WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Money gives you freedom and choices.

You can decide where and how you want to live when you have a good income or financial resources. On the other hand, when you do not have much money, choice may be something that you cannot afford. The choices available to you may not really be choices at all.  But how do we decide that we have enough?

Our sense of well-being, comfort, and peace of mind has less to do with how much money we have — and everything to do with how we think about it. In most cases, regardless of how much we actually have in the bank — we only have enough when we think we have enough.

So when is enough really enough? For me, I began to feel comfortable when I crossed the $80,000 income level.  Above that level, emotional well-being corresponded to my individual temperament and life circumstances rather than any extra income. Below that level of income, my happiness was diminished by higher levels of stress related to climbing the ladder.  In that endeavor enough was never enough.  I could always make one more call or plan one more sales presentation.

The level of a person’s expectation rises steadily with the level of income. While increasing income does not change a person’s emotional happiness on a daily basis, it does make people think of themselves as happier and more successful.  This confirms that happiness and feelings of well-being are less dependent on the amount of money you have, and very dependent upon what you think about it.

If you are so fortunate to be earning an amount that gives you the sense of well-being, don’t compromise or sacrifice yourself to make more. If the increased income does not come relatively smooth and naturally into your life, then think carefully before you pursue it. Maybe, probably, perhaps what you are making right now is enough.

Take time every single day to look around and be thankful for the things in your life. Remember, whatever we focus on tends to grow in our experience. If you spend more and more time being grateful for the small things in your life, they could add up to being way more than enough.

Develop your own emotional measuring stick for personal happiness and well-being. Most of us use an external measure far too often and then are surprised when we do not measure up. When we get in touch with those things that make us happy — regardless of whether anyone likes it or “gets it,” then it does not matter how much money you make. Love jogging or gardening or riding your bike? Then do it. Enjoy playing with your kids or your guitar? Then do it. Like to read or hang out with your friends? Then do it. Most of the things that make us smile and feel happy are unrelated to our income. Start separating those qualities and focus on them.

Find something to get passionate about. Have you ever been around someone who is on a mission? If we don’t think we have enough, there is a chance that we are focusing on a fear of loss.  Fear comes into our life when we believe that we will not get everything we deserve OR we are going to lose everything we have. People who are passionate about things are focusing on something that so inspires them that they are not worried about gain or loss. Get involved in something bigger than yourself and you might be surprised at how “good enough” and “rich enough” you feel.

Start hanging out with people who are happy and satisfied with their life just as it is. If you spend time with people who are never satisfied and always wanting more, more, and more, you’ll soon feel the same way. Instead, surround yourself with those who realize life is much more fulfilling and spectacular than how much they make or what they own. Hang out with people who have passion, who regularly help others, and who know what makes them happy from the inside-out, and you’ll start doing the same.

 Instead, it might be SMART to start realizing that our well-being and peace of mind start within. That is probably the only way to discover we have more than enough just as we are, right now.

I GOT THE JOY, JOY, JOY

I’VE GOT THE JOY, JOY, JOY

It often takes a while to discover that following a spiritual path will send our life in the right direction.  In following the path we recognize our flaws and understand we have help to improve our character, circumstances, and destiny which leads to a joyful existence.

Stop waiting to be happy.  There are always fresh opportunities around.  Sometimes happiness is right in front of you. For whatever reason, I am often unable to shift my focus to notice it and engage it.

Regardless of what is going on around you, you can feel happier, be productive, attract success, and enjoy yourself during the process.  When you actually shift your focus and the way you think, your perspective changes.  Want to be joyful?

Make the decision to be happy and it will happen.  It is actually a choice.  We all dream of being happy and joyful, but we expect it to happen sometime in the future.  Until then, we are overworked, overstressed, and under-happy.  The dream does not seem possible without a lottery win or a call from a wealthy uncle in poor health.  How can you enjoy life without some happiness and the possibility that joyfulness will enter your life?

One of the easiest ways to start making happiness choices is to engage in active self-care. Taking a moment for yourself and hitting the reset button is something we all need to do every so often. But a timeout to give yourself a moment of respite or relaxation or indulgence is only part of the battle.  We carve out time for happy hour, but it ends up being less happy because we are thinking about the last couple of emails that we didn’t send in order to be at the bar.  How can anyone binge watch Netflix stress-free with the grass at 8 inches high?  Can you really indulge in a box of salted caramels or honey roasted peanuts knowing that you have not been to the dentist in 18 months?

