Thoughts on Thinking

"When somebody persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" John Maynard Keynes

"If you're unhappy with your life, change your thinking." Charles Fillmore

"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it." Eckhart Tolle

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them." Epictetus

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

"Consciousness is a terrible thing to waste." PunditGeorge

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What a Spring!

Okay, 2020 so far is a mess for so many reasons.  Making the rounds on social media is the most worthless purchase of 2019 - a 2020 Planner. There will be some very useful and good results from the attack of the China Virus on the world.  Not being overwhelmed by events "beyond your control" is a skill many have.  Much is in the perspective.  Here's a post from a decade ago regarding the marvelous opportunities available to us each spring:

It’s easy to see, and appreciate, the marvelous world we inhabit this time of year.  In fact, you’d have to make an effort not to see such a vibrant expression of Life all around.  And some of us do just that - work very hard to keep our gaze on what we interpret as wrong with someone/something/everything.  The price of such focus is a skewed perspective.  Why on Earth would anyone, surrounded by such wonder and beauty, give their attention and energy to disagreeable situations?  Well, because inherently we know that discord, disharmony, pain and suffering, are not normal states.  Such conditions and experiences are out sync and thus draw attention.  On a very local level, we wouldn’t last long if our bodies were bereft of “pain” to alert us to maintain ourselves.  We pay attention because we want to fix or correct the errant situation and bring it into the natural, harmonious, whole.  However, too much attention may be counterproductive.

A confounding premise of quantum theory is that the mere action of observing (measuring, or watching) sub-atomic actions affects the observed reality.  In essence, the action/state of the particle/wave/vibration conforms to the observation.  That inferes a great power of the mind.

On a philosophic level this begs the question - do we view the universe because it is there?  Or, is the universe there because we view it?  The universe is a really big space/time and it would necessitate a really “big” observer to bring it into “reality.”  That’s the element that gives a lot of scientists and other folks the willies - the prospect of Consciousness as the determining force.  It’s much easier to speak of Mother Nature, evolution, natural law, or whatever.  By any name, it’s a marvelous reality.

Yet this curious premise helps explain how our attention influences our experience.  Which is to say, whatever we give our attention, we see/experience more of.  This is self-evident.  What’s on your mind is what you’re seeing and dealing with.  It’s the chicken or the egg conundrum.  How often have you heard (or had the experience) of thinking/saying “I knew that was going to happen,” usually – but not always - about something dreaded or unwanted?  Or something to the effect “Well, yes, I’d like _____ (fill in the blank) but...” (then assert a contrary expectation!)

The question is what do we want?  To feel good and enjoy Life, now?  Or, something else?  It does look more and more like a natural law that what we want (give attention to, think about, have strong emotions about) is what we experience.  For years I’ve made it a point to hand-signal “time out” when someone makes a statement to the effect “Life is too short to ...”   Whoa!  Why cut short Life?  Rephrase, state what is desired, which results in something like “Life is too important to ...”

Spring provides us so many sensory experiences to help direct our attention to what we want - which is generally considered a good and happy life.  It is easy to appreciate spring - the warm sun, the rain, the budding trees and plants, the myriad of birds, (and at our house, the appearance of the rabbit and non-appearance but evidence of the resident armadillo), sights, sounds, smells - all the essence of Life.  The Pareto Principle applies - 80% of your life is likely pretty good and only 20% “needs improvement.”  Which gets the most attention?  Of course, the 20%.  Why does the 20% never seem to go away?  Observing the problem increases awareness and thus experiences of the problem, and visa versa.

Be radical in 2020.  Give attention - appreciation - to the 80% and experience more of the good Life.  Who knows, maybe at some point you’ll be on a “rampage of appreciation” and oblivious to aches, pains, misery, resentment, jealousy - all of those unpleasant experiences.  Other folks might want to grow their unhappy 20% but that doesn’t mean you must.  And, your increased appreciation and delight can not diminish another’s potential for good.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  FDR brought for that memorable phrase, speaking after his first inauguration Saturday, March 4, 1933.   He was on to something.  
No one who has ever lived has escaped fear. It has been said that there are basically two human emotions—love and fear. Other emotions are variations on these two. It’s reasonable, then, that a person’s perception of anything is rooted in either fear or love. Since many problems are influenced by perceptions, those based in fear get more attention. It’s very unlikely that you, or someone you know, wants to live with fear. That’s why fear gets so much attention—nobody wants it.  It’s the ultimate marketing tool.

Infants are terrified of two things, falling and loud noises. That’s a healthy way to begin life. From the get-go you know that you can’t fly and that falling could have a bad ending. A loud noise is caused by something, and the louder the noise, the bigger and more dangerous the something. We never completely lose those fundamental fears.

The emotion we recognize as fear is an instinctive safety system. If we were not capable of fear, we would be extinct. Whenever you perceive a threat, a danger to your well-being, fear mobilizes your system to fight the danger or get out of its way. This is healthy. It protects us. Fear is a powerful emotion. It is also very, very, uncomfortable.  It alerts us that we’re physically or mentally in a dangerous place to our well being.

