through the Winter of Kindness, we will see this theme again and again.

Conviction

Week 2 - Post 12What is a conviction?

Conviction is the discipline to see something through that you hold a firm belief. It is a mindfulness of your actions, because of the consciousness to act consistently with a decision you made, which will lead you to an ambition. Earlier this week we spoke about confidence. Confidence and conviction have an interesting relationship. I wrote that…

“Confidence is a powerful mechanism for you to make dreams into reality. It is the steady hand on the wheel as you drive boldly down the highway of your narrative.”

If confidence is the steady hand, your conviction is the vehicle taking you to your destination. So, what are your convictions? What is the vehicle driving you down the highway of your narrative?

To truly answer that question, we must understand something more fundamental about ourselves. We must have an understanding of our purpose, which is a topic for another entry. For now, let’s explore the importance of mindfulness as it relates to conviction. There must be an undeniable consistency in your behavior. In order to achieve this consistency, you must be aware of how you spend your time.

What if how you spend your time does not match your convictions? How can that happen, especially since your conviction implies a consistency with your actions? It can happen a lot easier than you think, and the answer, again, is mindfulness. So, what do we do if we recognize a difference between what we value and how we spend our time?

Let’s break it down. First revisit the decision making process that led you to your earlier resolution. Evaluate its importance…if it’s of value to you, and if it’s still worthy of being pursued. Yes? Then look at your day at a glance. Why are you spending time the way that you are? Sometimes small decisions add up and distract us from the big ones you have made. Also, you may lose awareness of the impact of past decisions to help others, and how it dilutes your attention to focus on future desires. There is nothing wrong with reassessing old decisions, as circumstances change, and you must adapt. But be honest with yourself and what is a realistic use of your time, and be honest with the people you made commitments to, so as not do abuse the relationship you have with them. But also be mindful if the support you promised has become larger than expected. Your time is valuable, just as the support to your friend or colleague you promised, and the time spent should be counted the same.

Life events have an astounding way to clean the slate. To force people to reassess, like a slap to the face, and realize their current behavior will not lead them to the places they want to go. This slap to the face can be in the form of a catastrophe, an accident they had no control over, or a series of bad decisions they made that led to a horrible result. Acknowledging a life milestone, such marriage, a promotion, a birthday, or New Years can also cause a slap to the face. But I find that the most powerful slap to the face is the one that never happens, when a person actively reflects on who he is, and decides a new behavior will enable him to become the best version of himself.

Do you think that people can, simply, change?

I believe that if a person has the conviction, he can. To close, consider a quote from Paulo Coelho…

“Don’t allow your mind to tell your heart what to do. The mind gives up easily.”

Resolution

Week 2 - Post 11Happy New Year! What is your new year’s resolution?

I want you to think about what this means before you answer. Much like what we have discussed this week, with community, culture and confidence, this again, is an exercise in awareness.

Let’s take a step back…multiple customs have lead to what we know as the New Year’s resolution. Over 4,000 years ago the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the beginning of their calendar year, which was the first new moon after the vernal equinox, taking place today around late March. The Romans began each year by worshiping their god of beginnings, Janus, which later became the month of January. During Medieval times, knights took a vow of commitment to chivalry, the “peacock vow,” roughly after Christmas. These traditions make promises to a greater cause, have reverence in new beginnings and conviction to follow through on those commitments.

Think about it…when we enter into a new life milestone, such as commit to a lifelong partner, move to a different city, or begin of a professional opportunity…our outlooks are usually positive and filled with hope. When we begin something new we brave the unknown. However, we can make a change at any moment. We do not need a life event to be optimistic, and to want something new. We must remember that we write our own destinies, and are not forced by events to make a change. There is no denying that some events do nudge, and even thrash, us in a direction. But we should also revel traditions, such as New Years, that allow us to celebrate the person we may become, should we have the resolve.

A New Year’s Resolution is a self-aware decision toward personal improvement. It is a time to be critical both on our weakness and strengths. For some this can be physical health, from weight-loss to marathon running. Others it is mental or spiritual health, from learning something new, or taking time for yourself to reduce stress. People also focus on financial growth, to invest in a career or to achieve a desired salary. A little less common, but also relevant are character assessments, be it addressing habits, perceived flaws or fine-tuning a talent. One must be realistic when considering life milestone resolutions, for these may depend on others, such as taking an extravagant trip, marriage, purchasing a house or having children.

Personal improvement can mean we help others. If you recall last week during the “Gift Giving” entry, we discussed several ways we give support to others. This can be our time, financial support, affirming words or services to friends, family or charitable organizations.

Now, look back on the resolutions you made in years past. Do you keep them? Did you track them? Were they realistic? What obstacles did you face and how did you handle that adversity? How seriously did you take your resolutions? All of these questions are to encourage you to be mindful of the aspirations you make, so that you may achieve them. As I wrote earlier a resolution is a self-aware decision…in order to grow as a person. Keeping true to that decision takes conviction, and that is a topic we will discuss tomorrow.