One of the best ways to let that self-care time shine is to make sure you are not stressing about miscellaneous small-ball stuff on your list while you are trying to check out. Get yourself sorted so that “your-time” is as effective as it can be.

Set your mind to the happiness channel by showing compassion for others, loving your friends and family, being patient with yourself and others, and putting God or the Spirit first in your life. Eventually joy will follow, A joyful life is the best experience we can hope to achieve.  It is the kind of life that produces cool vibes and feel good energy and encourages us to look at the future with high hopes. Pure joy might seem like a fleeting emotion, but even if you feel it for just a moment, you can hold on to it.  You can relish and relive it.

Stop being a worrier!! Happiness works in mysterious ways, just like love.  Neuroscience tell us that brain chemistry alters emotion.  But in order to activate those chemicals for positive feeling, you and I have to change some habits.

The formula for happiness involves changing your thought patterns.  Your patterns—what you do and think and say every day—determine how happy you are.  It’s got nothing to do with what is around you, but everything to do with how your brain works—that inner voice.  The committee that talks to you most of the time offering little plans and designs that are not good for you.  Reduce the size of your EGO and search for happiness within. Fire the committee!  This is an inside job all the way.

My August 5 blog was about the Power of Small Things. We all have them; those small moments or things that often go unnoticed or unappreciated because we think they are either insignificant or we take them for granted because we live in a culture that celebrates big accomplishments. But what if we made it a habit to embrace and celebrate the small things?  Real life is leaving us behind while we are waiting for big news we hope will give us some sort of inner peace, contentment, or joy. IT SELDOM HAPPENS!  The truth is that often the things that matter most are the small things. Hug your child, kiss your spouse (really kiss them), read a book, watch EPISODES on Netflix.

One big mistake we all are prone to make is not realizing that happiness is an individual choice.  But every choice is influenced by the people around us.  If you change your life influencers for the better, you can dramatically increase your chances for happiness and success.

Positive social connection is greatest predictor of long-term happiness. Welcoming

a positive new person into your world can be one of the most important choices for happiness you make.  Avoid naysayers like Covid-19.

I love to laugh.  Laughing makes me feel good.  This isn’t so surprising but try to remember the last time you really laughed; chances are, it may have been some time ago.  Focused on yourself and your problems, you probably don’t giggle as often as you did when you were a kid.  Funny stuff is happening all around you. Laughing has been shown to reduce stress, enhance immunity, improve blood flow, and strengthen relationships.  I met someone that loves to laugh making us a really good fit!

Where is love to fit into the equation? Early on, we are taught that successful people pay attention in school, land a good job, earn a steady income, settle down with a family, and prepare for retirement.  Many use this model quite effectively. Others not so good.  Some do better than others in one category or another. Eventually we find out that the only thing that matters is loving and being loved.

LOVE is the major thing!!!! The Only Thing!!! The reason for life!

There is no greater purpose in life than to love.  Even if you do not love life itself, loving beings and things in your life brings meaning and purpose. Filling your life with love will make you a more spiritual person and position you to fully engage the Spirit.  Be open to wonder.  Remember as a child how you reacted to something new with such awe?  If so, you have all you need to learn what it means to love. The combination of overall life satisfaction and positive love-based feelings in the now do translate into better physical health and a longer life. When you love without condition, it will provide a positive attitude for life and life for you.  IT WORKS!

THE POWER OF SMALL THINGS

THE POWER OF SMALL THINGS

Black Lives Matter! A Pandemic is Serious! What Happened to Compromise?  Should schools open?  Why is the CDC being cut out of the Covid-19 reporting loop?  Why is wearing a mask an issue of freedom? Russians are not on our side.  Is my country, the country of my birth, the country that I love, declining like the Roman Empire?  All of these thoughts have been rampaging through my mind recently. I don’t know any of the answers, nor do I have any control, except with my vote, which may not be counted this year..

So, I am going back to the simple pleasures that have been so important to the quality of my life.  I am starting this better path simply by identifying and expressing gratitude for something small.  After all, most everything started out small, so why not focus on simple, small things.  I thought about those things that made me smile yesterday, in the last few minutes. There are lots of small things that can make your day.  