That’s why fear motivates us so well. People do what they must do to escape from the danger or eliminate it. When the threat is gone, or perspective shifts, fear leaves. In this sense, fear could be considered a courteous emotion—when it has done its job, it goes away. Or, at least it diminishes in intensity.

Suppose you want to drive your new convertible 120 miles per hour on the Interstate. However, you set the cruise control a hair over the posted speed limit. Why? The fear of being stopped and ticketed by the police is greater than the desire to feel the rush of 120 mile-per-hour wind. This is a social fear—law.

As a society we govern ourselves by means of law. There are undesired consequences for violating the law, therefore most people choose not to do so. In this sense, controlled fear provides a defined system for the common good. Law and custom are the ways society governs itself. Fear, then, can be a very helpful emotion.

Fear is often used to manage relationships from families to the workplace. Dawn knows this. She’s worked in a number of jobs that were fear-managed. The motivational theory was that people would only do the right thing through fear. Dawn screws up and she is fired. Dawn does her job correctly and she isn’t punished. It’s not the best management style to be sure, and a big reason Dawn was looking for another job.

Management or government by fear is used by people who are afraid of their employees, staff or citizens. For instance, Bentley runs a business and believes that all employees steal from their employer. He knows that any moment his back is turned, the rabble will steal from him—either real material or lost business by insulting or mistreating customers. That may or may not be true, but if Bentley perceives it to be true, then it rules the way he treats his employees and conducts business.

What kind of employee is more likely to apply for a job with Bentley’s company and be hired? Someone who is inherently honest? Or, someone who harbors a belief that all employers exploit employees? Which of the two will be attracted to working for Bentley?

It is curious how people attract what which they fear/despise the most. If Bentley expects his workers to cheat and steal from him, then the door is wide open for those workers who hold the same perception of Bentley. And they walk right in. And they are hired. And they cheat and steal. What a mess.  What you fear you bring near.

It’s the problem of the negative self-fulfilling prophecy—I fear, therefore it happens.  That which you fear, you draw near.
Fear is the perception of danger. The danger can be physical, such as a powerful thunderstorm, or can be a mental or emotional fear, such as having the lights suddenly go out in your hotel room, or suspecting that a loved one is behaving in a way that will harm them.

There have been times when Jane was afraid of losing control of her emotions. She was afraid of her strong feelings overcoming her thinking and acting blindly, not choosing her behavior. I feel—I act— I think. Oops.

Fred may have had times when he feared losing his mind. He was fearful of scattering his thought process such that he couldn’t concentrate on anything or make a decision. His thinking would become paralyzed. I can’t think—I act—Oops.

The point is that the perceived threat or danger doesn’t have to be physical, such as a ten-year-old stealing a gun and going to school for live action computer games. The danger can be abstract, such as fear of the unknown. People are instinctively wary of situations when they don’t know what’s out there.

The most disturbing type of fear is non-specific—there isn’t anything to be seen, touched, or heard, that is the danger or threat. It’s not a typical dark and stormy night. But the fear is dark, and the emotions are stormy, as they alert Fred or Jane to do something to fight or escape the danger. The problem is that the danger is unknown.

The Tribulations of Wanda, Monique, Sam and Tyrone

Fear can be rational or irrational. Rational fear is based on something - a genuine and identifiable threat. Irrational fear is based on—who knows? It’s irrational. Something is scaring somebody but it’s nothing that anyone else can see, understand, or measure.

Wanda is married. Her husband has a nasty habit of beating her whenever he’s afraid, which he disguises as anger. Wanda is afraid of him—which is what he wants—and she works very hard to not disturb or anger him. At some point Wanda may realize that her life could be better off without him. Then again, she may be a prisoner of wanting the problem to be the solution. Regardless, the discomfort of her fear will continue to make her life miserable.

Sam was looking forward to entering middle school. The thugs ruling the halls were equally looking forward to new victims to extort. Very soon Sam learns that if he doesn’t bring the cash payoff to the thugs each day, he gets beat up. Sam becomes very afraid of going to school. His parents may not be privy to the reality of his school experience and dismiss his fear and reluctance. It is particularly frustrating for Sam if those adults who should help protect him (parents, teachers, etc.) don’t, won’t or can’t.

Wanda and Sam face very real, rational fears. At some point they will be free of the abusive husband and thugs and their fear will abate. It’s a bit different with Monique and Tyrone.

Monique is engaged to a man who has a good job, treats her well and supports her aspirations for a career. Not a bad relationship, at least according to her mom. But (yes, the BUT that keeps showing up), Monique knows, in her most personal thoughts and feelings, that he will leave her. Five years later, after marriage, a wonderful child and her budding career, she simply “knows” that he is going to leave her. Her fear of this has affected their relationship from the beginning.

