Why Bother to Reflect on the Principles of Famous Men?

Why Bother To Reflect on the Principles of Famous Men?

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a day set aside for our nation to remember and reflect on someone who lived and died for the ideal belief, “that all men are created equal.” But I can’t help thinking of another man as well, Abraham Lincoln, who like Dr. King also lived and died for the same ideal belief—that all people have equal value. 

Standing for Truth

Though Abraham Lincoln and Dr. King wore contrasting colors of skin and lived in different eras; they both wrestled with the same societal problem. If all men are created equal, as our country’s founding fathers declared in the U.S. Constitution, then why were people of  different skin color seen as having lesser value and treated unequally from the rest of society? 

The truth that Lincoln held as an absolute standard for our country resulted in the Civil War, the penning of the Emancipation Proclamation and his assassination. This same ideal truth which Dr. King proclaimed effected our country in similar ways. Though Dr. King fought his battle for equality for all men without violence, sometimes it turned bloody. He led several marches and protests, gave inspiring speeches and led a civil rights movement. He was also assassinated. 

As leaders, both Lincoln and King possessed a keen discernment of right and wrong, drew wisdom and strength from God, and were trailblazers with their courageous ideas. They believed that a person’s character to be more telling than the color of their skin. 

They were not flawless, but they were worth following. Both men understood the danger of neglecting their beliefs and the peril of allowing themselves to be seduced into thinking like other men. They were cognizant of the dangers of soft mindedness and compliance. They knew that if they did not stand up, speak up and take action for what was right, then the strong force of evil could win. Agreeing with a majority because of fear and timidity would result in a greater slavery than the one they worked so hard to abolish. 

Reflecting on these men and the principles they lived and died for warns me to be less gullible, more discerning and to think more critically. Though we live in a different era than either of these leaders, we are still fighting to maintain the ideal that all men have equal value and are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

Why bother to reflect on the principles of famous men? It is worth it to reflect on these notable men and their ideals because when we do, then we will consider whether or not our truth is worth living and dying for.

Why Bother Noticing What We Tell Ourselves?

Why Bother Noticing What We Tell Ourselves? 

Our brains are at work seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Even when asleep our brains are actively producing dreams and without a conscious thought, our hearts beat, blood flows and breathing takes place. Our bodies automatically function to give us life. Yet, if we give no thought to our thinking, then our thoughts can lead us to a less than happy life. 

Revising Our Self-Talk

What we say to ourselves matters because our thoughts are directly connected to what we think and believe about ourselves. Thoughts do not form in a vacuum, instead they are tied to well established patterns. For instance, if we are in the habit of being critical of ourselves when we make a mistake or when we are forgetful, that design of fault finding is connected to a history of being critical. Our parents, siblings or school mates may have laughed, snickered or made cruel comments at our mistakes. And though those people may not be around anymore, their words helped us form our present rut of thinking. Blaming the past changes nothing, but changing our thinking changes everything about our present. We don’t have to let the old ways be in command. Though we have been believed we were dumb, stupid, or clumsy, whenever we made a mistake, we can begin telling ourselves that it is common for humans to mistakes. 

What we say in our heads does not necessarily stay in our heads either. Patterns of thinking also become patterns of being. If I tell myself that no one will accept me unless I am perfect, then you can bet I will strive toward perfecting anything and everything I do. From menial chores such as cooking a meal to more complex tasks such as going to college, I will drive myself without mercy. My running monolog that I must be extraordinary, not just ordinary, can actually, over the long haul, be detrimental to my wholeness as a person. People who drive themselves toward perfection often physically burn out from exhaustion or become bitter because no one applauds their perfect efforts. 

Noticing what we tell ourselves and altering those thoughts not only affects our behaviors with ourselves, but how we treat others as well.  If I don’t have any mercy with me, how will I give it to others? If I am not empathetic with myself, how can I be empathetic toward someone else? And if I am impatient toward others, it is because I am impatient with myself. 

Why bother to notice what we tell ourselves? It is worth it to critique our own thinking since it affects our behaviors toward ourselves and others. Thinking well of others begins with thinking well of ourselves. 

Why Bother Talking “To” Instead of “At”?

Why Bother Talking “To” Instead of “At”?

