KEY to a Better Life

My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness.  Dalai Lama

dalai lamaYears ago when I heard the Dalai Lama’s comment about his religion being kindness, it struck me like a Zen arrow, straight to the heart.  In some of my better moments, I’ve even tried to consciously apply myself to the practice of it.  As I would leave the house, I would set my intention to be unusually kind to those I encountered that day.

I found that being consciously kind is a practice that has invariably led to encounters and interactions that would not have come otherswise.  I also learned that the habit of kindness can be nurtured and developed.  Kindness muscle can be built through repeated use.  We’re all capable of small words and acts of kindness that can transform our life.

Be easy about all this; you’re doing very well indeed.  Abraham

We’re harder on ourselves than we would allow others to be.  We judge others in the reflection of the light of how we judge ourselves.  A life found wanting will project that lack out onto those closest to us and those who will allow it.  Lack of ease means I’m on edge all the time.  If I miss a goal or fail at anything, I am intensely harsh with myself.

On the other hand, ease allows.  What is, is what is.  Ease allows the unexpected, the mysterious to occur.  Walled in by judgment about how things must be creates just that, a walled in life.  The walls I build by my definitions of right and wrong, good and bad, close me off from serendipity and life loses some of its glow.

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you
cannot make yourself as you wish to be.  Thomas à Kempis

Be YourselfAs  à Kempis tells us, why would I get angry about something I can’t change in another when I can’t change it in myself?  And if I can see it in the other, I must, by definition, have it in myself.  This leads me to understand, when I take the time, that only being the best “myself” that I can be will ever lead me to joy.

Be kind, be at ease and be yourself, KEY, 3 steps on the path to a more joyous and  meaningful life.

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It’s All in the Melanin

No, we don’t (smoke cigarettes together). But first thing that happens is, I come in and he’ll say, ‘Boehner, you are almost as dark as me.’ John Boehner to Sean Hannity

If we look at the skin color of John Boehner and Barack Obama, there’s not Boehnermuch difference, except one is a little more orange than the other.  For President Obama melanin is the darkening agent, for Speaker Boehner I think it’s the tanning booths on which his House passed a tax a few years ago, and as for McConnell, nothing, just soapy white.  Nonetheless, it seems to me that the melanin in the President’s skin has become the nexus of many of the ills that face our nation today.

McConnellFor instance, Sen. McConnell said on Day One, “Our intention is to make this President a one term President.”  Fail.  Since that day and every day since these two elected officials have made it their business to defeat, discredit and deflate the actual presidency and in particular this man.  It seems that anything that could possibly be construed as allowing for a positive legacy of the President is strictly off limits.

We all have our theories about why this might be so. One that I subscribe to is that the base of the GOP right now wants to insure that come 2014 the Democrats have nothing but a sketchy, incomplete agenda on which to run.  It’s felt that this will enable the Republicans to retake the Senate, secure the House and totally emasculate the programs endorsed by Mr. Obama.  And the secret weapon, take the courts for the right wing of the political spectrum.

While all this is well and good and understandable from a policital perspective, what it is Obama2doing to the country is cynical and harmful. While most of the opposition will say that this is not about race, I contend that if Obama were a little lighter on the melanin, things would be different.  It’s estimated that the unnecessary and untimely austerity and sequester have cost the country 2.2 million jobs while the wealthiest people in the country, many donors to the GOP, are doing very well indeed.

War is being waged on working class and middle class people in this country, amazingly on the very backs of many of the voters who are hurt and will be hurt the worst.  And all this, at least in no small part, is because of the pigmentation of a man’s skin. Are we not past that yet in this country?  I’m sure many disagree with me, like at least 49%, but as a political science major and student of politics all my life, it seems there is a large kernel of truth to this hypothesis.

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The Limit of Unconditional Love

There is more felicity on the far side of baldness than young men can possibly imagine. ~Logan Pearsall Smith

My grandson Griffin turned 15 a few weeks ago. He’s in love, conniving to drive at every justin bieberopportunity and longing to be 16; in short a teenager.  Did I mention he’s also the heartthrob of his school over the years?  He’s got small town Justin Bieber status, or so I’ve heard, although he’s much too modest to say it to me!