Her fear is not associated with anything external, the perceived threat is a successful marriage. Why? Who knows? It is a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Situations like this are frustrating, not only for Monique, but for those in her life.

Tyrone also has a fear that others cannot understand. He is intelligent and a good student. Tyrone’s family was mystified, therefore, when he dropped out of college and refused to go back. He’s got a job and is meeting his adult obligations but he just hasn’t achieved his potential. His relationship with his parents is a bit tense since they nag him to return to college.

Like the case of the barking dog, no one but Tyrone knows that he is terrified of having to take the public speaking course required for graduation. His private fear never goes away and affects him and his family.

If Tyrone admits his fear of the speech class he will probably hear that he is making a mountain out of a mole hill. Some well meaning person may take him into a classroom and ask him to imagine that his classmates are wearing only underwear while he delivers his speech. Nice try. In his mind pops the image of a room packed with people in their underwear while he stands fully naked at the podium. A person’s perception of danger is difficult for another to fully understand or appreciate.

It doesn’t matter if there are five students in Tyrone’s class or fifty. It doesn’t matter whether the class room is half-full or half-empty. He doesn’t like the podium!

Young Steve and 32 Flavors

Because it is so uncomfortable, fear can also be a motivator for personal growth. Fear of failing a test in school can motivate the student to study and prepare for the challenge. Fear of embarrassment has kept countless people from doing stupid things. Facing a danger/ threat/challenge and meeting it results in self-confidence. It works well on the job.

As a teenager, Steve had his first job behind the counter in a neighborhood ice cream shop. Thirty-two flavors, twenty toppings, the problems of calculating the cost of each, serving the customer, and making sure they leave with correct change. It is perfectly natural that young Steve feels anxious—a variation of fear—on his first day on the job.

Yet his fear of goofing up also gives him the energy and motivation to learn the job. He has yet to experience serving customers, but, by golly, he has practiced doing it. He’s on the job and customers rush in. He takes each step slowly, insuring that he selects the ordered ice cream and correct topping. He knows his math and the first customer leaves with both ice cream and correct change. It is a triumph for Steve. He is now less fearful of customer #2, who wants to add to the mix one of those pesky bananas.

After a couple days, Steve is no longer feeling afraid or anxious about his job. He has faced his fear and risen to the challenge. He has gained confidence in his ability to manage fear by learning the job. This prepares him for the next challenge—the boss wants to increase his responsibilities to include setting up and closing the shop. That’s scary for young Steve but he prepares for his new responsibilities. Why? He wants the added increase to his wage. Steve is able to link the two—fear of more responsibility and the reward of higher pay.

In this situation there is a simple and direct payoff when Steve recognizes his fear and does what he needs to do to eliminate the threat—loss of promotion if he botches the job. This is an important moment for young Steve. His success in managing his fear will serve him well as an adult. Overcoming fear always results in a positive— one less threat or danger in life, and new skills to meet challenges lurking in the future.

Prudence in Action

Here is another thought exercise: Pick any person and ask if he or she has made a change in his/her lifestyle within the past three years to accommodate a fear of crime. The change could be minor, such as adding a new lock on the door, shopping only during daylight, or installing a car alarm. The change could be significant such as moving to a different neighborhood or school district, refusing to go out alone at night, or installing a home security system. Whole industries are based on helping people alleviate their fear of crime, which is considered prudent.

Keep asking that question and you will probably discover that most people you know have compromised some of their freedom due to a fear of being a victim of some criminal act. Such fear is based on perception.

The odds of being a victim of the coffee-guy-turned-terrorist are small. But the perception is the reality and people will bar their doors and windows to lock out the danger. The downside is that the wrong person is behind bars. But that’s how fear works to protect us—the discomfort forces us to take some action to eliminate the danger or remove it from ourselves. Nothing new about this preventive measure. As has been said, a stitch in time saves nine.

It’s always easier and more efficient to recognize a problem early and devise a solution, or plan, than it is to suffer the event and deal with the casualties. Remember Y2K?  Doom and gloom in 2012?  And, right now, Covid-19 and the end of life as we know it?

This is what Dawn was attempting to do the night before her big interview. The problem was that her solution, sabotaging the interview, didn’t address her real fear—changing her job. Avoiding the new position did not alleviate her fear, it merely postponed it until another day. She hasn’t changed her thinking about herself.

Challenges never cease nor does an inherent fear of the unknown. Fear works to better prepare us for whatever is around the corner or lurking just a bit in the future.

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!

Calvin Coolidge got it right. “If you see ten troubles coming down the road,” he said, “you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.” With an outlook like that, it’s easy to understand why Silent Cal was seldom anxious. Unfortunately, many people see the ten troubles and leap into action ten different ways.  Some, fifteen or twenty – a typhoon of diffused activity.

