I started this blog nearly three years ago during the first weeks of the pandemic lockdown. At the time, I never expected it to be a long term project.
This is post number 155. To date, the blog has 13,000 views from people in 45 countries. That blows my mind! Those stats don’t exactly put me in an “influencer” category, but it’s rewarding to know that folks like you are reading my posts.
I am in the final stages of preparing a book manuscript for publication. The book, Towards a Life Well-Lived, will be available on Amazon sometime in the Spring.
Thank you for reading the blog!
A New Year’s Look On Life
On New Year’s day, many of us reflect on where we are in our life’s journey and where we would like to be. I decided to share my reflections. I hope they will be meaningful to you.
When I was a young boy, I sat in my father’s lap, and he told me the parable of the man who built his house on rock. A house built on rock withstands life’s storms. A house built on sand will not.
It wasn’t until my early 30s that I fully understood the meaning of that parable. Life’s circumstances had shaken my foundation. Work was needed to shore it up.
I copied the illustration below from a 1988 entry in my personal diary.
I decided my new foundation would be constructed of daily routines to strengthen and balance body, mind, and Spirit. I actioned the model by taking up distance running to strengthen my body. I set aside time to study wisdom literature to strengthen my mind. Spirit was more difficult as I am not religious by nature. Nevertheless, I found that balance is not possible in the absence of a Spiritual routine.
That original diary entry was half my life ago. Effort expended to put the model into action served me well. Lately, however, I’ve come to realize my foundation is incomplete. Its underlying motivation was self-development, but life isn’t about just me. Missing was a disciplined routine for the development of We!
As the the new year begins, I want to offer some thoughts on correcting this omission.
The need to belong is universal. Wisdom helps to fulfill that need by teaching us to listen. When listening, we witness profound connectivity in life. Yet, sometimes, what we see in others doesn’t suit us. The older we get, the more set in our ways we become. Friends are harder to make because people just like us become harder to find. As a result, we risk falling into two traps. First is the narrowing of social interactions to people like us. Second is the tendency to focus on things that divide us rather than unite us.
Reflecting on this, I decided that the first component of my newly expanded foundation would be to fully accept people just as they are.
People tend to cluster according to socioeconomic status, education, ethnic heritage, religion, and political beliefs. People who are different from us can be off-putting.
Building We requires acceptance of differences. It requires seeing others as a person rather than a label. Labels are demeaning abstractions that slot fellow human beings into narrow categories; “She’s a “Trumper.” “He’s a high school dropout.” ”She’s homeless.” “He’s an addict.” Labels are a form of violence because, once applied, we see the label rather than the person. To build more We into my life, I will need to stop labeling people.
Accepting differences is inherently uncomfortable. Perhaps you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. The model uses a simple questionnaire to parse people into one of 16 personality categories. Most people discover their Myers-Briggs personality type accurately describes them.
We used Myers Briggs assessments in team building exercises at work. I was surprised to learn that my closest friends had similar personality types. In contrast, individuals I conflicted with often had divergent profiles.
We expect people to think and behave like us. When they don’t, it creates conflict, especially when they are close to us. Often we either ignore them or attempt to change them. Trying to change someone rarely works. A more successful strategy is to accept who they are. This doesn’t mean agreeing with them or condoning their behavior; it simply means seeing them as a whole person.
Accepting others as they are will be essential to expanding my foundation for We.
The second word that guided my thinking was truth. It’s popular today to investigate truth with fact-checkers. However, facts are often irrelevant. Individual truths are often biased by belief. Finding We with people on the other side of our biases is hard. During the pandemic, I became angry with friends who did not share my truths regarding masking and vaccinations.
Looking deeper into truth, it became clear that universally true things bring us together. In contrast, truths based on personal beliefs often drive us apart. It’s not easy to move from personal opinions to universal truths. Arguments only result in opponents fortifying their positions.
The power of kindness is a universal truth. People rarely change their beliefs. The best way to deal with that is to accept who they are and practice kindness.
Acts of Kindness
How can I best put kindness into action?
Recently, American author George Saunders discussed kindness on the Ezra Klein Show. He defined it as thinking and behaving in a manner that improves the lives of people in our proximity. That seemed like a pretty low standard until I thought about it.
Saunders’s definition sets a bar I often fail to clear. I have a quick temper that comes out more often than I would like to admit. I also tend to be judgemental. Saunders definition applies to thoughts as well as actions. That’s not easy.
I’ve decided to adopt Saunders’s definition of kindness for my model.
The third word I chose to reflect on was love. We all know what love is, at least until we try to define it.
I believe the primordial force in the universe is a pull to union. Love is our most profound experience of this energy and, therefore, must play a vital role in developing more We in my life.
Loving my neighbor isn’t easy. I decided baby steps were in order.
I’ve relayed this story before, but it’s worth repeating.
While attending seminary, my brother Paul befriended a respected older professor. One evening in his home, they discussed spirituality into the wee hours of the morning. Seeing that his professor was becoming tired, Paul asked if he could sum up his 50 years of theological study in just a few words. His professor replied:
“Hold hands with God and your fellow man, and if you let go, find a way to hold hands again.”
I’ve always remembered that. How often do I sincerely try to hold hands, not physically perhaps, but metaphorically with people who think or act differently than me?
Human survival is predicated on our ability to distinguish differences, especially those that pose a threat. Sadly, it’s become an over-utilized strength. When we focus on differences, we fail to see our common humanity, and we fail to hold hands.
Rather than labeling, judging, condemning, or excluding those who look, think, or behave differently than me, I need to find ways to hold hands. Many religious traditions profess the importance of loving our neighbor. Holding hands feels like a good place to start.
To summarize, here’s my new model for expanding We in my life:
It’s easy to build relationships with people who share my beliefs. Building relationships with those who believe or behave differently will take time.
Models are only as good as the actions taken to implement them. Recognizing this, I’ve decided to focus on three areas for implementation:
1. Accepting people as they are by focusing on our shared humanity rather than our differences.
2. Commit to daily acts of kindness.
3. Holding hands by redirecting areas of conflict to areas of mutual interest and agreement.
Strengthening and balancing my personal foundation took a long time. However, over the years, I found that small actions to strengthen body, mind, and Spirt grew into a fortress of resilience and strength. Now it’s time to extend that approach to the cultivation of We.
Accepting others, being kind, and holding hands is not going to be easy. My work is certainly cut out for me!
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