Here are some of mine:

  • getting lost in a novel
  • my old blue sneakers
  • I enjoy biographies, who would have thought!
  • my meditation that connects me to the day
  • my favorite coffee cups
  • taking a walk
  • dinners with family
  • a really good hug
  • watching a bird going about its business and paying me no mind
  • reading in the shade of a large oak tree
  • sitting on my balcony in the sun reading a good book on my kindle
  • petting my cat, Charlie
  • looking at my garden
  • morning coffee
  • large glass of water and time with God
  • perusing through my favorite bookstore
  • walk in the woods
  • Linda’s smile

Experiencing any one of these small things can make my day joyful.  I get lost in a good book a lot but I do not spend enough time reflecting on why the book held my attention.  Reflecting on the joy of the book can bring a smile to my face all day. I encourage you to make your own list of small things that make you smile and feel good about yourself.

For years, I thought that having the desire to be the best-of-the best at my job would bring me happiness. But I eventually learned and have been reminded many times that this simply is not the case. I do believe, however, that many folks have that desire because doing your best is not good enough. Indeed, if you have that burning desire to achieve and accomplish important things, then please take along a list of small things to make your way more enjoyable.  Develop this as a habit, and you will be amazed at its power and impact. Through the power of small things — adding new things regularly, they will build upon one another and over time have an extraordinary impact on your performance and serenity.

CONNECTIONS

CONNECTIONS

We are clearly influenced by people around us, our circle of friends and relatives. These folks impact our beliefs, our health, our careers and how we feel – some for better and some for worse. We live in interconnected networks and become like the people we spend time with. The number of theses connections we have affects the quality of our lives, influences our expectations, determines the sort of people we marry, where we live, our emotional maturity, and our health.

We often copy our friends and they give us permission to do things. If a friend has done something/bought something/been somewhere, then we are much more likely to also do it/buy it/go there. Not only that, we are influenced by our friends’ friends and surprisingly by our friends’ friends’ friends.

No one controls or owns the network that you and I are in.  It self-organizes and is complex, dynamic, and constantly evolving.  It has no central control point but rather a shared intelligence. Some people are on the edge of networks, others at the very heart of them. Some people have lots of connections within the network, others are more insular.

Emotions are a genetically inspired way of quickly spreading information that people pay attention to. Certain people are more susceptible than others and likewise, certain people are more influential than others.  Likewise in teams, emotions quickly spread – and when a team is happy, it has been shown that performance improves. Unhappy people tend to cluster with other unhappy people and vice versa.  Furthermore, unhappy people seem more peripheral in networks.

It is not just that happy people prefer the company of happy people, it’s that happy people make other people happy.  People with friends who have lots of friends are also more likely to be happy.

The closeness of happy people affects us.  When a friend living less than 1 mile away becomes happy, it can increase my chance of becoming happy. Consequently, the people I spend the most time with heavily influence my mood.   Likewise loneliness begets loneliness. Proximity to other lonely people also increases my tendency towards loneliness.

Networks can heavily affect our personal identity. The way people react to us either builds or weakens our self-valuation, confidence, and esteem. How we look also affects how we are treated.  Since we are heavily influenced by others, we dress in a way that our network will accept. We are mightily influenced by the norms of our society/group.  We unconsciously copy others to be part of that group. The more we relate to a group or want to be a part of it, the more influential their norms will be upon us.

The power of social compliance is often underestimated.  Comparisons to others are a key factor in determining contentment. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once determined that many consumer demands stem not from innate need but more from social pressure.   Merely observing another person’s behavior (especially someone we admire) can be as influential as words.  Our best friends influence how we perceive our prospective partners attractiveness.

When people sit next to a person who is over-eating they will also tend to eat more.  An obese person has more friends, friends of friends and friends of friends’ friends who are obese than would be expected by chance.  If a mutual friend becomes obese, it nearly triples a person’s risk of becoming obese.  Groups such as weight watchers and alcoholics anonymous form powerful social networks of influence – it is the people not the techniques that drive success. An individual’s success story echoes throughout the network. This provides a positive reference experience of success, so building their own belief that success is also possible for them.

For networks and connections to be effective they also need ties into other networks – e.g. those people who have a number of different circles of friends/acquaintances are the critical connectors that allow information to flow between networks. Networks that are more insular are less equipped to solve novel problems than those networks with lots of interconnections with other networks.

The circles we live and work in are fundamental to the opportunities and quality of lives we get to lead so it is less about absolute ability as it is about the connections one has around you as they create the initial opportunities and levels of expectations.

Human social network behaviors are hard wired – its genetically conditioned.   Networks have been fundamental to the advancement of the human species. People who worked together were able to kill more prey and were able to protect each other against predators (human and animal). Thus the ‘connectors’ survived better than the loners.