Worry has been described as the interest paid on trouble before it falls due or actually arrives. Many people go through the day paying a very high interest rate on their perceived troubles.
Worry is a part of the natural response to fear. Worry is a mental activity that attempts to satisfy an instinct to do something. Concern, a variation of worry, can help Fred or Jane mentally prepare for the challenge. But does worry alone accomplish anything?  Not really.

What is Jane likely to do when she sends her three-year-old off to pre-school for the first time? She worries. Her child is going off to a strange place, around new and unknown people, and, the scary part,

Jane can’t be there. Her concern (fear) for the child’s well-being appears as worry.
Jane may have to resist leaving the house or her job to check on Junior. She worries about the child all day long and her worry can distract her from other responsibilities.

During her break at work Jane will call the school to check on Junior. All is well, and she feels better. Her worry is less for a while. Her worry and concern will diminish in time as she becomes more confident about the school and the safety of her child. Worry has served its purpose—it motivated her to keep a close eye on the situation since she can’t be in two places at once.

Because Jane was able to do something—call the school during breaks and lunch—she perceived some influence over the situation. Her worry never mushroomed into a monster. But what would have been the situation if she did not decide to call, or was unable to? Her worry would probably dominate her thinking until the end of the day.

Worry feeds on indecision. Worry flourishes when someone perceives that he/she has no defense against the threat. Perceives sounds a lot like believes. The greater the worry, the more fearful a person feels about the situation. Worry in itself accomplishes nothing. But it sure burns up a lot of mental and emotional energy.

Let’s create a new scenario for young Fred. He’s in college. A big test is coming. He knows that he needs to pass the test. Failing the test is a threat, a danger to his goal of graduating. He automatically goes into a fight/flight mode. His mental and emotional systems are telling him that he needs to make some decisions.

Fred knows what decisions he needs to make: Attend class, read the books, and study his notes. But let’s curse Fred with stubbornness. Although he desires to pass the test, he really doesn’t want to invest the time and energy to do what he needs to do to meet the challenge.

Instead, Fred worries.

Fred worries about the test and complains about it to his fellow students at the movie, basketball game, the restaurant, the pub, or—name a place. Fred is working very hard at his worry because
it makes him feel that he is, in some magical way, preparing for the test. He stays up all night, worrying.

The next day he catches up on the lost sleep rather than go to class. Rested, Fred now scrambles—with the energy fueled by worry—to find some classmate who attended the class and learn what he missed. If Fred is really good at his worry, he has probably strained the good will of his classmates to take notes for him.

Let’s take a break and look at Fred’s worry versus Jane’s worry. She’s concerned about the well-being of her child and makes the decision to call the school. It’s likely that the staff is accustomed to worried parents and they understand her concern and frequent calls. Even though she can’t be physically present to protect Junior, she does what she is able to do. She makes the decision—call and check on him.

Jane’s decision results, over time, in confidence that Junior is safe and her worry diminishes. On the other hand, if Junior was being mistreated or the school was not responsive to her concerns, she would have been able to take a direct action and remove the child from the school. In either case, Jane had a rational fear and made a rational decision. She acted as a result of her worry. She successfully managed the change of her child making his initial foray into the big world.

Okay, back to young Fred. His decision is to avoid doing what he knows he needs to do to pass the test. Instead, he worries more. He takes the test and does lousy. Compound interest. He can now worry about flunking the class. Even his parents, who are footing most of his college expense, are worrying about poor Fred who just can’t seem to make it. They are also losing sleep. At some point they also will have to make a decision. Fred gets to worry about that too.

Fred is wading waist-deep in another perception that accompanies worry and indecision: Envy and Resentment. That silly Sally attended every class, read the books, and studied. She passed the test, got a good grade in the class, and is closer to her goal—graduation.

Selfish person that she is, according to Fred’s perception, she no longer gives him her notes from classes he skipped. Fred exiles her from his circle of friends. Misery truly loves company, and Sally just doesn’t play by his rules. He’s pissed. Sally is now a perceived threat—her folks know his folks and they talk about their collegiate children. How dare she pass the test when he’s worried sick!

Worried Sick!

It happens. The parents of a son or daughter in the military during war are fraught with worry and concern. This is a rational fear about a situation over which they have no direct influence or control. The nature of the war or conflict doesn’t matter. No amount of telephone calls, texts, or e-mails to the government could influence the safety of their loved one.

Still, their concern (worry) motivates them to take some sort of action. The nightly worry could evolve into a decision to offer a prayer of protection each day for the endangered child. The important point is that a decision was made for some action. The worry/concern won’t abate until the child returns safely from the danger. But, the prayer may very well permit more sound sleep and a sense of doing something. The decision is the key.

Young Fred prays as well—hoping for a magical event that will give him a good grade. But he does not make the decision to attend class, read the books, and so on. His expectations are irrational. The bottom line is that Fred has control over whether he attends class or not. He chooses not to do so. His worry will have no end. He’s worried sick.

What kind of statement is that? You probably know someone who has said, “I’m worried sick about that.” But what did they mean?

 “I’m worried...” Translation: I’m scared.

