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There Is Much To Learn From Saint Patrick

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t have to be Catholic to admire and appreciate the life of St. Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland.  He was born more than 1,600 years ago but his memory still lives on.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that his holiday is often a day of much fanfare and celebration for people of Irish background.  Saint Patrick himself was known to enjoy a drink or two.  However the celebratory aspect of the day should not overshadow the remarkable life and good works of the man.

As a teenager of wealth and privilege he was kidnapped and taken from his adopted home of Scotland (his parents were originally from Rome) bought to Ireland and sold into slavery.  At the age of 20 he escaped his bondage and found his way back home only to volunteer to return again to Ireland in his 30s as an ordained priest on a missionary quest. He spent the remainder of his life spreading his beliefs throughout the country and converting people from all walks of life.  It’s worth noting that his journey was not an easy one and he was often imprisoned and beaten because of the courage of his convictions and success of his work.

There is much to learn from the life of Saint Patrick including the following:

  • No matter what happens to you don’t forsake hope or allow yourself to be fully defined by your adverse circumstances;
  • A life of privilege is meaningless unless you can anchor it to something more profound and “bigger” than yourself;
  • Committing yourself to a cause you believe in is not for the feint of heart and requires courage and persistence;
  • You can accomplish great things in life if you truly believe in what you are doing and your values align with your work;
  • Confront your fears head on and grow because of (not in spite of)  your bad experiences;
  • Speak out when you see and injustice and help others whenever you can (even if there is a price to pay for this behavior);
  • A life of significance is the result of diligent daily effort.

To my knowledge Saint Patrick was never officially canonized by the Vatican but he is still on the list of saints.  Sometimes a life’s work stands on its own.  If and when you raise a glass in toast this weekend, I encourage to consider toasting Saint Patrick.  He was a special man who accomplished great things despite many difficulties and hardships.  He put the welfare of others ahead of his own and literally was the spark that transformed the religious faith of a nation.

Thomas Edison Quotes To Celebrate His Birthday 167 Years Ago Today

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

 Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

 I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

 Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.

 “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”

Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!

 What you are will show in what you do.

 Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.

 

Excerpts From The Road Less Traveled

Cover of "The Road Less Traveled"

Cover of The Road Less Traveled

A while back a colleague’s comments encouraged me to revisit the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck.  I am very glad this happened because it resonated much differently with me twenty years later.  I’ve decided to end the year sharing some excerpts from the book which I have found especially enlightening and helpful:

“Life is difficult…This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see the truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one…Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is through the pain of confronting and resolving our problems that we learn.”

“…when children know they are valued, when they truly feel valued in the deepest parts of themselves, then they feel valuable…the feeling of being valuable is essential to mental health and is the cornerstone of self-discipline…when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. Self discipline is self-caring.”

“We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying, “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.  But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve the problems for me.”

“…the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events.”

“Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices…there are indeed oppressive forces at work within the world.  We have, however, the freedom to choose every step of the manner in which we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.”

“What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn?  The painful effort required seems frightening almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore new information…Rather than try and change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality.  Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.”

“The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.”

“The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map makers.”

“The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest, just as the more lies one had told, the more necessary it is to lie again. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.”

“Mature mental health demands, an extraordinary capacity to flexibly strike and continually restrike a delicate balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, etc.  The essence of this discipline of balancing is giving up… the giving up of personality traits, well established patterns of behavior, ideologies, and even whole life systems.”

“It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death that provides life with all of its meaning.  This is the “secret” wisdom of all religion.”

“It is also clear that the farther one travels on the journey of life, the more births and deaths one will experience, and therefore the more deaths – the more joy and more pain.”

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

“…we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined. It is actually impossible to forsake our own spiritual development in favor of someone else’s.”

“Love is not effortless.  To the contrary, love is effortful.”

“Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it…”

“Whenever we think of ourselves as doing something for someone else, we are in some way denying our own responsibility.  Whatever we do is done because we choose to do it, and we make that choice because it is the one that satisfies us the most.  Whatever we do for someone else we do because it fulfills a need we have.” 

“The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person’s growth…By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening.”

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.  On some level spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.”

“Commitment is inherent in any genuinely loving relationship.  Anyone who is truly concerned for the spiritual growth of another knows, consciously or instinctively, that he or she can significantly foster that growth only through relationship of constancy.”