The Internet has created multiple ways to connect and share.  We are now hyper connected, sharing large chunks of our daily lives with a wide group of friends – thus we know more about more people.

Will these social network relationships replace our deeper personal connections? Research suggests that like the advent of the phone, these technologies supplement the development of relationships rather than supplant them. The media often reports that intense use of the Internet increases the risk of alienation, isolation, depression, and withdrawal from society. In fact, available evidence shows that there is either no relationship or a positive cumulative relationship between the Internet use and the intensity of sociability. Overall, the more sociable people are, the more they use the Internet. And the more they use the Internet, the more they increase their sociability online and offline, their civic engagement, and the intensity of family and friendship relationships, in all cultures.

A new social structure has emerged from the interaction of a technological paradigm based on the digital revolution and some major sociocultural changes. A primary dimension of these changes is what has been labeled the rise of the Me-centered society, or, in sociological terms, individualism, the decline of community understood in terms of living space, work, family, and achievement in general. This is not the end of community, and not the end of place-based interaction, but there is a shift toward the reconstruction of social relationships, including strong cultural and personal ties that could be considered a form of community, on the basis of individual interests, values, and projects.

The process of individualism is not just a matter of cultural evolution, it is produced by the new forms of organizing economic activities, and social and political life. It is based on the transformation of places to live, work, and engage  in economic activity (networked work processes), culture and communication (shift from mass media to mass self-communication based on the Internet); on the crisis of the patriarchal family, with increasing autonomy of its individual members; the substitution of media politics for mass party politics; and globalization forging networks around the planet. The Internet has created the opportunity to connect up with people around the world who are interested in a very specific activities/interests (such as people with specific health issues but it can also be used for some less palatable groups such as self-harmers, anorexics, suicides and bomb makers). The connections with each other reinforce their belief system and legitimize their actions.

Internet use empowers people by increasing their feelings of security, personal freedom, and influence, all feelings that have a positive effect on happiness and personal well-being. the Internet does not isolate people, nor does it reduce their sociability; it actually increases sociability. 

Seven Attributes of Good Character

We all have areas in our personal, professional, and social lives where we have failed. It is hard to point the finger, as we all make mistakes, big and small. So, how do we improve? How can we do more of the right things and less of the wrong ones?

Who we are as a person is the total of everything we have learned as children, plus the choices we make and habits we develop as we grow older. The good news is that we can always learn to make better choices, we can choose to believe in better values, we can create better habits, we can continue to learn.  We will never attain a perfect state; we are humans, and we will continue to make mistakes and experience success and failure in every aspect of our lives. We learn lessons through our defeats. Failure motivates me to change. Ponder this: our most significant pain comes from mistakes we make; our greatest fears come from the consequences of our wrong choices; it follows that our greatest joy will come from doing the right things, and greater love will cast away our fears.

What we do and say reflects our values!   Values are beliefs that help empower our life and the quality of what we experience. How we act and behave in our everyday life, reflects our deep-seated convictions and beliefs. Live by your set of values, and do not compromise them was the advice given to me by my grandfather.

Character is what we are when we are all alone. It is what we do when there is no one around to impress. Reputation is what people think of us; character is who we know we are. The existence or lack of certain virtues will determine who we are.  I believe there are seven attributes of good character: fortitude, tolerance, compassion, patience, hope, faith, and love.

Fortitude is courage in the face of adversity. It is the means by which individuals have the emotional power or reserves to withstand and confront serious problems.   Our mistakes and failures provide us with the opportunity to develop a type of courage which is born of humility, rather than of bravado.                                            

Tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins differ from our own. It permits freedom from bigotry.

Compassion involves allowing me to be moved by suffering of others and experiencing the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it.  Often an individual goes out of their way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pains of another and themselves. Compassion involves sensitivity, another emotional aspect of suffering. It is often based on notions of fairness, justice, and interdependence, it is rational in nature, and most often based on sound judgment. 

Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances such as delay; or a provocation without responding in annoyance. It is forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can have before negativity. It is also used to refer to the trait of being steadfast.

Faith is confidence or trust in a person, thing, or concept. In the context of spiritual matters it is belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of a spiritual leader. For some, faith is confidence based on a perceived degree of justification, while others who are more skeptical view faith as belief without evidence.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world. Hope allows us to expect outcomes with confidence and to cherish a desire with anticipation. Hope is necessary to keep us focused on the goal because we are never in charge of outcomes, no matter the effort we put in.