Recently, I attended a town hall meeting in my community. Though meetings such as these can sometimes feel pointless, the topic was important enough to me that I showed up with an optimistic attitude. I’d hoped that maybe opinions would be heard, understood, and even a creative solution discussed. But, within the first five minutes of the gathering, I could tell that the man in charge would be talking “at” us, instead of “to” us. And after forty minutes, people like me, began to get up and leave.  

    Placating

Communicators who speak “at” someone do not possess humility. Instead, they elevate themselves to an exclusive plane and shut out those who think differently.  As a result, concepts from others can be expressed, but are not considered valid. No ideas are truly exchanged or built upon to create a new viewpoint. Instead, words simply pile up into futile utterances that are discarded. 

Those who talk “at” their audience like to think they are connected to them in some way, but really, they are not. The chasm is sometimes quite wide and most of the time stark enough for everyone to see. Admitting to the incongruity between people is a better strategy. At least it lays down a foundation of truthfulness.  

Those who talk “at” someone are not curious or open to possibilities. On the contrary, their mind is already set. They may listen to what others are saying, but it is not heard. When someone has already made up their mind, no other possibilities exist for them. 

Those who communicate “at” people take a defensive stance. They feel they need to be right and do not want to make any compromises. If they do, it will mean they’ve lost the contest. 

 In a way, I feel sorry for those who communicate in this way. I am embarrassed for them. I hear the fear in their voice. Communicating is not easy. Not everyone will like what we say, but communicating “at” someone creates more foes than friends, more divisions than unity. 

On the other hand, learning to talk “to” people creates more friends than foes. Being on the same plane with someone in order to exchange ideas and construct solutions is a lot more fun and productive for everyone. Letting go of a defensive stance and being open and curious builds bridges of empathy. Talking “to” someone creates a more welcoming atmosphere and discharges the stress that builds up in an atmosphere where though things are discussed. 

Why bother talking “to” people instead of “at” them? It is worth learning to communicate in this way because speaking “at” people produces small if any results, makes others feel devalued and annoyed and you do not want to be left talking only to yourself.  

Why Bother To Smile More?

Why Bother To Smile More?

Practicing balancing poses in yoga is not an easy feat. Standing on one foot or on one’s head takes concentrated effort. Oftentimes when I focus too hard on mastering a balance pose I fall out of it and then realize two of my biggest mistakes. First of all, I am taking myself too seriously and secondly, I am holding my breath. 

      Go Ahead and Grin

 Normally, when a sequence of balancing poses are practiced in a yoga class, the teachers are well aware of the tension that builds up inside everyone. They understand how difficult the poses can be and that our balance varies from day to day. They also know how strongly everyone wants to succeed at these poses and for this reason they often remind students to smile and breathe. Other instructors will say to embrace the wobbles. In other words, when tempted to take a pose too seriously, we are reminded to lighten up. 

These cues —to smile, breathe and embrace the wobbles— are good reminders for people with personalities such as mine. I know I can be a little competitive, even with my yoga practice. I am also somewhat obsessed with an urgency that becomes an intense and pulsating force of energy. I get impatient quickly and  have a tendency to equate self-worth with achievement. People like myself have a difficult time embracing the wobbles, let alone smiling when doing something hard. We just want to perfect our poses.

Smiling more often might be helpful, but it is not easy to do when one is focused on a demanding task. It takes a conscious effort. But, when I do remember to smile, whether when attempting to stand on one leg or working hard to teach fourth graders a new math concept, I notice instant changes taking place in my body.

First of all, my sense of urgency leaves my body and I feel my shoulders drop away from my ears. My voice softens and slows down. The wrinkles in my forehead smooth themselves out and the tension in my head dissipates. Finally, I remember to breathe. 

Not only does my body change, but anyone in close proximity changes too. When I smile, they do as well. So much goodness from simply changing the shape of my face. 

Why bother to smile more? It is worth it to change the shape of our face from a tense expression to a wide grin. After all, when we do, we can change our whole world. 

Why Bother To Sow Good Thoughts?

 

Why Bother To Sow Good Thoughts?

Recently, I strapped on my snowshoes and walked along the frozen lake. I enjoy this particular route—the expansive view of sky and water as well as the solitude and silence. Tromping down the deep snow to make my own trail, my body warmed with the exertion. To make my own path, I told myself, would be hard work, but following it back would be easy. 