“Genuine love is self-replenishing.  The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.”

“Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who are terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, and seek a merging in marriage.  Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other  but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss…”sacrifices” on behalf of the other result in equal or greater growth of the self.”

“.. all human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach (to give or receive therapy), and when they neither learn nor teach in an interaction they are passing up an opportunity.”

“To develop a religion or world view that is realistic – that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality – we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference…”

“The path to holiness lies through questioning everything…”

“Many scientists simply do not look at the evidence of the reality of God.  They suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, a psychologically self-imposed psychological set of blinders which prevents them from turning their attention to the realm of the spirit.”

“A major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s conscious self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality…”

“…one of the reasons we fail to take full advantage of grace is that we are not fully aware of its presence – that is, we don’t find valuable things not sought for, because we fail to appreciate the value of the gift when it is given us…we consider such events unremarkable, and consequently we fail to take full advantage of them.”

“An individual’s body may undergo changes of the life cycle, but it does not evolve.  New physical patterns are not forged.  Decline of physical competence in old age is an inevitability.  Within an individual lifetime, however, the human spirit may evolve dramatically.  New patterns may be forged. Spiritual competence may increase (although it usually does not) until the moment of death in advanced old age.  Our lifetime offers unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.”

“When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves.  And it is through love that we elevate ourselves.  And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves.  Love, the extension of the self, is the very rare act of evolution.  It is an evolution in progress.  The evolutionary force, present in all life, manifests itself in humankind as human love.  Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.”

“If we overcome laziness, all other impediments will be overcome.  If we don’t overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled.”

“A major form of laziness is fear…Much of our fear is fear of change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.”

“Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves.  They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness.  They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness…evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme.”

“Most people most of the time make decisions with little awareness of what they are doing.  They take action with little understanding of their own motives and without beginning to know the ramifications of their choices…”

“Is it any better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons?  We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”

“We attempt to defend our consciousness, our awareness, against reality.  We do this by a variety of means which psychiatrists call defense mechanisms.  All of us employ such defenses, thereby limiting our awareness.  If in our laziness and fear of suffering we massively defend our awareness, then it will come to pass that our understanding of the world will bear little or no relation to reality.”

“The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.  It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent to mankind…”

“…the human race is in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. Whether or not we succeed in that leap is your personal responsibility.  And mine.  The universe, this stepping stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.  Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  What more can we ask?”

Happy Holidays 2013!

Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is the site of t...

Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is the site of this Christmas display with over 3.5 million lights. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year I have fun reading through holiday books looking for excerpts from writings that reflect my feelings about the season.  This is an especially poignant year for me given my father’s recent passing.  His birthday was actually Christmas day and it will be the first time we haven’t spoken on this day in my lifetime.  He always loved Christmastime and it has definitely worn off on me.  

My house has and always will always be decorated with lights in honor of my dad. It may be my imagination, but I feel that this has been the best year yet for decorations as I drive around and appreciate the individual creativity of so many homeowners.  It appears that people are in an especially festive mood this year and I know that dad is looking down and smiling on all of it.

Since 1944, “Ideals Christmas” has been a tradition in thousands of homes across the USA.  The book contains traditional poems that explore the meaning of the holiday and recall special times with family and friends.  I came across the following poem which resonated with me (Thanks Mable!):

The Message of Christmas Bells
By Mable Clare Thomas

Once more the bells of Christmas
Are ringing sweet and clear;
Once more our hearts are lifted up
And filled with hope and cheer,
For friendship knows no barriers
Of distance, time or space,
And loving thoughts can wing their way
To any clime or place.

Each year the message of the bells,
Over mountain, plain, or sea,
Reminds us love is born anew,
Steadfast, tender, strong, and true,
Wherever we may be.

I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones have a great week of celebration and friendship this year.  And, may the New Year bring you many blessings and much happiness!