Love is a feeling of strong attraction and emotional attachment. It  encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, to the deepest personal affection and to the simplest pleasure The love of a mother for her child  differs from the love of her spouse, which differs from the love of food. But they are all love. Love for each other is the way to peace and serenity.

Why do I want to cultivate these seven attributes? Why am I concerned about the content of my character?  When I took a fearless look at myself through a rigorous inventory, I did not like who I had become.  I was not close to the “good” man I imagined myself to be.  My father-in-law, who I considered to be a weak man at one time, became my role model as he was the man I wanted to be..  I wanted the core ethical values of honesty and integrity, respecting others, taking responsibility for one’s actions, being fair and just, and being someone who promotes love and compassion in others. I wanted to be filled with humility, courage, justice, temperance, and the value of human dignity. My well-being—indeed my very existence—depends upon the content of my character.

These seven attributes were the necessary ingredients for me to become the new person I wanted to be, the rebirth of Michael. The first four of these character traits give me tools to deal with my own suffering as well as that of others. Keep moving forward despite my mistakes and shortcomings is the fundamental lesson I have found to have peace and serenity, which equates to a successful life. The last three are ways to proceed to freedom and joy. Trust yourself to do the right thing and joy will come your way.  Its joy that I am after. Happiness is too dependent upon transitory things and other people. Joy comes from faith, hope and love. Trust God knows what you need. He will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And love God and others with all your heart.

MY COLLISION WITH RACISM

In American culture, differences within our population make us uncomfortable and race looms large in the eyes of white America.  I often wonder about the outcome of the Civil War. Lee surrendered, the Union was saved, slaves were freed and the white man reigned supreme. Segregation and racism still linger. Did racism win?

There are some among us who embrace racial and ethnic diversity, developing respect for human differences.  Despite this increase in understanding, minority communities continue to suffer from inequality, injustice, and exclusion at the hands of the mainly white majority. The significant consequences of this purposeful discrimination and marginalization includes societal rejection, fewer job and educational opportunities, poor medical care, unfair treatment by authorities, and the death of George Floyd.

Also, American Christianity has failed to respect the divine image in all beings and supports the racial divide. The Good News is not just for white men with religious and political power and those who support systems of inequity through their participation and silence. I am saddened by my white Christian brethren who cannot see this picture, which shows how much we live in homogeneous communities, with folks who are like us. We must publicly acknowledge and repent for the harm that Christianity in this country has caused. And we must take steps—both political and spiritual—to bring healing.  WE (me) need to get involved in change to bring justice and peace.

An anthropologist will tell you that all humans of whatever race belong to one species, Homo Sapiens. The differences between human races are not great, even though they may appear so if we only consider skin color. Current racial categories are subjective and have little meaning.  Black people are human beings just like me and you.

Racism takes many forms and can happen in many places. We often associate racism with acts of abuse or harassment, but it does not need to involve violent or intimidating behavior. Racial name-calling and jokes or situations when folks are excluded from groups or activities because they are black, are racially motivated.

All racism is not obvious. Someone may look through a list of job applicants and decide not to interview people with names that have racial connotations. Or the new black neighbors do not make the list for the party. Racism is more than just words, beliefs, and actions. It includes all the barriers that prevent people from enjoying dignity and equality because of their race. People are not born with racist ideas or attitudes. Racism is something that is learned. I learned it as a young boy growing up in the south.

And I believe that I suffer from unconscious bias.  I did not think anything about campaigning for Ralph Northam in a traditionally black neighborhood.  I met some really nice folks and had some great conversations.  But a black guy walking through my neighborhood raises my antenna.

Some groups experience racism at higher rates than others..  Black people often have to deal with systemic forms of discrimination, particularly in dealing with the police throughout our country. Such experiences limit their access to the opportunities, resources, and quality of life they should enjoy as citizens of the US. For African Americans, systemic racism is bound up in historical disadvantage and mistreatment.

The political reality of our country is increasingly determined by differences in belief across races and communities. Partisan politics and media coverage are derivatives of these differences. That these differences are structural, mainly because of geography and how our racism arose in the first place, is a disgrace. The concept of race was originally invented to facilitate social control in the American colonies. Colonial rulers needed a way to clearly establish the status and roles of the different populations that were coming together in the new American possessions — rulers, managers, and free settlers from Europe; native people from whom the land was being taken; and slaves imported from Africa. The solution that emerged was to define each group as fundamentally biologically distinct and ranked on a hierarchy from most animal-like to most advanced. This cemented the rulers’ right to rule (since they were the most highly developed race of humans) and drove a wedge between groups such as poor whites and blacks that might otherwise have united to oppose the ruling classes.

