3 Life Lessons

“We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”― Santosh Kalwar

Sample page with penFor many years now I’ve kept a journal and I’ve written about it here. This week, I’ll finish my 92nd stenographer’s pad of memories, dreams and reflections. Today I read back to the beginning of the current volume and encountered some thoughts from 4 months ago that, as Kalwar says, changed my thinking.

There are three life lessons I’ve learned along the way as part of the perrenial wisdom that is the focus of MentorBoom. Out of all I’ve read and learned of the uncommon wisdom I write about here, I learned that:

1) “Be kind, everyone you encounter is fighting a great battle.”* I read this and it was one

Martin Buber

Martin Buber

of those moments that made me pause. It slowly sunk in that no matter what I am experiencing that is causing me pain, or fear, or anxiety, everyone I meet has a similar or greater problem. Suddenly I became more compassionate with my interactions. I began trying to see other in the light of Martin Buber’s I and Thou, each encounter a meeting of equals in which there is the possibility of the Divine to flow, for Grace to be given.

2) In Buber’s concept of I and Thou there are 3 different ways of encountering others. We can make them objects as we do with our cultural heros and those we despise and “idify” them, making them greater than or less than ourselves. When we do this, we make an object of ourselves, feeling that we are not as worthy as our heros or that those we see as despicable, for reasons of color, ethnicity or class, are less than we, even less than human. When we see others as equal manifestions of the Divine we can relate in true relationship and divinity flows.

3) “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”** Benjamin Disraeli was twice Prime Benjamin DisraeliMinister of Great Britain in the late 19th century. This quote attracted me for its succinct advice of making our way in the world. Many have offered advice about clarifying your vision and sticking to it. This quote can serve as a mantra when I feel pulled away from the important at the urging of the insistent. Remember my purpose and return to it every time I am pulled away and eventually, I will achieve greater success than I otherwise would.

*Plato or Rev. Ian Mcclaren (born John Watson)
**Benjamin Disraeli
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Speaking Up for Social Justice

And if we want peace, we must work for justice, or else nothing that we gain will be worth the cost.”                                    

                                                                  Rebels and Refugees, a song by Robert Caldwell

DiscriminationAndrew and I were at lunch this week. He referred a client to me from his network of clients. The client is a wonderful company and I work with the owner and her son as they prepare for succession to the next generation. It’s work I love and it gives me meaning.

We were discussing some political event. I don’t normally discuss politics with people I suspect of being on the other end of the political spectrum from me. Due to Andrew’s work as an investment advisor to wealthy people, I figured that would be where his beliefs lay.

But for some reason I did. I said, years ago I was asked to run for Congress by a representative of the Democratic Party. At the time I was still running our business and couldn’t both run for office and run the company, so I passed on the opportunity.

Andrew asked, “Why Democratic?” I thought for 5 seconds and said, “Social justice.” I Nazisrelated my connections over the years with 3 people, 2 African American and one Jew who escaped Nazi Germany by the slimmest of margins.

These were some of the finest people I’ve ever known and the way they were treated at times in their lives led me to be adamant in my belief that all men and women deserve our respect and decency until they prove themselves unworthy of it. I don’t see that in the right wing of American politics today and it is inexcusable in my opinion.

JusticeHe said he’d never thought of it that way. His clients always talk about making money, investing it, growing it and minimizing taxes. There is seldom, if ever, any talk of the needs of others. It was like a light went off in his mind. If my words can have that effect, it is my obligation to speak up more often and spread the word of social justice.


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Bananas and Geopolitics

ChiquitaJust up the street from the Carolina Panthers football stadium where they’re playing today here in Charlotte is the new headquarters of Chiquita Brands, the huge fruit company. Just up the road from us in Davidson, NC today is the final round of the Chiquita Golf Classic. This time 60 years ago in Central America a plot was being hatched that would forever, indelibly rebrand this company as complicit in a grave injustice.

In the early 1950’s the duly elected president of Guatemala was Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. TrumanHe didn’t like the idea too much that 42% of the arable land in his country was out of production and off limits to indigenous farmers because it was owned by the United Fruit Company. Arbenz created a law, Decree 900, that gave farmers access to that land. That in turn pissed off United Fruit, but more importantly their private army known as the CIA.

Within 2 years of Decree 900, Arbenz was forced out and military dictators began a 40+ year ruthless, bloody rule. The misery unleashed, in large part, by the illegal and immoral overthrow of a foreign government by the U.S. government is well documented. When I visited there in the early 1980’s the military junta had recently been named the most repressive in the Americas. Quite a distinction in that cast of character!

Guatemala 1954So what did United Fruit Company do to clean its hands after their very dirty role in all this? They rebranded themselves into bright, sunny, smiling, squeaky clean Chiquita seen above. Gradually, over time, the world forgets these small atrocities, but they continue unabated as we speak today, all over the world. Let’s end with this quote:

William Blum, in Killing Hope
… the educated, urbane men of the State Department, the CIA, and the United Fruit Company, the pipe-smoking men of Princeton, Harvard, and Wall Street, decided that the illiterate peasants of Guatemala did not deserve the land which had been given to them, that the workers did not need their unions, that hunger and torture were a small price to
pay for being rid of the scourge of Communism.


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8 Thoughts on Change

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein

I was reading back through a journal from 2012, looking for ideas I’ve written about, but left to moulder there in those old pages. One such thing I found was this material about change. Since there was a lot of change going on in my life just then, it was what I wrote about. Think about the meaning of life change and your resistance to or acceptance of it.