Oh, did I also mention his hair, thick, dark brown, straight, slightly long and always combed just right?  I’m sure a source of pride and a little vanity, but, hey, he’s human too. We all have our vanities and they last a lifetime. Unfortunately, many of our vanities are controlled by our genes which are beyond our abilities to manipulate.

GenesMy daughter, Kim, and Griffin were talking about genes and their impact on our lives.  She was telling him that certain genetic traits are carried in the mother’s DNA and passed along to her offspring, while others are conveyed primarily by the father. For instance, she said, the mother carries part of the genetic pattern that determines her son’s potential hair loss. “I passed along to you what I got from my father (me).”

Since I’m substantially bald, Griffin thought for an instant and said, “No! That’s not going to happen to my hair, is it?!”  Now I see what’s important to a teenager these days, it’s not the content of your heart, it’s the pattern of your hair!  Sorry pal, we have reached the limit of unconditional love!  We all have our vanities after all.

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The Great Caribou Coffee Diaspora

Caribou CoffeeWe’ve lost our Caribou Coffee, the site of so many laughs, connections and quiet conversations in a noisy space.  One day we hear that Caribou is closing several Charlotte locations, but this one, our special one, would survive!  Alas, it wasn’t to be.  It, too, Caribou East as we called it, didn’t make the cut after all.

When I talk about “we” here, it’s because this wasn’t just any coffee shop, it was the granola variety hangout left in this corporate, Starbuck’s city.  Nursing students from the nearby hospitals, aging hippies with time to kill, and those of us who work from home offices and crave the occasional sociability of others, all called it home.

A community such as this didn’t leave names and numbers.  We knewBrown Padded Chair each other by sight and an occasional interchange where we’d learn the basics of this new person.  The little “Take One, Leave One” library is no more.  The big, brown leather padded chairs by the fireplace were lusted over on cold or rainy days.

CoffeeThe strong small of the coffee and the incessant buzzing of the grinders let us know that there was a business to run here and, in the end, the economics won out, as they always do.  Caribou East as another casualty of the investment bankers who bought Caribou, broke it into pieces and never once thought of the emotional dislocation, this unintended consequence, of their actions.

We are the members of the Great Caribou Coffee Diaspora of 2013.  We are part of a dispersion of a people and culture that was formerly concentrated in one place.  We will likely never see one another again as a group.  Old, growingly familiar relationships will be no more.  We are spread to the four winds, never to be reunited.

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The Sound of One Jaw Dropping

Rigid thinkers cling tightly to preconceptions and generalizations, and often  react with fear or hostility in the face of unexpected change or challenges.  Jagg Xaxx, eHow

This week I had an unexpected and jaw dropping encounter.  I was at a potential client’s Conference Tablemanufacturing plant, discussing a family business situation with which he is struggling.  I’d met this guy twice before and had liked his unpretentious manner.  He approached me at our last meeting and said he wanted to talk about how some issues have persisted at his business for a long time and he was confounded in his efforts to improve things.  This is right in line with the work I do, so I was eager to hear more.

At his office, we sat out in the small lobby with deserted offices at an old conference table.  It was an ill-lit space because the empty office lights were off with only one person coming back and forth from the plant to the office from time to time.  As he talked, the business owner told me a little about what was going on with his children, his son-in-law and the obese guy he’d had to fire not to long ago because he could barely raise himself from his chair and was useless at anything that didn’t allow him to sit at his computer.

George SorosSuddenly, he stopped that line of talk and started talking about how difficult it was to do business with that “Muslim in the White House!”  He went on to say that the president, while not known to many, is really a Muslim who is out to undermine the U.S.  “George Soros (one of the wealthiest capitalists in the world) and those other communists” are out to impose their perverse values on the American people.  I was shocked and perhaps he saw it in my face.

Immediately, after my jaw metaphorically hit the table top, part of me wanted to call him a paranoid, low-information voter, get up and leave.  But then I thought, I never discuss politics or religion with clients anyway and I’m not going to now.  So, I stayed put.  He got back on message and we discussed his situation a little more.  He needs some help, I like the money and this is what I do.