 “...sick...” Translation: My stomach is in knots, I can’t sleep, eat, feel nervous all of the                        time, I can’t concentrate on anything.

“...about that...” Translation: There isn’t a thing that I can do about it, the situation is                           totally beyond my control.

What is the perception in that statement? How is the person reacting mentally and emotionally to “I’m worried sick about that?” The dread and fear are reinforced. Not only are ten troubles about to wreck my life, but they’ve got fifteen more behind them, “heading right for me!” The physical effects of the anxiety are reinforced and the lack of control is confirmed. Yet the worry continues. Something needs to be done.

Compound worry trumps other thoughts and feelings. The strong statement “I’m worried sick” is heard very clearly by every cell in the body. “Hey,” thinks the little cell, “the boss says I’m supposed to be sick.” What the boss expects, the boss gets.

There is a growing awareness of the connection between attitude, expectation, and health. Certainly some diseases and ailments are influenced by genetic factors, but attitude is very powerful. You’ve read accounts of “the will to live” working miracles in terminal cases. Conversely, gut-wrenching worry and complaining can screw up the heartiest of digestive systems. On the other hand...

Hank’s Curious Math

A lot of people worry about getting older, as if worry will somehow reverse the process. Perception continues to rule. You may know of someone who is “old” at thirty and others who are “young” at eighty. The difference? Perspective. A good example is Hank.

Jovial 60-year-old Hank is smitten with 30-year-old Bonita, who is equally enchanted with Hank. They become engaged. “Goodness,” Hank’s friends remark, “she’s half your age!”
“She’ll catch up,” replies Hank calmly. “When I’m 90 she’ll be two-thirds my age.”

In Hank’s perspective, at some point in time, they may very well be the same age. It’s a curious math. The important factor, and the best thing Hank has going for him, is his perspective. He’ll probably make 90 enjoying his life. Hopefully, 60-year-old Bonita will be able to keep up with him.

Benjamin Franklin allegedly remarked that youth was too precious a thing to waste on the young. Perhaps the sage wasn’t lamenting physical youth, but celebrating the perspective of maturity. The advantage of age is experience. After decades of watching troubles come racing down the road and most of them ending up in the ditch, the seniors among us are less likely to panic when a trouble doesn’t ditch itself. Youth rarely has that perspective. They simply haven’t lived long enough. In the curious equation of life, the less one has lived, the greater the impact of fear on the unknown future. The longer one has lived, the less impact of fear on the unknown future.


Fear is a natural emotion that serves to protect you. Fear  is extremely uncomfortable and that’s why it is a great motivator.

Negative self-fulfilling prophecies often have a fear motivating the sabotage.

Fear leaps into action once you perceive a threat. Fear doesn’t care whether the threat is  actual or imaginary - a perceived threat is a threat indeed. Rational fear has a  recognizable threat, often external. Irrational fear does not have a recognizable threat, and  is often internal.

 Fear motivates you to do something, to take some action, on some level. Many people  worry. Worry of itself accomplishes little. Worry can be lessened by making decisions.

Remember the ten troubles - nine will probably dissipate before reaching you, unless you   give your attention to all of them, all the time!

There is a connection between attitude, expectation, and health. Remember Hank’s curious math.

From "Habits, Patterns, & Thoughts That Go Bump in the Night"

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Field Guide for Philosophy

There is a marvelous philosophy for thinking, speaking, and doing encapsulated in four simple questions:

Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

That’s the 4-Way Test that is the guiding philosophy of Rotary.  You don’t have to be a Rotarian to apply this test in your daily routine.

If you don’t automatically apply the Four Way Test to just about every situation, then you’re missing out on a practical tool for improving not only yourself, but others.  The Four Way Test holds a powerful philosophy for creating win-win relationships.  It’s your personal Field Guide!

Is it the truth?

This is the first challenge to Rotarians regarding how we think, speak, and act.  Right off the bat we ask about the veracity of the situation.   Perhaps, a century ago in Chicago, Paul Harris recognized that any gathering of businessmen should be based on a common assumption of truthfulness.
            Truth, at the founding of Rotary, probably had less celestial concern with Pilate’s question than the more human question of honesty.  It would be difficult in deed to complete a transaction without confidence in the honesty of the other party.
            “Is it the truth?” is the logical first question.  If the truth, honesty, is not present, the other questions in the four way test are automatically negative (and time to cancel the meeting!)
            Avoidance of deception is the crucial point and the foundation of trust.  Can you trust someone unless there is some measure of honesty in the relationship?  To be honest is to be true.
            Can you recall any business, professional, or personal relationship that flourished in the absence of trust?  Perhaps only short-term or a variation of “deceive me once, shame on you!  Deceive me twice, shame on me!”  Successful relationships are built on trust and honesty.  That’s not wishful thinking, or fanciful desire – it’s the way we operate.
            Is it the truth?  What other question would better serve you at the beginning of any situation?  The next logical step is to ask:

Is it fair to all concerned?