Racial and ethnic groups are spread across the USA in an uneven fashion and have not changed that much in 150 years. Native Americans in the east were largely killed or forced to move westward. Black people make up higher proportions of the population in the South (where their ancestors were brought as slaves) and in the cities of the North (where they moved in search of industrial work in the early 1900s). The connection between people with similar ways of life is the most politically innocent reason for segregation. Folks like living around other people who live the same way. And when a large number of people with a similar lifestyle live together, they can support some of the the amenities and businesses that they need.  Most importantly, these neighborhood clusters also allow people to find refuge and solidarity. Instead of being isolated within a hostile population, neighbors provide a support network in the struggle to resist discrimination and get ahead in a hostile world.

Levels of economic status impacts the ability to afford to live in particular locations. As the economic status of different groups shifts, the racial composition of a neighborhood may change. White flight, gentrification, redlining, and violence play a huge role. Amazingly, neighborhoods of color may get less water and sewer infrastructure, may be passed over or even directly sacrificed to provide transit and roads to richer and whiter neighborhoods, and receive less effective and more abusive police protection.

Segregation laws were struck down or repealed in the mid-20th century, but the legacy of this legal segregation lives on in our country in many subtle ways.  The home of the free is a racist nation. I do not know why I am surprised.  The framers of the Constitution were in some measure segregationists and they kept kicking the can of slavery down the road and avoided any resolution of the issue. Even today, Americans would like to ignore race and hope it will go away.  But it will not. And I believe that racial tolerance cannot be legislated. Those of us who are white have to change. Fear of people who look different has to be replaced with love and kindness.   Effective efforts to make mutuality and justice integral to life is the only way. I have to change!

The victimized minority is encouraged to complain to the courts and the evil majority has to reform itself and make restitution. This legal approach does not make people love each other. This approach will not work because it puts all the responsibility on the powerful side and makes no requirement of the weaker. I must understand that I have something to do with this situation if there is any chance for me to achieve any good relationships among people. If we all treated each other the way we would like to be treated, we would have Peace on Earth.!  If I treat you like an enemy you will treat me back like an enemy. The one and only way I can get you to treat me like a friend is if I treat you like a friend. It could be that I do not know what it means to treat people of color like friends. Perhaps treating The Golden Rule as more than a slogan would help. Then I could find ways to apply it. We routinely treat others like enemies without realizing it, and then we wonder why they are mean to us.  When we get angry at people for doing things we do not like, we are actually encouraging them to repeat those actions.

Somewhere along the way we sort our individual characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality which is exactly where my racism has lingered.  My ego has told me to stay with what I know and remain separate. But that is not who I want to be. I want to be a part of a life based on loving and learning from everything.  To solve racism today, a white man like me, in fact me, must put love to work moving me and others toward an ever-deepening union with my black brothers and sisters and all those that regularly face discrimination and injustice. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

AM I NORMAL?

Am I NORMAL?

Our picture of normal behavior – the assumptions about what it is like to be alive, to be a human being – is skewed. Culture tries to project the idea of an organized, poised, and polished self, as the standard way most people are. And this encourages us to get impatient and disgusted with ourselves when we do not live up to expectations.  Many things that we might assume are uniquely odd or disconcertingly strange – and which cut us off from other people – are in fact completely average and pervasive.

How many times have I shouted at myself to buck it up, get it together, and stop being so weak or so weird.?  But for me, it is better to stop expecting to be normal in the sense of being calm, coherent, and rational, and getting ashamed when I am not. It is far more useful to recognize the boundless and sheer normality of madness, waywardness, and alarm in every single human soul.

Sometimes I have these peculiar thoughts and habits and if anyone found out about them I am fearful that they would label me and cast me out of their social sphere immediately. Are you as desperate as me to fit in? Our picture of what is normal is very often way out of line with what is actually true and widespread.

The fate of normality is very much in the balance. The ability of technology to see us as we have never been seen before is on the rise. Yet, the notion of a shift in what is considered normal invites unease: we do not want conformity but increasing anxiety level is not a good outcome either.  It is a short hop from critiquing normalcy to claiming that we are too concerned with self.

