We Grow Strong or We Grow Weak

Consider this from Katharine Butler Hathaway, “If you let fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”

The implication here is that fear of consequence is pretty normal; so having some, or maybe even a lot, isn’t that much of a big deal. The big deal is having a life that is safe, expedient, and thin. What the problem with this actually is remains hidden; so you are simply expected to intuit it, it seems. The rub is that you have little faith in your abilities and less faith in your basic grasp or understanding of situations or circumstances. Since you don’t believe that you can trust your judgment or instinct, you don’t take a chance on yourself. You likewise don’t have much faith in your ability to anticipate or predict the behavior of other people. Your belief is that you cannot predict if a specific action of yours will lead to good or bad outcomes. Usually, you think the likely outcome of following your judgment will be bad. You don’t trust yourself and feel that any errors or mistakes you might make will likely be just another example of your screwing up. Given that reality, a life that is safe, expedient, and thin sounds like a reasonable alternative. There is a potential glitch in going with the safe alternative, though. Brooke Foss Westcott described it this way, “Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.” Fortunately, Eleanor Roosevelt suggested another alternative that you may want to consider. “I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experiences behind him.”

Sure, conquering fear sounds good in theory; but it’s certainly easier said than done. As you weigh your choices, Glenn Turner’s point deserves your attention, “Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Ruth Gordon also joined the fear fighters, “Courage is like a muscle; it is strengthened by use;” and as you might have expected, the famous Anon. added a tidbit as well, “The mighty oak was once a little nut that stood its ground.”

Since the Fear vs. Safe debate can’t be resolved here, another thought or two will be enough for now. Haddon W. Robinson said, “What worries you, masters you;” and Roger Babson said, “If things go wrong, don’t go with them.” There you go. Do what you need to do, when you need to do it; and while you’re at it, adopt the Charlie Brown philosophy for fear management, “I’ve developed a new philosophy … I only dread one day at a time.”

Now you know so there you go.

Potential

William Arthur Ward argued that “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”

This isn’t altogether true but is definitely a popular, self-affirming message for most people, most of the time. One can easily imagine being faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and perhaps even leaping one of those tall buildings in a single bound; but no matter how much you dream, you still aren’t turning into Superman. It’s also true that you may find that you have achieved things you never imagined and have become someone you didn’t think it was possible for you to become, in your wildest dreams. Unfortunately, that can work in both positive and negative directions. The reality is that imagining and dreaming can lead to achievement and becoming, but only within limits. Exploring those limits is instructive.

Imagination and dreaming can assist in avoiding bad outcomes and finding oneself in undesirable circumstances. Think about what you don’t want to happen, where you don’t want to end up. Once you have a clear picture, figure out what you need to do to get that outcome or to end up in those circumstances. Now, make sure you don’t do whatever your imagination and dreaming tell you would be required. Just don’t do it; don’t knowingly screw up. It’s surprising how often people know they shouldn’t do something but do it anyway.

Are you committed to avoiding screwing up, to the extent you can, whenever possible? If so, the next step is to avoid Superman thinking. Is what you want to achieve or who you want to become possible, given your skills, talents, and circumstances? You can improve your skills; but if you frequently miss the ball when you swing, you likely aren’t going to make it as a professional golfer. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t ever be asked to sing a solo at the opera. If you spent a few years in the big house for robbing a bank, a seat on the Supreme Court isn’t in your future. When you do your imagining and dreaming thing, be sure your actually being in the picture one day is at least possible, no matter how unlikely.

You have now pretty well defined the limits of imagination and dreaming. Achieving and becoming are in your sites, although they may yet be hard to see. What to do? Well, you’re in luck. JP Morgan’s strategy is here for you. “Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther.”

Now you know so there you go.

Choices

Horace said, “He has the deed half done who has made a beginning.” Indira Gandhi also thought that getting on with getting on is the way to go, “Have a bias toward action – let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy joined the get your get up and go up and going chorus when he said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” And perchance you think that people will simply assume that you have good intentions without your actually needing to go for it, the famous Anon pointed out, “Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.”