Einstein on Energy1) If Einstein is correct, change occurs in my life only when I want it. If change is something that I want, then resistance to it is ultimately futile. The greater the resistance to it, the greater the pain involved.

2) Change comes from thinking differently. Only through my willingness to think different thoughts in different ways, will change occur.

3) I have to come to the place of wanting change by my own thought and subsequent change of heart.

4) Change need not be a huge leap. Small steps repeated often will work nicely. The secret of success is constancy of purpose.

5) The duration and intensity of the pain of “change resistance” diminishes with Gandhiprogressively accepting and allowing the change to occur.

6) The physiological sensation of being stuck in a troubling situation leads to focused thought that seeks a different way of dealing with or extricating myself from it.

7) Recognizing that I strongly desire a better, improved situation leads to a willingness to change.

8) Change is the only constant. We breathe it in and out until we breathe no more, then, no worries.

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The Swimmer

Seven days without swimming makes one weak.

Swimming PoolI appreciate swimmers, except when they take their half out of the middle when we’re sharing a lane. Over the years after damaging joints from sports, running and hiking, I am left with the pool and a yoga mat. It works for me and I don’t miss the other things too much, but we swimmers are a dedicated bunch, and with good reason.

It takes a certain resigned self-confidence to allow oneself to undergo the inevitable Greek Chorus of negative self-images that accompany the locker room changing experience. On the street, our clothes shelter us from the worst, but in the changing room, all that is stripped away, so to speak. Yet, we do it anyway, some of us every day!

Then, as the self-recrimination has been quieted for a moment, the swimmer must Finding Nemo Quoteundergo the of immersion into water we’d normally avoid. We’re told it’s the ideal temperature for laps, but many days, I don’t agree. Granted, in the summer, it feels great, but in January when it cold and bleak, it’s a bitch.

Next, immediate shrinkage or NE occur, to add to the problems of self-image. It is for the best that guys suffer shrinkage rather than an equivalent to nipple erection (NE), or else there would be arrests of guys in Spandex on the pool deck.

MistressFinally, the pool is a demanding mistress. She requires your attention and your dedication. Either you visit regularly and pay your gifts of exertion, or you will suffer mightily when you do return. Oh, and did I mention that the Goddess of the Pool is infinitely patient? She will haunt your thoughts like the sweetness of a favored lover.

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The “Evils” of Socialism

Duke Mansion FoyerTall ceilings, tile floors, huge walls of windows and glass doors looking out over beautifully kept gardens set the feel of the place. It’s called the Duke Mansion for a reason; it’s a mansion. Along with about a dozen others I sat at an exquisite dining table at a breakout session listening to a successful entrepreneur give advice to younger business men and women.

My mind was reviewing what I was going to say when I was next up, but suddenly the speaker’s story grabbed my attention. Paul, the entrepreneur speaking, had started his business in his spare bedroom about 17 years ago and grown it to $4 million plus in revenue. His specialty was providing just the right equipment to commercial printers to make their products exceptional.

Paul’s company is the largest distributor of a disposable steel product that needs to be Stockholmreplaced every day (a brilliant business model!). The manufacturer is in Sweden, so Paul has developed a close relationship with them and visits at least once or twice a year.  What caught my attention was when Paul started talking about the beauty, the cleanliness, the culture and the lifestyle of the people of the country and how eviable it all seems.

So often when I’m around entrepreneurial business owners, I’m struck by how “conservative” they are. My bet is that for many of them, in college they were much more progressive in their beliefs. As they got older and successful, suddenly the government that helped create the circumstances and infrastructure of their success is the enemy.  No interference is tolerated and no amount of tax is small enough to satisfy the successful ones now.

Paul’s politics are unknown. He didn’t talk about them at all.  However, he did speak with hushed reverence for the life that the Swedes have created with their high taxes, social safety nets, great education and healthcare for all, you know, all those evils of socialism the “conservatives” rail against. It is clear to me after having done international business for a number of years, that more of us would like to have a Swedish way of life, despite the inevitable fact that Sweden, like any country, has it’s problems and disparities.

DetroitThe form of capitalism now afoot in the U.S. is pernicious and malignant. The divide between the haves and have nots in this country has not been higher in nearly a century. 300 people around the world control as much of the wealth as 3 billion of the rest of world. This is not a sustainable model! While both socialism and capitalism have their excesses throughout history, it is proven that such inequality does not have a happy end.

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In Search of Right Livelihood

Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.                                                                                                                                                    Buddha

WorkYears ago I conducted a series of workshops entitled, “Work as Worship,” which later became, “Bringing Work to Life.”  The point of our small group meetings was to explore with each other ways of finding what the Buddha called, “right livelihood.”  We would ask each other about hopes, dreams and aspirations and how you might begin to move toward them. We focused as little as possible on the current mire of disappointment.

The reason I began doing the workshops was because I wanted to find right livelihood for myself.  I was tired of being disillusioned and frustrated by having to live out the desires and demands of others. I learned along the way that, for me, there will always be demands from others, but now I have more freedom to pick and choose the ones I accept.

BuddhaA generation later, I find that I’ve done what I set out to do.  It came to me as a jolt, a shock almost, just in the past year.  I finally realized that, along the way, I found or created work that, in keeping with Buddhist tradition, is “freely chosen, done with mindfulness and care, leading to enlightenment.”  While work is still work, now it has meaning and has become not just a job, but a calling.

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