Your Field Guide now looks at the playing field, bargaining table, or wherever it is that people are gathered.
            Fair is defined as “just and honest.”  When we think of something as just we mean that it is equitable and impartial.  Put another way, “does everyone have an equal opportunity, or potential, for success?”  Have you ever come across anyone who willingly or knowingly wanted to play against a stacked deck, so to speak?  Casino’s aside.
            So, before we engage in an exchange with others, ask if all involved are offering a “just and honest, equitable, impartial, potential for each to succeed?”  This is a good way to seek the desired win-win situation.
            However, it is important to recognize that fair is not synonymous with equal.  Fair is not the same as Equal.  Fair is, however, the opportunity for results.  In every transaction the attitude, skill, and energy of the participant determines the potential for successful outcome.
            An essential factor in our personal and collective success, and marvelous standard of living in the United States, is the core philosophy of the “inalienable rights” of each person.  As elucidated by Jefferson, the Creator has bestowed to all inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  These are true Rights and are not favors or privileges granted from a government, monarch, or ruling party.  So, from creation, it could be said all is fair.
            To be fair for all concerned, then, means that no one is deliberately cheating or making a deception that lessens, or prevents, the potential for success of another.  If the situation is true and honest it will be fair to all concerned.
Will it build goodwill and friendships?

Do you know anyone who would prefer to enter a contract, agreement, or association if the result was a loss of goodwill and a loss of friendship?  Of course not.  (For any who might ponder a “yes” then the first two questions were ignored.)
            Goodwill  is one of the most valuable possessions of a business, organization, or individual.  Goodwill may be considered “benevolent intention” – the best outcome for all is desired.  A brand name is Goodwill in logo form – the product or service is known to be satisfying each and every time for those purchasing and using it.  If the brand name fails to maintain the customers expectation then the product or service suffers.
            Goodwill is the ethereal quality that creates much of the value of any exchange. 
            What about better friendships?  The question presumes that a degree of friendship exists.  If the first two questions are affirmed, a measure of friendship is already present.  Who are friends?
            It is absolutely wonderful and desirable to associate with people you regard as friends.  Friends are those folk you choose to associate with personally, socially, for business, or philanthropically – such as your Rotary Club.  Friendships are based on the first two questions of the Four Way Test.
            You probably do not have a friendship with someone you believe is untruthful, or who does not share your standards of fairness (granted, you may be required to associate with them, but that’s a different situation.)  Once again the Four Way Test supports the win-win concept of relationships.
            The question “will it build goodwill and better friendships” is a natural progression.  It is likely that you instinctively move away from any engagement that does not build goodwill and would not create a better friendship.

Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

When using the Four Way Test for all transactions, Rotarians first determine if it’s the truth, then insure that the situation is fair to all, and then check for the ability of the transaction to build goodwill and friendships.  Now it’s time for the final, and lasting question:  Will this activity, agreement, contract, purchase, association benefit all concerned?
            Good question.  It’s a different question than asking if it is fair.  Fair is the equal opportunity.  Beneficial implies that all parties will gain, in some measure, from the activity.  That is the win-win situation Rotarians seek and promote.
            The final question may challenge some deeply held philosophies.  The challenge is in the phrase “will it be beneficial to all concerned?”   All is emphasized.  It is a surprisingly common belief that in order for one person to gain, or benefit, someone else must lose, or be harmed.  This is a position derived from a belief that the universe is static, unchanging.  Another way of looking at it would be that everything is finite and limited.  There is only X amount of benefit in the universe, and for anyone to have a piece of benefit, it is at the expense of someone else.
            Although we are racing through the 21st century, this medieval philosophy persists.  During the 20th century the universe was discovered to be ever expanding  and consisting of immeasurable force.  In effect, hardly static, and about the closest we can conceive to infinity.  This cosmology affects philosophy.  There appears to be no limit to benefit in the universe, only a matter of making use of it.  Benefit acquired by anyone does not naturally lessen the benefit possessed or available to someone else.  Therefore, it is possible, that agreements, contracts, relationships, associations, etc., can be beneficial to all concerned.
            The eloquent sequence of the Four Way Test is a Field Guide to create win-win situations, where all benefit.  Is it the truth?  Is It fair?  Will is build goodwill and friendships?  The first three conditions affirmed produce benefit.  To gain goodwill and friendship is beneficial.
            At heart, you want what is best for everyone.  Being of service to another results in a good feeling.  Feeling good is a worthy goal.    It just might be that the most effective way to feel good is to apply the Four Way Test to every situation, every time, and keep at it, until all four questions are affirmative.  Then your world will change.  One agreement, one contract, one relationship at a time.  You’ll know it.  You feel good!

Monday, March 02, 2020

The Art of "in a few words describe..."