There you have it, the argument for not sitting around twiddling your thumbs; but, as with most ideas, there is an alternative point of view. One might suppose that it’s now time to dig in, go for the gusto, strike while the iron is hot, expatiate, explicate, and generally expound on that alternative point of view; but one would be wrong. Remember Johann von Goethe’s warning, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

If that isn’t sufficient to slow the pace, also remember Walter Kerr’s observation, “Half the world is composed of idiots, the other half of people clever enough to take indecent advantage of them.” It would be well to first determine whether one is clever, an idiot, or merely a clever idiot before jumping to an ill considered conclusion. If all of that still doesn’t put the brakes on for you, persuade you to look before you leap, and convince you not to jump off the cliff until you learn how to fly, listen to Laurence J. Peter, “Fortune knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.” And speaking of misfortune, even Horace advised you to put no trust in tomorrow.

OK, you’ve got them, the alternative points of view. Do you act or not act, take a chance or play it safe? Sure, you need to seize the day but it’s worth pointing out that you can usually wait till after lunch.

Now you know so there you go.

Forward Toward Success

The psychology of success and failure is complex but not particularly hard to understand. It starts with personal responsibility. Unless you accept the responsibility for failure, you can’t take the credit for success. Either you are the agent of your life outcomes or the victim of people who are pushing you down. Here’s the point. If you blame others for pushing you down, people other than you deserve the praise for pushing you ahead.

Separating yourself from what you do comes next. As William D. Brown put it, “Failure is an event, never a person.” Your success and failure aren’t who you are. They are merely what you do. S.I. Hayakawa expanded on the same theme, “Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, ‘I have failed three times,’ and what happens when he says, ‘I am a failure.'” The key is in how you manage life’s events, not in the events themselves. Robert Allen expressed it like this, “There is no failure. Only feedback.”

Now consider what you do with the feedback life provides. Napoleon Hill observed, “The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.” It’s not enough to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and climb back on that horse that threw you. You need a better plan for staying in the saddle. Sure, getting up and starting over is tough. Yes, that damn horse may throw you again. Indeed, your new plan may not work any better than the old one; but it’s like Beverly Sills said, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

Thomas Edison managed the disappointment this way, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work;” and Samuel Beckett had a similar persistent optimism, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” With role models like Edison and Beckett, you can hardly go wrong, so long as you keep trying. As Charles F. Kettering put it, “One fails forward toward success.”

George E. Woodberry knew the essence of success, “Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” Continuing effort is seldom elegant or easy; but Elbert Hubbard’s simple point may be all you actually need to know, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” With that said, Mary Pickford gets the last word on the psychology of success and failure, “Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Now you know so there you go.

Treat Me Like I Treat You

You are about to learn the secret recipe for the tie that binds. The ingredients and how to lovingly combine them have been protected and tenderly passed down, hand-to-hand, through the generations.

Acceptance is the first ingredient. It lets your beloved know that you accept him (or her) as is, don’t want to change him, don’t want him to change. You then blend in affection, knowing that “too much” applies to many things but never to affection sincerely offered.

As you mix the ingredients with love and sincere good will, gentleness is the secret technique the masters have perfected and you refine in ways that convey the uniqueness of your loving touch. It’s the perfect complement to being fully involved in the moment, without distraction, without reservation.

You have almost got it just right, are nearing perfection; but it still needs a dash of this and a pinch of that, the special spices that bring out the rich flavor of the tie that binds. They are spontaneity and playfulness. Your loving touch is always there, only awaiting a gesture, a feeling, the slightest of signs that it’s wanted and valued. It sparkles with joy, enthusiasm, and that indescribable but familiar extra that is in a child’s laughter, a lover’s smile, in the connection when you share life with your beloved.

Once you have mastered the recipe, your strategy is simple. You need only say to your beloved, “Treat me like I treat you.”

We both like it when things are fair so here’s what you should do. Watch how I handle things, then treat me like I treat you.

I get into a bad mood once in a while and you get into bad moods too. Watch how I manage my bad moods, then treat me like I treat you.