Happy to be outside in the cold, clear air, I suddenly caught a whiff of cigarette smoke. I wondered who would be smoking and then I saw them—three teenage girls in a little huddle. They looked up, a little startled by my sudden appearance and stared. I didn’t stop to chat with them but instead, chuckled and asked, “Why are you girls smoking?” I didn’t expect them to answer, but one of the girls stepped away from the others and said, 

“Because everyone has a bad habit.” 

“Yeah,” I said. “But you don’t have to,” 

      Promote Good Thinking

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with the idea that when we sow a thought, we reap an action. When we sow an action, we reap a habit. When we sow a habit we reap a character and sowing a character reaps a destiny. Our futures, it appears, are launched by our thoughts. 

The young lady who believes that everyone has a bad habit, is only defending her bad habit by those words. But, here is the real clencher of her belief: the longer she adheres to her idea, the longer she will continue her habit. And over the long haul, smoking only erodes a person’s physical and mental well being. It does nothing to add goodness to our health, and quitting is a grueling chore. 

Our thoughts come and go, but how we think about ourselves, others, and our circumstances form familiar patterns. Then these patterns become our norm. It is only when we become conscious of our thinking or someone throws a cog in our pattern, that we actually make any changes. Becoming conscious makes us aware of our choices. If we want to, we can alter our way of thinking about something. 

So, I hope my words to that young lady were a cog in her thinking pattern. I hope someday, she will know that just because people have bad habits does not mean she has to join the club of people with bad habits. She has a choice to make different choices. I hope, for her sake, she sows better thoughts than the one she is presently sowing. 

Why bother to sow good thoughts? It is worth it to sow good thoughts since those thoughts have the power to shape our futures.

Why Bother To See Beauty In January?

Why Bother To See Beauty In January?

I know why people go south for the winter— so they do not have to endure cold days, long nights and deep snows. But when they leave the frigid for the balmy, they miss out. Only those of us left who are left behind can appreciate what January delivers; a rare and hidden loveliness. 

  Beauty In The Bleak

I know in the past, I’ve both written and said to others that January is my least favorite month, but I believe it is time to shift that perspective. I don’t want to just put up with January any more. Waiting impatiently for it to go away produces ingratitude. And I do not want to languish for what I do not have— blue skies, sunshine and warm weather. That begets discontentment. Instead, I want to practice gratitude and gratefulness for this particular month called January. After all, it presents us with unique gifts, ones that do not come at any other time of the year. Uncovering and admiring them is my desire.

January offers the gift of snow. Snow changes everything in a landscape. It piles up on roofs creating white top hats. Snow balances on tree branches as well as on barbed wire fences. When the wind blows, it flies through the air like a mysterious white wall of mist. When it drifts it takes on shapes like ruffles, ridges, ravines and motionless ocean waves.

Snow, like a sound barrier, muffles noisy traffic. It forces highway closures, grounds planes, and halts the masses. For public school teachers like me, snow days become slow days. I’m given a gift of time to sit with a book in my lap and a mug of hot cocoa in my hand.  

Snow creates its own sounds. Falling from tree branches it plops, under my boots it squeaks, and sliding from metal roofs it crashes. Snow also leaves evidence of where the deer, mice, and birds have trekked, reminding me of the animals who are still here in spite of the cold. 

Snow has its own texture, sometimes as light as shredded coconut or as heavy as concrete. It is a testament of just how creative our Creator is. Each flake of snow is unduplicated, no two are alike. To think that in the mounds of snow that surround my house no two flakes are the same is a majestic wonder.  

Why bother to see beauty in January? It is worth it to those of us who choose to remain in the land of the frigid instead of escaping to the land of the balmy to uncover loveliness right where we are. As we do, we just might experience a shift in our perspective and gain a sense of gratitude and gratefulness.

Why Bother With Motivation?

Why Bother With Motivation?