Often confronting your odd behavior can bring relief, as will a plan for addressing the problem. Talking to a therapist is often a good way to see your particular problem.  Maybe you are not as abnormal as you thought. But there is no evidence that the proliferation of therapy has done harm to our identity or all that much good.

The question of normality creates strange paradoxes. Often it is relatively healthy people who feel defective. The worriers may believe that they have too much or, more often, too little ambition, desire, confidence, spontaneity, or sociability. Their keen social awareness (a strength), when combined with a few obsessive behaviors, causes them to fuss over glitches in the self.

In contrast, those with serious problems often insist on their normality. Anorexics and alcoholics may profess certainty that they are fine. People afflicted by disabling panic attacks or depression have often tried to hide their problem. That mood disorders are common and largely treatable makes them more acceptable; to suffer them is painful but not strange.

In other words, in the therapeutic setting, the proliferation of diagnoses has diverse effects, making some people feel more normal, some less so, and touching others not at all. There is no automatic link between a label and a sense of abnormality.

How will it feel to live in a culture in which few people are free of psychological defect? Well, we have been there before, and we can gain some clues from the past.   A study done in the 1950s asserted that 80% of Americans were abnormal. But when everyone is abnormal, being included loses its sting. We are in a period where therapy is no longer unusual —while its gravity, in terms of social stigma, has diminished.  In fact, it is sort of hip to be in therapy. Also we have redefined normal to include broad ranges of difference.

Where once people pursued normality through efforts at self-reform, now they proudly redraw the map to include themselves. In this context, diagnostic labels confer inclusion in a community. Today, an emotional difficulty can be understood both as a disorder and a unique perspective.

We can hold two forms of normality in mind.  Normal as free of defect, and normal as sharing the human condition, which always includes variation and vulnerability. I believe we are entering a period in which abnormality is universal and unremarkable.

Normality may be a myth we have allowed ourselves to enjoy for decades, sacrificed now to the increasing recognition of differences. The awareness that we all bear flaws is humbling. But it could lead us to a new sense of inclusiveness and tolerance, recognition that imperfection is the condition of every life.

THE IRON BUTTERFLY

Eloise Randolph Page

Eloise Randolph Page, a Virginian to the core, began her Central Intelligence Agency career at the CIA’s founding in 1947 and served for 40 years in clandestine operational assignments. Miss Page was secretary during World War II to Army Maj. Gen. William E. Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services, which was the espionage service that preceded the CIA. With the founding of the CIA, she transferred into the organization and made espionage and intelligence her life’s work.

A couple of people that are standing in a room

Description automatically generated

In 1978, she became the agency’s first female station chief, assigned in Athens, where three years earlier, Marxist terrorists had assassinated CIA station chief Richard Welch. She became one of the CIA’s experts on terrorism, and after her 1987 retirement from the CIA, she was a consultant on terrorism to the Defense Intelligence Agency and a teacher at the National Defense University.

From 1975 until she retired, she had been the CIA’s highest-ranking female officer.

At the CIA’s 50th anniversary observance in 1997, Miss Page was among 50 CIA officers who were honored with Trailblazer Awards for their career service. Her Trailblazer citation called her “a role model and . . . first female Chief of Station, first female super grade, and the first woman to head a major intelligence community committee . . . a champion of using technology to solve operational problems.”

Miss Page, a native of Richmond, was a member of a Virginia family that traced its roots to Col. John Page, a founder of the city of Williamsburg and member of the British Royal Governor’s Council who died in 1692.  Her extended family included the Randolph’s of Virginia and Washington, D.C., the Pages, the Dunnings, the Harrisons and the Mitchells, all of Virginia.   She wore her Virginia heritage like a badge of honor and was often described as comporting herself like the quintessential southern lady. She insisted on being addressed as “Miss Page,” not “Ms. Page.”

She was petite and small-boned, with bright eyes and a slight smile that often appeared ready to break out in a grin. She spoke with a southern drawl, and she loved to talk about the romance and mystique of the Old South and her southern upbringing.

But in the tangled thicket of the defense establishment, she was said to have been tough and determined, and a skilled and effective player in the bureaucratic survival contest. She knew how to get things done. High officials of the Defense Department sometimes called her “the iron butterfly.” She could speak in a sweet and gentle tone, but at the same time be sharp-tongued and merciless in dressing down general officers and deputy assistant secretaries.

Her career included directing the intelligence committee that focused on the most important problems facing the United States in the area of national defense, and she was an advocate of the use of technology to conduct espionage operations.