For me, one of the most difficult parts of writing is coming up with a snappy description of the book (or play) in a couple of sentences.  But it can be done, at least for A Turn at the Point.  Now, it wasn’t penned by yours truly, but some obviously enlightened person going by the handle “Etienne”.  Here’s what he wrote:

That says it all.

Digital artist Timothy Higgins captured the same with the cover art

More thoughts on the process of creating the book can be found here.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The MAGIC WORD (returns...

...for those who may have missed it before.)

I’ve discovered the magic word.  It’s not abracadabra, it’s not a secret.  It’s not a mystery wrapped inside a symbol.  The long sought magic word – the utterance of which brought immediate reward to the speaker – has been found.  By me.

 I’ll tell you exactly how I found it.

Driving to work one morning, one of those idiot motorists clustered around me, lane-hopped near my rear bumper.  The idiot then challenged other drivers as he (maybe she, it was dark) then darted back into my lane, inches from my front bumper.  My ego first impulse was to let loose a string of verbal (or at least mental) descriptions of the idiot’s clearly errant consciousness.

 But I didn’t.

Although suspecting the driver was an “accident looking for victims” I didn’t go there, so to speak.  This was a time when I was practicing these principles in my real-time daily living:

·         That there is One active Presence in the Universe and my Life – God;
·         Everyone and everything is the essence of God, and that’s Good;
·         I co-create my Life with God with my thinking;
·         Through thoughts, words and deeds, I live the Truth I know.

I was developing a habit to say and think what I desired in every moment, despite appearances.  Did I desire for the idiot to cause an accident?  Of course not.  Therefore I thought and spoke to him/her “May you arrive safely at your destination.”

I thought that pretty good, and felt a bit of relief.  A few more consciousness-challenged motorists wandered into my path, and I managed to send each along his way with the affirmation “May you arrive safely at your destination.”

Yet there needed to be a closing, an “amen” conclusion, to the thought lest I continue my attention on the behavior of the driver I’d rather not encounter.  Hey, I’m a slow learner, but even I understood that attention given = attraction to – the Law of Attraction.   I certainly didn’t want more distracted drivers on my drive.

Then flashed into my mind the magic word – the conclusion to that moment which would free my thinking and attention, and make it available for what I desired in my morning drive, rather than attract more idiots in my experience.  I appended the thought:  “May you arrive safely at your destination.  Ashalli.”  That was it.  End of drama.  The lanes cleared and I drove happily on my way.

I repeated the affirmation and magic word every time I drove and encountered idiots.  It was evident, after a couple of days, that there were less idiots on the road.


The question was, naturally, would this magic word produce the same effect off road?  One  morning some staff were complaining about various ailments and such.  Not wanting to add my attention to their discomfort, I affirmed for them “may you enjoy good health and comfort.  Ashalli.”  That might not have assisted them at that moment, but I did tell them how I appreciated their doing their work for the benefit of the clients.

A few days later I picked up a couple of items at the neighborhood grocery store when a patron with a basket cart full of stuff beat me to the “10 Items or Less” express checkout.  What?  You’ve never had such an experience?  (Liar!)  Ego impulse was to scowl at the offending person (I had a flashback to the road idiots).  But, determined to practice what I preach, as it were, the thought was offered “may you move quickly with your tasks to your desired end.  Ashalli.”

The super clerk managed to scan the entire cart in record time – and with a quick payment from the person.  I liked this magic word.  Then the same super clerk struggled with the bar code on one of my items.  I could sense the glare from the fellow in line behind me.  The laser scanner finally behaved and I was quickly beyond reach of what I imagine were less-than-Unity invectives from the fellow.  Well, why not?  I thought for him “may you have a pleasant day.  Ashalli.”  I went on about my business.

I’ve used the magic word frequently and I like the results.  There is a caveat, however.  It works only as the conclusion to a thought desiring a positive outcome for a person or situation.  I say that because I desire to give my conscious attention, as best I’m able, to what I would like.  Nothing new about that – did someone say The Golden Rule?

Do I want others to condemn my goofy moments to hell?  Or, do I desire that they treat me as I desire to treat them?  That’s Ashalli.

Now, there is a difference between “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and a variant that goes like “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”  Let’s examine these two approaches, which are 180 degrees apart.  “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”  It sounds okay on the surface.  It smacks of consideration and kindness.  Yet it requires that you adjust your behavior and interactions to please what others want from you.

We respect everyone and especially desire to interact with friends and loved ones to create harmony and joy.  Hmmmm…isn’t that how you would want to be treated?  To do unto others as they wish accepts the obligation to act according to their rules, which may or may not coincide with your values and feelings.  In effect, you focus on what others want you to do.  If they are satisfied, they may respond kindly.  If they are not satisfied, well, they’ll let you know, so you can try harder.

If you’ve ever spent time on that merry-go-round you know that it can’t be done.  You can never achieve joy this way.  But you can attempt to do so and work really hard to please others for five, ten, fifteen, thirty, fifty years or more.  It’ll never happen because you can only treat others as you wish to be treated.  Would your life be more joyful and less entangled if you focused on treating everyone as you wished to be treated?

