Thursday, July 2, 2015

People Who Have All the Answers

Beware of people who have all the answers.  I used to envy anyone who took firm positions on every imaginable topic.  Someone like that seemed to have it together and really knew what was what.  Then I discovered that people who had all the answers got locked in, defended their viewpoint and were closed to new information.

The sun goes around the earth.  This was adamantly accepted as a fact to the point of torturing and killing those who disagreed.  A complex Ptolemaic system was built with convoluted concentric spheres rotating at different velocities and epicycles to explain planetary motion.  Circles within circles, rather than stepping back and seeing the very simple answer that the earth revolved around the sun.

When people have hypotheses that become enshrined as fact, the believers stop searching because they have an answer they like.  But since life is a mystery, some questions are without answers.  To go with one answer and not explore other alternatives causes problems.  I’m following the only true prophet.  Your prophet is a fraud and mine is correct.  The earth is flat and if you question it, I’ll lock you in prison.

A person who has all the answers doesn’t take kindly to people who disagree.

Think how easy life is if you have all the answers.  You don’t have to expend any energy questioning, exploring and trying to figure out what’s going on.  You have your secret decoder ring that gives you direction in every situation.  If it were only this simple.

“He protesteth too much.”  We’ve all met people who become more adamant the farther off base they are.  If you don’t know, just admit it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Then get on with searching for an answer.

Relative mysteries are answerable.  How to fix a broken pipe, how to solve a mathematical equation, why water flows down a mountain.  Absolute mysteries are impossible to answer.  Why am I here?  What happens after I die?

So address the topics that are answerable and enjoy the mystery of the questions that are unanswerable.  Have opinions, explore alternatives, but don’t park your brain with a scripted answer that someone has written in a book.

Be aware of people who don’t have all the answers and are always searching.  But beware of people who have all the answers.  Remember.  They often don’t know the questions.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Challenge and Response

When life serves up lemons, do we end up sucking them or making lemonade?  I find it fascinating the variety of ways people (myself included) respond to challenges.  Some people give up and succumb to problems and others rise above them.  We see around us people who overcome tremendous obstacles both physical and mental.  We see others who appear to be on the top of the world one minute, then carted away as suicide victims the next.  Why does one keep battling and the other give up?  What is the spark that motivates one person to climb out of the muck of adversity while another caves in?

A lot of it goes right back to attitude.  The same situation can be viewed as an insurmountable issue or an opportunity.  A chewing-out by the boss can lead to a decision to quit or to explore the grains of truth in the criticism and improve.

A sports team such as the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team may coalesce and defeat a more talented and experienced team while a team of all-stars may lose because they don’t care and have never become an integrated unit.

So how do we respond to a challenge?  Let’s take the example of a bad work environment.  When in this situation several times in my career, I learned to face four choices:

·         Change my attitude--I could accept the situation and try to make the most of it.
·         Change the situation--I could speak to my boss about what modifications would be necessary and convince him to make the improvements.
·         Suffer--I could moan and groan about it.
·         Get out--I could quit the job.

It’s a good test to run through the four alternatives in any challenge you encounter.  When faced with a bad work situation, I try first to change it.  If that doesn’t work, since I don’t want to suffer, I decide between leaving or changing my attitude.

Dealing with challenges entails hard work.  We have to motivate ourselves and need the discipline to persevere.  Everyone may be rooting against us so we have to dig down for the extra effort that only we can make happen.

The myth of Sisyphus comes to mind as the symbol of tenacity in a difficult situation.  The guy has to push a boulder up a hill.  Every time he almost gets to the top, the boulder rolls down again.  He sucks it up and starts pushing again.  With the four choices possible, he could just leave.  But in the myth, the gods have eliminated this alternative as well as changing the situation.  So his only choices are to suffer or change his attitude.  Does he mope all the time or does he enjoy the scenery while he’s walking back down?  And who knows.  One of these times he might get the boulder to stay at the top.

Joseph in the Bible is one of my favorite stories.  The kid was arrogant and had everything.  Then he’s sold into slavery and gets put in prison.  He hangs in there and becomes right hand to the pharaoh.  Along the way he could have given up, but he didn’t.  At the end he tests his brothers, but forgives them instead of being bitter and punishing them.  This is the epitome of exhibiting a positive attitude when faced with adversity.  He has all these adventures, responds to the situation, grows up and succeeds.