After I left I thought, part of this man’s problems lie in the fact of what one of my teachers Rigiditysaid to me many years ago, “rigid thinking.”  When we go into any situation with our mind made up, believing beyond doubt that we are right and, “By god, we’ll go down swinging to our graves before we’ll change!” we’re stuck.  It’s hard to make any progress.  I had said to him, “I’ll tell you the truth as I see it in your situation.  You may have some difficult decisions to make.”  It will be interesting to see if he’s willing to be open to expanded ways of thinking, a prerequisite if anything good is to come.

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Purple Heart


My old friend Bruce and I were talking last week.  After a couple of letters to the editor of prplhrtThe Asheville Citizen Times he got a call.  It seems they like his take on world and local events and would like to have him as a contributor with his own column.  Bruce is retired from the corporate world and from the Marine Corps.  He’s got some time and he’s smart, and he has 4 Purple Hearts.

The thing that sets him apart from some others is that while he is a Vietnam infantry leader veteran with duty deep in the jungles of that war, he is also progressive in his politics.  Unlike many who served, Bruce has not become hardened into blind patriotism or a mentality of vengeance for supposed grievances.  He is neither strictly “red” or “blue,” he’s purple.

Purple StatesMany of our leaders over the past decades have tried to unite the left and the right by reminding us that we are not blue states or red states, we are the United States.  Most Americans do care for the unity and well being of our nation, and for helping those among us who need help the most.  For all our faults, we have a legacy of compassion.

If we could look at a “Bell Curve” of our nation’s socioeconomic and political leanings, the Bell Curvevast middle of the curve would be where we Americans reside.  We are not totally red or blue, we are purple.  This is a huge thing to build on if we can sort through the barrage of profit-through-fear messages and propaganda fed through our media.

Bruce was asking my advice on how to format and structure his column.  I suggested that he keep doing what he’s been doing.  Evidently they like what he has to say and how he says it.  I also suggested that he call his new column “Purple Heart.”  We are one people with many different worldviews, but in the heart of the curve, in that purple heart, is where most of us reside.  Bruce has a message we need to hear.

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Women, Status and Prosperity

      The best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the status and role of womenHistorian David Landes in “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.”

As I sorted through some papers a small yellowed fragment of newspaper literally fell into my lap.  It was this Landes quote.  Immediately, I wanted to write about this.  Throughout my life I have seen the roles of women expand exponentially.  When I attended law school, albeit briefly, there was one woman in my class.  Now they are about 45-50% of students.

Women FamilyMy life has been blessed by good women.  Mother, aunts, sisters, surrogates, and all their friends surrouded me from day one.  As I grew up and began my adult life there have been a number of partners from whom I’ve learned so much.  I’ve always enjoyed talking to women at social gatherings; conversations are generally much more interesting!

Watching the women around me be able to express themselves in all sorts of endeavors Liberated Womenhas been a bright spot in my life.  Liberated expression was the exception, not the norm in my earlier days.  It wasn’t that long ago that roles for most women were tightly cast and difficult to escape.  But now these liberties are being questioned, curtailed and controlled.

I know there are a large number of people in the U.S. right now who don’t seem to want to be bothered by the facts.  Why should they, they have their opinions!  The onslaught of legislation on both the national and state levels to control reproductive rights, education and basic healthcare for women is not only insulting, it’s damaging to the well being of our nation.

If historian Landes is correct in his facts, based on extensive research, not voodoo science IssaCircusthat objectifies women as chattel, nations do best when their women are liberated and allowed to contribute as fully as men.  Lately, it seems to be felt by some that a panel of these guys will certainly do a much better job of making decisions for women than they would ever be able to make for themselves.  Do these guys live in relationships?!

Our country did exceedingly well over the last 60+ years as women gained increasing positions of power and influence.  Undoing these gains cannot be allowed, not only for reasons of justice and equity, but also because we realize that all of us together, no matter ethnicity, gender, sexual preference or any other of a host of historic discriminators, are needed to create a better, more balanced future.

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