A Few Thoughts on Thanksgiving…

"Landing of the Pilgrims"

“Landing of the Pilgrims” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you sit back and reflect on Thanksgiving there is much to learn from the events that led to its creation.  It is quite a testament to the power of the human spirit and our individual and collective capacity to accomplish great things especially when we work together.  When life is stripped down to its bare necessities you learn alot about your fellow human beings. While sadly, some people use survival as a rationale for poor behavior, history seems to vindicate that most of us try to do the right things even under the most adverse circumstances.  I’d like to offer a few observations about the genesis of the holiday:

First, the Pilgrims had to have considerable faith and courage to leave the relative comforts of their European homeland to take the long difficult journey across the ocean to an unknown world that would require considerable effort and great sacrifice just to make it inhabitable.  They were literally starting from nothing.  More than likely they knew that some of them wouldn’t survive the journey and that others wouldn’t last long upon their arrival.  Thank goodness for their pioneering spirit and willingness to risk everything in the hope of creating a better life for their families.  The spark of their pioneering efforts led to the creation of our great nation.

Second, instead of going their separate ways once they left the ships, they decided to form communities.  The basic premise being that working together towards a common goal everyone had a better chance of surviving.  When you combine and leverage the strengths of a group of individuals with a wide variety of skills and talents, everyone benefits.  I am sure there were a few who decided to go it alone (and probably suffered unnecessarily as a result), but for the most part they stuck together and forged a collective identity.  It’s amazing what can be accomplished when everyone is on the same page, working together with a win-win mindset.

Third, unlike later sad stories in our nation’s history, they were able to co-exist with the Native Indian population.  I imagine it must have been a bit disconcerting at first to meet people who looked, talked and acted so differently.  It would have been easy to fear them and take aggressive defensive action.  Moreover, the natives had every reason to fear the strange new people who showed up on their land and started forming a new different type of community.  However, somehow these two diverse populations managed to interact and help one another out.  Arguably, without the wisdom gleaned from the native population, the Pilgrims may not have made it through the first winter. Unfortunately, with time, this relationship eventually degraded for all too human reasons, but for a brief period it was a model of how to peacefully coexist.

Finally, the Pilgrims were people of devout faith who fled religious persecution in their homeland to pursue a life concordant with their spiritual values.  It would have been much easier to disavow their beliefs and go along with the status quo and stay home, but they weren’t wired that way.   Their faith was strong enough to embolden them to overcome any obstacle to ensure they were living in what they perceived to be the right way.  They pursued a higher ideal and were rewarded for their efforts. Our nation was built by people of strong faith who had the courage of their convictions. We should never forget this!

As we sit in our warm comfortable homes, eating too much food, watching football and planning Black Friday shopping excursions, we should pause and reflect on how the courageous actions of a relatively small group of people working together towards a common goal, driven by strong spiritual values, who risked everything to form a new and better life for their families while peacefully coexisting with people much different from them, helped form the foundation of our country.  History is full of examples of people who overcame great odds at significant personal expense to carve out a better future for those who followed behind them.  We should certainly count our many blessing this holiday season, however, we should also be grateful to this brave group of people who made it possible for us to be here in the first place.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What I Learned From My Dad

Sadly, my dad passed away this past weekend. He was 84 and lived a full life.  Many times he commented to me that he couldn’t believe he lived this long.  When he was a child, he told me, living to 65 seemed like a reasonable expectation.  I am glad he beat his own expectations and gave us many more years to be with him.  Dad came from a generation where you lived up to your responsibilities. He didn’t complain about it and believed that one of the most important things you could do was to teach your children was to become independent adults.  He didn’t coddle us, but also did judge us too harshly.  He was always there if needed.

Pop grew up an only child in the Bronx, NY and was raised by a stepfather at a time when this was unusual.  His dad died when he was still very young.  As a young boy he spent a lot of time roaming the streets of NYC alone, which is hard for me to fathom as father myself.   As far as I can tell, nothing was ever given to him.  He had to earn it all himself.  Dad ended up staying married to my mom for 63 years, had 7 kids and 18 grandchildren.  He built (with his own hands) a log cabin on top of a mountain in rural upstate NY and that is where he retired. A retirement that lasted almost 30 years.

Besides being a loving grandfather, father and husband, he was many things: an ex-marine (of which he was very proud); an educator, a carpenter, a travel agent, an avid reader, and a world traveler.  He could literally talk to anyone about anything. He could also fix most things that were broken and solve just about any problem.  The breadth of his skill, knowledge and experience never ceased to amaze me.  To paraphrase, Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was a true “self-reliant” man.