I like good surprises, the ones that make me smile, the ones that are easy to receive and to be grateful for. Recently, I experienced a wonder such as that. A friend called to inquire about my level of motivation—where did it come from? “You are the most motivated person I know,” she said. I was flattered, but at the same time curious and cautious. I love my friend. She is creative, energetic, and educated, but most always too busy for any kind of in depth personal conversation. But, here it was, an open door for the kind of relational exchange I like the most—heart-to-heart. I was not one-hundred percent sure if I could give her the answer she was looking for, but I gave her the go ahead and she began.

      Theories

As a business woman, my friend explained the various theories surrounding what motivates people. Performance levels, outcomes, expectancy, and values were some of the words she rattled on about. Without a background in business, I listened carefully. I wanted to understand the language she used as well as what she needed from me. Then she revealed what I thought was the truth of the matter. She’d made a New Year’s resolution and wanted to know, from my experience, how to stick to it. Ah, there it was, I thought, the crux of the issue. She longs to commit to something she believes is good for her. She values its outcome—that it will make her a better business woman and expand her potential for more business. She also knows she has the knowledge to take on this resolution. But, she lacks the follow through.

I asked her if she had carved out a time slot to practice this specific discipline she wanted to adopt into her life. Unlike the early quiet hours of a morning, which are the best time for me, the last hours of the day were best for her. Finding a consistent time and place to practice her resolution will help her stay the course I assured her.

Since my friend and I are cut from the same cloth—I understand her strong desire to succeed with what we start. But she confided in me that she’d started this practice before and it fell by the wayside. “What pulls you away from finishing what you begin?” Distractions are her nemesis. Because she is creative, and talented, she has a wide variety of skills. She can imagine doing so many other things while at the same time attempting to be content with what she’s chosen to do. We do have a lot of choices, but when we pick one discipline to pursue, sticking with it can open up more options than we’d imagined at the start. 

Finally, she wanted to know who inspires me. I told her I’ve had a few good role models along with some good teachers. There have been  people in my life who have a knack of pulling out of me, my very best. They see something that is hidden from my view and then they gently and persistently bring it to the surface so I can see it too. I could sense she was willing to let me help her see the success that awaits her. 

Why bother with motivation? It is worth it to understand what moves us forward or pulls off the path that we know is good for us. Coming to terms with these things may show us a gentle helper who reveals our possibilities.

Why Bother Making Space?

Why Bother Making Space?

 While a college student, I earned money by cleaning houses. It was not my favorite type of work, but it was interesting. I learned a lot about people, their habits and hobbies. Most everyone collected something—from expensive paintings to ceramic angels, to silver spoons. One of my customers collected antique kerosene lamps. Each week I dusted those lamps and their glass chimneys and once, I counted them. She had one hundred lamps. They were crowded into her small living room and sat on every tabletop and bookshelf. They were a tedious nuisance to clean, which is why she hired me. While wiping them down with a damp rag one day, I told myself that when I had my own home, I would not fill it up with a collection of clutter. 

One Man’s Collection Another Man’s Income

The number of storage unit companies in our area have increased at least by two-fold. But there are still not enough of them. People moving into this area have told me how they’ve been inconvenienced by having to wait for one to vacate in order for them to occupy one. I know some who rent not just one storage unit, but two and others who have paid to have their stuff stored for more than a decade. Renting space to store clutter is a money-making proposition for some, and for others, it is a loss of income. What makes any item valuable enough to pay someone to keep it for us?

I was once hired to help a woman clean the clutter out of her house. She wanted to simplify her life and thought I could help her. I was glad she’d asked, but it was an impossible task. Every item had its own story and because of this, she’d formed an emotional attachment to her stuff.  For every item we set aside to remove from her house, she justified its significance. Getting rid of anything was like turning a family member away from the fold. She just couldn’t do it and I couldn’t do it for her.

A friend of mine had the resolve to clean out an accumulation of her odd collection of knick knacks that others had given to her over the years as gifts. But, once she had them packed up in her car to donate to a thrift shop, she drove to a different city, fifty miles away, to deposit them. Her reasoning— she did not want anyone to find out that she’d gotten rid of what they’d previously given to her. “You’re just getting rid of stuff,” I told her. “You are not ending your relationship with them.” Oh, the things our stuff makes us do!

Without clutter in our life, we open up space. What we do with this openness is up to us. I choose not to fill it back up. Instead, I simply enjoy it.  