I may have a lot of things to say or I may only have a few. Watch how I listen when you talk, then treat me like I treat you.

Sometimes you get mad at me and sometimes I get mad too. Watch how I handle the angry times, then treat me like I treat you.

There are things that are important to me and things I expect of you. Watch how I handle your counting on me, then treat me like I treat you.

There are places I expect you to be and there are times to be there too. Watch how I manage being places on time, then treat me like I treat you.

Honesty is something that matters a lot so be sure what you tell me is true. Watch how honest I try to be, then treat me like I treat you.

You make commitments so I’ll know what to expect and there are things you promise to do. Watch how I handle commitments I make, then treat me like I treat you.

There are times when I am happy and there are times when I am blue. Watch how I handle your ups and downs, then treat me like I treat you.

There are things I want to experience and there are things I want to do. Watch how I support your hopes and dreams, then treat me like I treat you.

Now you know so there you go.

The Loving Touch

The tiny threads that sew you and your beloved together are intimate and very private; and the loving touch is definitely one of those tiny threads that bind you to each other. It comes in many forms and flavors from a sentimental card or candy in a pretty box to a warm embrace. Flowers and a romantic dinner work as well. Whatever form it takes, the loving touch means that it’s an uncommon moment, a moment for special friends and lovers.

But alas, the cards will be read and the candy eaten, expensive presents discarded and sincere words forgotten. In time the flowers will wilt and the romantic dinner become but yesterday’s fond memory. Something more is needed: a loving touch not to fade, not to be forgotten. It needs to provide that special advantage that Judith Viorst said marriage brings to the two of you. “One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again.” To sustain your love until you fall in love again, the loving touch needs to last longer than the day and keep reminding, keep saying, “I love you.”

This spirit is hard to capture in a well-intended gift or simple verse. It isn’t to be found in things you can touch and hold. Rather, the spirit of the loving touch is in the tie that binds. It is hard to define but impossible to miss. The loving touch that lasts, the kind that keeps saying, “I love you,” is filled with added value that lasts far beyond the moment.

What are these extras that make the loving touch linger past the moment? The added value includes affection any time your beloved needs a hug; and just as your beloved accepts you, warts and all, it’s a two-way-street.

There also are ingredients far less adult, far less mature. They are playful and gentle, spontaneous and mischievous. They are full of fun and good times, private games and warm summer evenings. These ingredients are for you and your beloved and for all the little kids like you who have to sometimes act your age, be adults, and take care of business. You do what you need to do as best you can; but when the child in you gets to hang out with the child who lives deep within your beloved, life is at its best.

Now you know so there you go.

Smart Luck

Sure, some lucky ducks were born with silver spoons in their mouths; and in life’s great poker game, some people get better cards than others. It’s enough to make you just sit down and cry. The old law-of-averages certainly doesn’t apply to you. If luck were really a lady, the world would be a fairer place. Even if it weren’t, at least you would get better cards. Maybe your luck will turn; but then again, maybe not. In the meantime, you will need to simply go with the cards you are dealt.

Okay, you get it; but it’s still a roll of the dice and you can’t do much about that fact of life; but, maybe you can. A friend tells this story. “It was bright-and-early one morning when Grandpa found an exceptionally fine sea shell on the beach. I flippantly commented, ‘That was just dumb luck, your finding that shell.’ He smiled and replied, ‘Yes, it was dumb luck for a guy who was already on the beach and looking before 6:30.'”

Sure, luck and maybe even dumb luck at times play a big part in a lot of things. Things happen and you can’t control everything; but you can make a point to be on the beach before 6:30 and can make the extra effort it takes to improve the odds for your success. The old-timers call this “smart luck.”

Thomas Jefferson also supported personal responsibility as an important key to good luck. “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” The famous Anon. added one more key to unlocking luck’s door, “Luck is when opportunity knocks and you answer.” It really is just like R.E. Shay said, “Depend on the rabbit’s foot if you will, but remember it didn’t work for the rabbit.”

Now you know so there you go.