I am grateful for the many things he either gave or taught me including the following:

  • the example of maintaining a lifelong commitment to your wife even when the road seemed rocky at times – he “got” mom and that was important to watch;
  • the gift of my many siblings and the even bigger family this ended up creating;
  • a strong work ethic and the importance of finishing what you stared;
  • that maintaining your personal ethics and values are an important  part of life;
  • a natural curiosity and love of reading and learning;
  • a love of history and an abiding patriotism that only get stronger with time;
  • an appreciation and respect for other countries and cultures;
  • a love of travel and joy in creating family adventures;
  • a deep sense of pride in my own cultural heritage;
  • a self-confidence to tackle any project if you put your mind to it;
  • that pain is a part of life and you need to learn to deal with it without becoming a burden on others;
  • an ability and willingness not to judge others (especially your children) too harshly;
  • showing me that money is less important than your own happiness and a sense of self-fulfillment;
  • the importance being a parent who doesn’t micromanage or overly guide their children’s adult lives;
  • the willingness to let your kids make my their own mistakes as adults without criticism, but then being there to help pick up the pieces if necessary;
  • a love of dogs and the special companionship this can offer;
  • a special appreciation for Christmas (also his birthday) which is ingrained in our family.

It will be a strange holiday season without my dad around this year.  Ultimately all of us have to take the journey of losing our parents and going on with our lives. While their physical presence no longer exists, their legacy naturally lives on in and through their children.  I had a good dad who I believe genuinely did his best despite his own limitations and imperfections. You can’t ask for more than that…I am lucky to have known him and loved him.  Thanks Pop, you will be missed!

Leadership Thought #447 – What Makes A Successful Public Leader

We are in the midst of a fairly active and important election season in my local area.  Many critical positions are up for grabs which is clearly illustrated by the large number of individuals who have thrown their hat in the ring.  I am sure there are varying motivations by the candidates as to why they are running.  Personally, I try to give them all the benefit of the doubt that their primary motivation is to make a positive difference.  I don’t expect to agree with every candidate, but I do expect them to have the courage of their convictions.  Having studied leadership and politics for quite a long time now, the following characteristics emerge as indicative of whether or not someone will be effective once they assume office:

  1. They must like people and enjoy the public aspect of their role.  Politics by its very nature involves regular human interaction and if you aren’t a “people person” it makes the position much harder than it needs to be.  Leaders who isolate themselves tend not to last very long.
  2. They must embrace rather than resist the scrutiny of the press.  If you truly believe in what you are doing, then leveraging the natural interest of the media is a great way to communicate and clarify your positions/actions.
  3. They must be willing to compromise to get things done rather than dig their heels in on every single issue.  Of course, every leader has issues they feel strongly about but not everything should be a political battle.
  4. They need to me more interested in getting the right outcomes than being proven right. No one likes an individual who always acts like the smartest person in the room.  Arrogance only ever turns people off.
  5. They need to focus on their current role rather than constantly jockeying for the next position.  There is nothing more distasteful than naked ambition run amok.
  6. They need to do their homework to support their positions not just have strong ideological positions set in stone.  The only constant in life is change and all leaders need to be flexible and thoughtful in their thinking.
  7. They need to leverage the skills/talents of others who have more experience/knowledge about a particular issue then they do.  Political leaders need to orchestrate positive outcomes not author ego driven solutions.
  8. They need to be optimists who believe the future can be as good if not better than the present.  Pessimistic and reactionary thinking only ever creates negative energy and has no place in public leadership.
  9. They need to have a positive focused vision for the future and have clarity as to how they will leverage their role and rally others to make it happen.  If a leader doesn’t know where he/she is going, then any road can take them there.
  10. They need to be able to manage both big and small issues.  A leader’s success is directly correlated to the number of major priorities he/she decides to tackle.  Day to day tactical issues will always compete for his/her attention.  Ultimately, how someone manages their discretionary leadership time will dictate what eventually gets done,

I am blessed to live in a vibrant and thriving community.  Many dedicated private citizens have served in public roles to help make it this way.  Our political system encourages the active participation of individual citizens to serve the public good.   At times I am sure this can be a thankless position because everyone has an opinion of what you should be doing, but few will ever subject themselves to the scrutiny of a political campaign and assume the responsibilities of public leadership.  I am grateful to all the candidates running this year regardless of their party affiliation. I just hope the electorate takes the time to understand who it is they are actually electing.

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