Why bother making space? It is worth it to rid ourselves of the things that require our time, money, and energy and yet, give us nothing in return. 

Why Bother Living Courageously?

Why Bother Living Courageously?

As I tear off the cellophane of a brand-new calendar and place it on my desk, I am reminded of the freshness which comes with a new year. For the next three-hundred sixty-five days, I get to choose how to live my life. Though every day is a new day with precisely twenty-four hours, not every day is exactly alike. And though I can design a blueprint for my day, as I should, I cannot predict the unexpected. We are all aware of how unknown circumstances can redraft any of our best conceived ideas, or how they can redirect a well-established routine. When the small or large unpredictable variables present themselves, as they will, what keeps us on course?  

    Courage to Live our Convictions

Our society is ever changing. Just looking through old photo albums depicts how fashion fads have come and gone. On a more serious note, observing the social behavioral statistics of our day show that crime, suicide and divorce, are on the incline. 

If I were to set my standard for living according to our present societal climate, I would be tossed by the wind and sunk in no time. And if I do not want to be squeezed into a mold which forms me in a way contrary to my convictions, then I need courage to live contrary to the one of the general populaces.  

I am a collector of quotes and recently I read one which inspired me to live more fearlessly, and boldly. In essence it said that without courage, life gets smaller, but with courage, life grows more expansive. These words resonate with me. I know from personal experience that when I am afraid, fear holds me as its prisoner in solitary confinement. But, when I step away from real or imagined fear, restrictive living and thinking no longer bind me.

Courage is the capacity to meet danger without giving way to anxiety. To have courage is to wean ourselves from the habit of always overcompensating on behalf of another person’s uncouth behavior. We know when we are stout hearted when we can put our convictions into practice and speak our mind while staying aligned to our heart. 

Having valor does not mean we are vain. Brave people know when they are wrong, learn from their mistakes and ask to be forgiven when they know they need to. Tenacious people are less likely to live with regrets, and instead, live without them.

Why bother living courageously? It is worth it to practice valor since we have three hundred and sixty-five days ahead to try it on for size.

Why Bother To Know Ourselves?

Why Bother To Know Ourselves ?

It is good to know who we are. If we do then we get along better with ourselves, understand our particular needs and when necessary, know how to accommodate our shortcomings. For instance, I am directionally challenged. Once, when we were on vacation, I went out for my morning run and got turned around in a subdivision for quite some time. When I got back to the motel my husband asked if I’d gotten lost. I just gave him a sheepish grin. Another time, I lost our houseboat while camping on Lake Powell. Though I found my way back to the boat, my journey took about twelve hours and caused extreme high levels of stress and worry to my family, especially to my husband.

 Because I know I get lost easily, I do not hike in the wilds alone and before traveling by myself, I map my route ahead of time. Even then, I’ve been known to lose my way. But, although I am directionally challenged with geography, I have learned to trust my inner compass which keeps on the right track.

Moral Compass

I was a youngster when I first became aware of my moral compass. I’d watch my siblings talk back or lie to either Mom or Dad and notice the consequence—a very displeased parent. It became clear to me that the right thing to do was to respect others and never lie. These were two of the earliest values I named and claimed for myself. Telling the truth and living truthfully keeps me going in the right direction. It is not always simple to speak truth to someone, nor is it always easy to hear truth spoken into my life, but the alternative, living a lie or speaking lies to others, is a much worse road to travel down. 

Though I enjoy spending money, pursuing wealth is not one of my goals. While growing up, I never went hungry and when I became an adult, I learned to live within my means. When we raised our family, we chose to live with one income, my husbands. We missed out on buying a motor boat, a camper, and building a summer home on the lake, but we found ways within our means to have fun. I know the value of relationships surpasses any benefits gained from chasing after a six figure income. 

Since I have only one body which has to last my whole life, I place great importance on taking care of the one I have. Though some people think taking care of myself is a selfish thing to do, I know that when they need me, I want to be the best me, for them. 

Always learning keeps me growing and moving forward. I want to stay curious and unassuming so that I don’t get stuck or ingrown. With my moral compass intact, adding knowledge only adds wisdom.

Why bother to know ourselves? It is worth it to know ourselves because our moral compasses are attached to who we are. And it is a dangerous thing to lose either ourselves or our path.