But to those outside the intelligence community, Miss Page was an unlikely espionage operative. She wore white gloves and conservative dresses. St. John suits and Ferragamo shoes became her trademark. Rarely was she seen in slacks. She was a Sunday school teacher at Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown, where she had also served on the vestry and directed the Altar Guild and the flower committee. She was in charge of the choreography and decorations at weddings, and, as with everything else she did, she took this responsibility seriously.

As chair of the Altar Guild, she was a perfectionist. Altar linens would be sent back for reironing for the slightest wrinkle. She often brought her personal prayer books — many of which dated back generations in her family — to prayer meetings, and she was a regular reader of the Psalms.

Aside from her church and her career, the major loves in her life were her dogs, golden retrievers that sometimes accompanied her on foreign assignments.

Miss Page was a graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke. She also had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in political science from George Washington University. She had an honorary Doctor of Laws from the National Defense University.

At her retirement in 1987, she received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

She was a member of the Sulgrave Club, the Society of Colonial Dames and the District Garden Club.  She died in 2002 at the age of 82.

A most amazing woman.

SUFFERING & GROWTH

PERSONAL GROWTH THROUGH SUFFERING

Often turmoil and trauma just seem to be destructive and negative. But in the long term, these may be balanced—or even transcended—by powerful positive effects.

A picture containing person, sitting, man, bench

Description automatically generated

You have probably experienced the negative effects of turmoil in your own life, or at least been aware of them in people close to you. Many people who have suffered traumatic life-events such as death of a loved one, illness (such as cancer), housefires, combat or becoming a refugee, find that dealing with this trauma is a powerful spur for personal development. It was not just a question of learning to cope with or adjust to negative situations; they actually gained some significant benefits from them.

Many folks gain new inner strength and discover skills and abilities they never knew they possessed. They became more confident and appreciative of life, particularly of the “small things” that they normally take for granted. They become more compassionate for the sufferings of others, and more comfortable with intimacy so that they have deeper and more satisfying relationships. One of the most common changes is that they have a more philosophical or spiritual attitude to life.

Initially, most folks experience a “dark night of the soul,” where their previous values are thrown into question, and life ceases to have any meaning. After this, most go through a phase of spiritual searching, trying to make sense of what has happened to them, and find new values. And finally, once they have found new spiritual principles to live by, they enter a phase of “spiritual integration” by applying these new principles. At this point, they find new meaning and purpose in life, together with a grateful heart for being alive, and even for having been through so much turmoil.  In some ways, it seems, suffering can deepen us.

There are only two choices when facing hardships: rise to the challenge and overcome it, or retreat into despair.  Suffering initiates a search for significance. It is important to make sense of and find meaning and purpose in suffering and grow past limits that create vulnerability. We all need one another and nothing is certain or uncertain, both are illusions. Humans cannot predict exactly what is going to occur so letting go of sureness of an outcome brings vulnerability.

The facts are that suffering SUCKS! I always want to get it over with ASAP. But to really cash in on the strength-building benefits, the idea is not to bypass the process.  Patience is key.   A lot of times that means you have to allow yourself to feel the pain: Vent to a friend about your demanding boss, cry after a breakup, push through the last six miles of the marathon on your bucket list..

When we process the pain, we reap the rewards. Most goals and accomplishments could not be completed without periods of suffering. Suffering builds character by giving us a sense that if we can get through times of suffering, we can accomplish anything.

Not all pain can provide the rewards noted above.  Destructive suffering or “bad pain” comes from repeating old patterns and avoiding the pain it would take to change them. Suffering at the hands of someone else is not valuable at all.

Many times people suffer because of their own character faults. Then other people come alongside them and give them comfort or a spiritual pep talk about how God is with them in this testing. They usually frame the experience as the testing of an innocent person.

The difficulty arises when the suffering is the fruit of the individual’s own character and is of no value unless they see it as a wake-up call. This is bad pain. And bad pain is basically wasted pain. It is the pain we go through to avoid the good pain of growth that comes from pushing through. It is the wasted pain we encounter as we try to avoid grief and the true hurt that needs to be worked through. It is the wasted pain of trying to get a person to love us or approve of us instead of facing the loss of this love and moving on.

In too many support circles, people are supported in ways that do not make them face the growth steps they need to take to keep from repeating their mistakes. They are seen as victims and are then set up for failure all over again.

DO NOT BE A VICTIM! Convert worthless pain into transformative growth.

I hate the cliché, “NO PAIN!  NO GAIN!”  BUT…………………………………!