Part of maturity is learning what battles to fight, when to change the situation, when to change attitude and when to get out--knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

And human resiliency is truly amazing.  I’m still awestruck by the obstacles that people can overcome.

A haiku poem by Choshu has always been meaningful to me when thinking about challenge and response:

Broken and broken,

Again on the sea,

The moon so easily mends.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Acceptance and Tolerance

Pay close attention to the difference between tolerance and acceptance.  Be tolerant of different viewpoints, races, religions, cultures and styles.  Revel in the uniqueness of yourself and of others, but also recognize the common humanity of all people.  Do not accept the violence that drugs wreck upon the body and mind.  Do not accept the violence that guns cause.  Do not accept the violence of hate.  Resist not evil.  Be a judo expert with hate: let the force of hate neutralize itself rather than you trying to fight back with hate.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Both/and, not Either/or

Life is full of dichotomies.  We face many decisions: chocolate or vanilla, to spend time at work or with our family, to take the turn to the right or left.  In Western tradition we become used to these binary choices whereas Eastern tradition embraces polar opposites: each positive has a negative and vice versa, the yin and the yang, you are and you are not.

The overarching duality calls for us to be both individuals and members of humanity.  Both aspects define our humanness.  We all share a commonality, but each individual is unique.

Science in the last century has also embraced both/and.  It used to be thought that matter or energy existed in one state.  Then along came the discovery that light acts like both a particle and a wave.

The same dichotomy exists within our lives.  We can embrace the opposites and not be restricted by an either/or viewpoint.

We can learn to balance both work and family so we’re not sacrificing one for the other.  Parents may bring children to work, take work home, set priorities and be successful in both roles.

In business people get labeled as visionary or action-oriented.  How about being both?  How about having a clear vision about where a company is going while taking the steps to make it a reality?

Rather than having to be either focused or aware of things around you, how about being both?  Like a good firefighter who is concentrating on the fire but also aware of threats around him that may prevent him from quenching the fire.

Do you need either to have an imagination or be pragmatic?  How about both?  How about dreaming up wild ideas and then implementing one with down-to-earth pragmatic steps to make it a reality?

What about being either intuitive or logical?  How about being both?  Make the intuitive leap and then build the bridge, plank by plank that gets from here to there.

Do you have to either accept your situation or improve it?  No.  You can both accept your current situation with a realistic assessment of all its warts, problems and challenges and then take the necessary steps to improve it.

Embrace dichotomy.

And by the way it doesn’t have to be chocolate or vanilla.  You can order a swirl.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Faith: Positive or Negative?

“Have faith,” someone says.  It’s another way of indicating, “have hope, don’t give up, hang in there.”  That’s a good trait.  Stick-to-itness.  The Stockdale Paradox is to have faith in a positive outcome and do everything possible for that positive outcome, but be grounded in the reality of your current situation.  That’s faith based upon reality.

But there is another type of faith.  Blind faith.  This is the faith that runs counter to logic, rationality and what is happening in the real world.  This is the faith of fundamentalism.  If it is written in the old testament, new testament or Koran, then it’s to be believed literally.  If a priest, minister, mullah tells you to murder in the name of God, do you do it?

This becomes the danger of our time.  The misdirection of faith, faith run amok, that takes life rather than preserves and enhances life.

We see all around us the two types of faith.  On one hand appears the faith of joy, giving, following the true teachings of Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Confucius.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Resist not evil.  Love your enemies.  The Eight-fold Path.

On the other hand we see the misdirection of faith.  I’m saved, and you’re going to hell.  I’m right, and you’re wrong.  My family, tribe, nation or religion is justified in killing members of your family, tribe, nation or religion.  My book has the literal truth of God, and yours is the misguided ramblings of lunatics.

How can so many people believe that they have the literal word of God and all the others don’t?

What we need today entails seeing the truth in many different religious traditions and to focus on the common truth rather than the exclusivity of one prophet versus another.

Each religion starts with insights into the human predicament.  Unfortunately, a structure is wrapped around the core teachings to become institutionalized.  Then the message is lost in the trappings of the formal faith.