That approach places creative power in your hands and you’re no longer dependent on the good graces from pleasing others.  It’s nice to be loved and appreciated – but there’s a huge difference between Love and Appreciation and conditional “love” and “appreciation.”  Checkpoint:  How do you reconcile demands to treat another in a way that makes you feel badly?  The bad feeling is your indication that you’ve got the equation skewed.  The best guide is to always treat others the way you want to be treated and in this you are more likely to feel good.  It’s not about what other people do or don’t do.  It’s what you truly desire for them – as what you would desire for yourself.

The more I practiced the magic word the more relaxed many daily tasks became.  Then, one morning driving to work, another idiot zipped around.  At once  I thought “May you arrive safely at your destination.  As Shall I.”

The Golden Rule…there’s a reason we continue to pay attention to it, even when we don’t quite “get it.”

As Shall I.  Ashalli.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Comes the Dawn...

(A tale from "Habits, Patterns, and Thoughts That Go Bump in the Night")

Habits, Patterns, and Thoughts That Go Bump in the Night
Dawn fed her cats, the primary ritual of her return to the apartment each evening. She enjoyed giving the cats her full attention when returning from another miserable day at the office. Whatever grief she endured making a living, there was solace at home. It would be nice, of course, to buy a townhouse where the cats could romp up stairs. So when she learned of an open position at another company, she applied.

Not that she expected to get it, but like her weekly purchase of the lottery ticket, one has to play in order to win. The problem was that the telephone rang.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Is this Dawn?” asked the voice on the other end.


The cats scurried as she gasped in delight upon learning that the company wished to interview her for the new position. Accommodating, they scheduled the interview for Saturday morning.
This was Thursday, so time was short to prepare. A mental list of a hundred things to do raced across her mind. She kissed the cats goodbye and dashed to the Mall—a new outfit was in order for the interview.

Then came Friday. She counted the plants in her cubicle at work— how many would be permitted to make the move? She looked around at her co-workers—each equally miserable. There were no promotions to be had, of that she knew. Now she had an out, a prospect. The glances from others implied that they knew she might escape. And, they didn’t approve. Friday was a long day at the office.

On the way home her car stalled. It wouldn’t start—at least not until the frantic fifth try.

The cats sniffed her rather than race to their food bowls. It wasn’t even dark, yet problems of perception were assembling in Dawn’s world.

Her new outfit, purchased for the interview, hung outside of her closet door—an icon to her hopes and dreams. She settled in bed, for the good night’s sleep. Yet the wardrobe loomed as her thoughts began to race around her anything-but-sleepy mind.

At midnight she calculated the cost of a full wardrobe. Further calculations projected the increase in salary with that cost—a good six months to recoup.
At one a.m. she had to buy a new car.

By two a.m. her co-workers knew of her interview and were insanely jealous. One was married to a policeman. Could he be enticed to stop her on the way to the interview?

At three a.m. she lost her vacation. She could at least count on two weeks vacation each year. It often made the difference in showing up for work. At the new job, she’d surely be at the bottom of the pole—at best a week off to live her life the way she wanted.

By four a.m. she had calculated the loss of taking the new job. The perceived costs and grief mounted with each minute. She would lose the pay increase for at least  year, just to pay off the new clothes she would have to have—and no vacation time to enjoy the benefits, which by now she was sure didn’t exist anyway.

At five a.m. it was time to sleep. But the alarm clock took care of that.

At six a.m. the hair dryer broke. The cats were wailing for a dawn feeding—usually they waited until seven.

Resentment gnawing in her stomach, Dawn left her apartment at eight a.m. for the drive to her nine a.m. interview. The fact that the city had overnight decided to tear up an important intersection was not lost on her as she turned into the parking lot.

A suspiciously pleasant receptionist ushered her into the interviewer’s office. The door closed as Dawn ruminated for a final moment on her agonies. The Interviewer entered the office and went to the coffee pot.

“Thank you for coming. Coffee?”

Dawn rose and glared at the wicked person in front of her. “I wouldn’t take this lousy job if you offered me twice as much!”

With that, she stormed out of the room, out of the building, and back into the crab bucket.*

Chances are, in your own way, you’ve pulled a Dawn—maybe several times. It’s called sabotage, also-known-as negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Your gut feeling said this or that, then somehow your actions made sure that whatever you feared, happened.

Perception = Reality in action. The interviewer may have been prepared to offer Dawn the job. The new job might have been the best place for her. But (an entire book will be written about “BUT...”), Dawn didn’t allow it to happen. Life may have presented her a good thing, but she couldn’t see it, and thus couldn’t take advantage of it. If you’re thinking “been there, done that,” then you’re more likely to think about how you feel and react to situations now than you did in the past. Nobody is doomed to continue making the same mistakes over and over and over.  But they certainly can.

* Another tale in Habits, Patterns, and Thoughts That Go Bump in the Night