Let Others Be

For John O’Brien, his hope was that we may care enough to love enough to share enough to let others become what they can be; but how do we do this at home, at work, and in the context of our other important relationships? Consider the following strategies. They may or may not work equally well for all of us; but they are definitely worth considering.

Cooperation: Emphasize a helpful, supportive approach to all of your relationships and activities with other people.

Bertrand Russell said, “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” You likely will want to set your sights a little less grandly than redeeming mankind; but you nonetheless get the idea. Cooperation is definitely the way to go and helping others is one of the best ways to get there. What’s more, Charles Dudley promises added benefits for you if you are helpful and supportive with other people, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Now, that certainly sounds like the real deal, don’t you think?

Loyalty: Emphasize accommodating to the special needs and interests of people and facilitating the resolution of problems.

It’s easy here to see how that benefits other people which, of course, is the point. At the same time, though, you also benefit. Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “The most absolute authority is that which penetrates into a man’s innermost being and concerns itself no less with his will than with his actions.” Sure, if you accommodate to other people and help them work things out, you will feel better about who you are and what you do. It’s like Josiah Royce pointed out, “Unless you can find some sort of loyalty, you cannot find unity and peace in your active living.”

Caring: Emphasize concern for and interest in the activities, successes, and problems of other people.

Maxwell Maltz expressed it this way, “Take the trouble to stop and think of the other person’s feelings, his viewpoints, his desires and needs. Think more of what the other fellow wants, and how he must feel.” The message is simple. Take time to care; and remember Fred A. Allen’s words, “It is probably not love that makes the world go around, but rather those mutually supportive alliances through which partners recognize their dependence on each other for the achievement of shared and private goals.”

Continue reading “Let Others Be”

Without Vanity, Who Would I Be?

A “Normal” person is the sort of person that might be designed by a committee. You know, “Each person puts in a pretty color and it comes out gray. – Alan Sherman

Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people. – Martina Navratilova

Most people have become convinced that vanity is a bad quality to have. In fact, it may actually be a cardinal vice which makes it more than bad; it’s terrible. If one explores this negative pronouncement in more depth though, it ain’t necessarily so. For example, Lord Chesterfield said, “To this principle of vanity, which philosophers call a mean one, and which I do not, I owe a great part of the figure which I have made in life.” There you go. Chesterfield thought vanity was one of the keys to his success.

It may be that vanity is little more than one of those things that is just going around. If so, even you may have a little yourself. As Blaise Pascal suggested, “Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this.” No less an icon than Mark Twain said, “There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it;” and there is no end to how clever people can be when concealing it. To illustrate, Louis Kronenberger suggested this strategy, “Nothing so soothes our vanity as a display of greater vanity in others; it makes us vain, in fact, of our modesty;” so if you are uncomfortable with vanity, substitute modesty about being not so vane as some people you know. Just be sure to cleverly conceal it.

François de la Rochefoucauld is another one of the folks who got it, “What makes the vanity of others insupportable is that it wounds our own.” Benjamin Franklin got it too, “Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter, wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others who are within his sphere of action: and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life.” Antonio Porchia also understood, although he did slip in “ridiculous,” probably as a minor concession to the vanity police, “Without this ridiculous vanity that takes the form of self-display, and is part of everything and everyone, we would see nothing, and nothing would exist.”

Fortunately, there is a much better approach. You can simply re-conceptualize. What folks refer to in you as vanity isn’t vanity at all. Rather, it’s merely a reflection of your positive self-perception. It’s what the psychologists call a good self-image. If someone accuses you of vanity, just smile and say:

I’m not a giant or a meek little lamb. I am me, that’s who I am. I’m taller than a cat and shorter than a tree. I’m the very best me you’ll ever see.

I like to laugh, I like to smile. I like to daydream once in a while. I’m extra special but I’m still just me. I’m the very best me I know how to be.

I always try to do my best. I’m good at a lot of things and getting better at the rest. Here’s the truth for everyone to see. It’s totally terrific being me.

I could tell you more stuff about who I am. I like spaghetti and strawberry jam. Here at last is the most spectacular part. I’m extra special because I’m so smart.

Now you know so there you go.