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

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

August. The coddiwomple month.

It’s the only month without a formal Holiday, and, August is H O T.  Many folks this time of year begin their annual longing for September when, you know, Autumn officially arrives.  The Equinox is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean COOL, at least around here.  Cool doesn’t arrive until mid-October.

Years ago I took note of the general aberrant behavior of otherwise sane folk towards the latter part of summer.  The only variable was the unrelenting H O T, no Holidays, capricious and teasing rain, and more hot.  Therefore such odd behavior was christened “August,” as in “She’s got a case of August,” or, “He’ll survive, it’s a case of August.”  It does seem a coddiwomple, a nice term describing that you have no idea where you're going, but you sure as hell want to get out of August.

So, in order to assist in getting through August (especially August 2020), I hereby declare Sunday, August 23 to be universally recognized as THE Dog Day of August.  Appropriate celebrations may include brats, hotdogs, any number of sausages, and whatever cool refreshments are handy.  And, as a bonus, after The Dog Day, it’s only a hop and skip into Labor Day...which gives thought to Halloween...which gives thought to Thanksgiving...then Christmas, and, at last, the conclusion of 2020.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Words Mean Things (unless you aren't allowed to use them)

Thoughts That Go Bump in the Night come in many forms.  Who better than a successful author to understand the use and misuse of language and words?  This guest post is by Dan Baldwin from his weekly commentary on the life of a writer.


Writing Tip of the Week

 “God damn you all; I told you so.” H.G. Wells’ suggestion for his epitaph.

    In 1984 Wells wrote of Big Brother’s newspeak, a complete revision of the English language.

   In the novel the ruling party of the nation of Oceana established Ingsoc (English Socialism). To enhance its control over the population the ruling Party created a controlled language of simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary and called it Newspeak. The new vocabulary was designed to limit the freedom of thought—personal identity, self-expression, free will—that threatened the ideology of the rĂ©gime of Big Brother and the Party. Freedom of expression was criminalised and the concept of thoughtcrime was created to insure adherence to Ingsoc orthodoxy. In other words, you just couldn’t say certain things.

   You know – like “the n-word” or the “b-word” or the “f-word” or the other “f-word” and… and… and….

   Today’s version of Newspeak is Political Correctness – PC.

   People go to ridiculous lengths to adhere to the PC mindset. For example, the last time I worked with a traditional publisher – which will most likely be the actual last time I work with a traditional publisher – the company’s editor objected to a direct quote from a historical source. The quote from Allie Earp (Wyatt’s sister-in-law) was about Wyatt’s abandoned common law wife, Mattie Blaylock. Allie said that Mattie was “… as fine a woman as ever lived. She worked like a nigger.” Neither I nor my co-authors used the ugly word. Allie did. The publisher wouldn’t hear of it because that vague someone-out-there-somewhere might be offended. We again noted that the publisher wouldn’t be using the term. Allie would. No go. We changed it to “she worked (hard).”

   The sneaking evil here is that people and organizations in power will sacrifice history, truth and their own integrity on the altar of political correctness. Writers who buy into this “s-word” have to continually fear crossing a politically correct line. The problem is that the line keeps moving. Banning Huck Finn because of its use of … that word … inevitably leads to banning The Biography of Malcom X for its use of … that word …and then the movie Malcolm X and The Autobiography of Malcom X  for the use of … that word… followed by banning then Denzell Washington, Richard Pryor, Jamie Foxx and Quintin Tarantino movies and then…. Where does it stop?

   It doesn’t.

   Make no mistake about it. Political Correctness is censorship. It is the suppression of freedom of speech. Regardless of any well-intentioned motivation, the use of political correctness is an assault on freedom of expression. Period. End of discussion. That’s all, folks.

   As one of Orwell’s characters said in 1984, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten… Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.”

   Think about it.

   While you can.

Quote of the Week: “The one essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”

Recommended Reading: The Autobiography of Malcom X by Alex Haley


For More Dan:   Some of Dan's books are here.   


Monday, June 08, 2020


What is true? 