So keep the faith.  Just don’t kill others with it. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

World War II Speaking Events

Taking a detour from my mystery writing, my first non-fiction book For Liberty: A World War II Soldier’s Inspiring Life Story of Courage, Sacrifice, Survival and Resilience has been published by Green Leaf Publishers.

On D-Day, June 6, the subject of the book, 96-year-old Ed Gitlin, and I will be speaking at two venues in Colorado. At 9 AM they will be at the Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum, 12 Garden Center, Broomfield, CO, and at 12:30 PM they will be at the Spirit of Flight Center, 2650 S. Main St. Erie, CO.

What will be fun is the format of these two programs. Ed is very articulate and has a great sense of humor. I always kid him that he has a better memory than I do. We’re going to use an interview format for the presentations. I’ll tee up an event in his past, and then he’ll tell the story of his experience.

To give you an example of his impish sense of humor, Ed once attended a party with his wife, a climate scientist. A pompous academician looked down his nose at Ed and said, “What do you do?”  Ed the owner of a machine shop business said, “Oh, I sweep the floors and clean machines in a machine shop.” The man was taken aback. Ed then put his arm around his wife and said, “And this wonderful woman taught me how to read and write.” As Ed recounted, “Boy did I hear about that from my wife afterwards.”

Thursday, May 21, 2015


In the movie City Slickers, Curly holds up a finger and says there is one thing.  Each of us has to find that one thing.

As I get older, I look back over my life and realize that certain buttons constantly push me.  This has led me to consider that if I am ever to become an enlightened human being, I have not one, but three goals to achieve.  These are mine.  Yours will be completely different.  We all have our own personal demons and challenges.  They may be big things or little things.  So here are my three.

One: competitiveness.  I played competitive tennis as a kid and in college.  Even though my joints protest, I continue to play racquet sports, but in a social setting.  I still have that competitive drive to win.  One aspect of this is positive because it pushes me to do my best.  But one aspect continues to get me.  I hate to lose.  So after a hard fought battle on a Saturday morning, if I lose I will stay pissed off for hours afterwards.  It’s just a game I tell myself.  Why can’t I just enjoy the game and be a gracious winner or loser?  I can be a gracious winner because I won.  But when I lose, that’s another story.  So my first step toward becoming an enlightened human being is to be able to engage in a racquet game, enjoy it, be alive and present and feel positive whether I win or lose. Right.

Two: pride.  Having been married forty-six years, my wife and I rarely fight about big issues, but we still argue about some of the same things over and over, such as, you’re not listening to me.  There are times when she is speaking about something that is important to her and I’m not paying attention.  Then she accuses me of not listening.  Rather than admitting it, I try to prove her wrong and me right.  My pride can’t take being criticized.  So instead of taking in what she’s saying, I respond with, “I was listening.  And by the way you’re the one who doesn’t listen.  Remember that time. . .”

Three: fear.  This is the biggy.  I have experienced those rare moments when I have been a good loser and there have even been times when I haven’t gotten defensive when criticized.  But the fear factor is the toughest one for me.  When I get stressed over writing issues, I’m pretty good at handling them during the day.  But at four in the morning, I pop awake worrying about some small item.  Did I set up that meeting?  Will I have time to get edits completed tomorrow? How will I solve that writing problem?  My mind is churning, my stomach’s tight, my right ear is ringing, I’m sweating, my heart’s going lickety split.  And I should be sound asleep.

This is the curse of the active mind.  What serves me well during the day: analytical skills, problem solving, planning, looking at contingencies, unfortunately, keeps going during the night, and I find myself wide awake and mulling things over in my mind.  Sometimes I get up and write myself notes.  Sometimes I get up and read.  Sometimes I try to get back to sleep.  But usually I end up tossing and turning.

My logical mind says to turn it off for the night, relax, get a good night’s sleep.  My subconscious mind says, wake up, take care of this, worry about it, look at it sixteen different ways, fix it.
So my final step to enlightenment will be the ability to park the problems of the day, get a good nights rest and then tackle the issues fresh the next day.

I’m sure you have your own list that would symbolize your own journey to enlightenment.  For me these are my three.  They represent where my mind and emotions are disconnected.  I can look at them logically, but emotionally I react to losing a game, a comment from my wife or by waking up in the middle of the night.

So proceed on your journey and when you achieve enlightenment, let me know how you did it.