How does one know what is good and what is not?  Deceit is used to minimize what is true and bolster what is untrue.  The practice of deceit in the human experience is ancient, well studied, and constantly applied.  Simply because something is touted over and over as “true”, or “untrue” (which ever is to the benefit of the deceiver) does not make it so.  Yet if an unsuspecting person accepts the deception as true, it increases the weight of “evidence” that the lie is, in fact, the truth.   "Figures often beguile me," wrote Mark Twain, "particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

But what of people?  How can I know what is true about someone, anyone?  That’s a questions I suspect most people have mused at some point.  Over forty years ago I was confused about politics and government.  The Gnome conjured a verse that set me straight:

A man of peace
cannot bring harm
to another.
A man of liberty
cannot trample
the rights of others.
It is totally impossible
for such to happen.

The conundrum is hardly limited to our current times.  Awash in social media, countless internet sites, “traditional media”, 24/7 “news”, it is all too easy to merge into a groupthink rather than hone the mental skills to examine and evaluate.  Especially if the individual has little, or no experience in critical thinking.  Once a primary focus of education, critical thinking appears to have been replaced by “talking points” party line.  Rewards are for those who conform to the prevailing “truth.”  There is nothing to debate.  One either toes the line. or is considered enemy.  This was the case thousands of years ago, when many wondered whom they could trust.  How can one know if another is truthful or deceitful?  They received an answer:

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  Matthew 7:16-20.

By their fruits - what they do and what are the results - reveal all.  Worked then, works now.

So what the hell is going on with the world now?

It appears to me that Mankind (that’s all of us homo-sapiens) and in an evolutionary process of raising consciousness.  I like to call it spiritual evolution – moving to a greater awareness, and hence utilization, of Consciousness.  That’s Consciousness with the big C.  Life is ever improving and advancing, it’s inescapable.  The one constant in the universe is motion.  Motion is relative and not everone/everything is moving in sync – although created from the same, each human being on Earth is an individual and no two people are alike.  Some people move quickly, some plod.  Some people are happy.  Some are unhappy.  They’re not the same and it’s foolish and self-defeating to attempt any one size fits all approach to anything.  (Can you say Covid-19?)

These times of spiritual evolution will produce a variety of reactions, since everyone is affected, an everyone is different.  Those who have some degree of awareness of this raising of consciousness will benefit for they will apply their greater vibration (which is the essence of this evolution, an increase in vibration) for a more satisfying life as they gain more control over their thoughts, deeds, and hence experience.  And, there are those who are clueless and have little or no awareness of spiritual evolution.  In fact, they may be barely conscious of their identity.  The movement will proceed regardless, but these people will be disturbed and have no idea why.  They are unhappy and don’t  know why.  A great deceit ensues placing their discomfort as your fault.  The more they believe this deception, the further they recede from the pursuit of happiness.

Fortunately, a rising tide lifts all boats.  The aphorism is appropriate for what Mankind is experiencing.  Some measure of heightened vibration of spirit will envelope everyone, even those unaware.  Their movement towards happiness may be much slower than others, but we live in an eternal universe so there is time.

How best to assist those wailing and gnashing their teeth?  Once again, there’s nothing new with this desire:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”   Matthew 5: 14-16.

This isn’t showing off, it’s letting the sometimes literal glow of consciousness flow.  You probably know or have met someone who seemed to “glow”.  Usually smiling.  You probably felt pretty good in their presence.  You might even have become curious about their ease and how you could obtain the presence of mind.

As is said, you can’ become sick enough to make someone else more healthy.  You can’t become poor enough to help someone gain wealth.  It is not a zero sum universe.  Whatever good you have is not good someone else is denied.  Granted, the grand deceit of ‘there’s only so much of anything’ demands that a central control be in place to ensure that everyone has ‘their fair share’.  Sounds nice but it’s a deception.  Observe the fruit of its practice.

The rising tide will float off victimhood as a belief system, liberating great numbers of unhappy people clinging to that old deceit.  They’ll make it.  Be yourself, and rise with this tide.  It’s the best thing anyone can do, for everyone.

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!