A LESSON I HAVE LEARNED

There are a handful of lessons I have learned in my life that really stuck with me and defined who I am to this very day. One of them I was told was that “If you hate someone or something you just do not know enough about it. If you learn about it and still hate it, that does not mean it is bad, it means you still have more to learn.” This is something I keep with me to this very day.

If we are being honest, we would have to admit there are lots of messages telling us who we should dislike, who the bad guys are and why. From politics, sports and even religion have messages telling us that there are people who are less than us. When we read about some violent episode conducted by a group of people it can be easy to say “Look this group of people are evil.” If we were to apply that same guilt by association to every terrible act that has been done I fear we would all belong to some group of evil.

How can we ever not harbor some sort of negative emotions towards people who by their very acts cause the death of hundred, or even thousands of people? It is a very difficult question to answer. Quite often we must look back in history for answers as to why things happen today. Was there an event in history where this group of people were made to suffer under the group they attacked?

Even personal history can shed some light on why people can do acts most of us would find unspeakable. Did this person suffer years of physical and emotional abuse? Did their family constantly remind them of judgmental or even hateful beliefs that hand been handed down for generations? Were they raised in a neighborhood that also promoted these beliefs? Maybe while attending school for 8 hours a day surrounded by peers their age they learned to adopt their beliefs? They might have even did so just to fit in at first, but after years of trying to fit in those beliefs became part of their spirit.

This can be even worse when an entire society is fed information that is hateful. We can use both Nazi Germany during World War two, as well as early America as examples. In the 1930’s Germany began a campaign against the Jewish people. This was not only political, but in schools, the media and in the home. An entire generation grew up being taught a terrible doctrine of hate and evil. This resulted in the death of over 6 million men, women and children of Jewish decent. In the founding years of America the same thing happened. Americans were told the native people were uncivilized and less than they were. They were told they were violent and threatened their safety. It was also said that the Native Americans stood in the way of the prosperity and freedom of the white settlers. Again, this message was delivered in the media, the government, the home and even the church pulpit. This resulted in the death of over 100 million men, women and children. What is worse is that often entire nations and cultures were lost. Medicine and knowledge we could use today are gone forever.

Does this mean we should hate the German people who did not stand up to their government? Should we hate those who acted on the beliefs they were raised on? Should we still hate the American soldiers who killed pregnant Native American women because when they were being forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma they were going to slow? Sure those acts, among many others in history are hard to understand and even harder to forgive for some people.

We must not only view the history, but be careful not to view it through our own eyes. It may be easy to say “If I was in Germany back then I would have told Hitler to go to hell !” We can say that as somebody who was raised free and without judgment. If we had been told, and often given ‘proof’ as to how bad this group of people were from the time we were born, we might act differently. While there is plenty of proof of people who have overcome very challenging situations to be loving non-violent people, it is impossible to know how we would act in the same situation. In fact, we will never know as we will never have their exact life and genetic makeup.

In a world that urges us to blame and condemn, there is very little accent on compassion and understanding. Those two elements are essential if we ever hope to change the world we live in for the better. Let me be perfectly clear on one very important point. Understanding someone’s violent action does not mean Condoning it. We can certainly condemn acts that harm others, and we should, but without following that with an equal effort to understand why they happened in the first place history would be doomed to repeat itself.

BALANCED GARDENING

garden picture

This blog is not called “Secret2anamazinggarden” but please allow me to dispense with some gardening advice. First you start with some seeds. Some you may have picked out, some you may have just found in the garage or the basement and thought it may be fun to grow. At least that is how it seems to work in my family. Now you must choose a place for your garden to grow. You pick a fine spot one which has both enough shade and enough sun for a good garden needs the right mix of both. Then you prepare the land for the garden. Clearing away debris, rocks and anything else that may inhibit the plants from growing. Then you plant the seeds, water them and begin the wait for them to grow. You know they will take a few days to a few weeks for the plants to sprout so you do not expect to harvest a crop the next day. Now as the days pass you continue to water and take care of what you have planted to give them the best chance to grow. Soon something starts to grow in your garden. If your luck is anything like mine they are called weeds. Sometimes they even sprout before the things we have planted. So you must work on removing them to allow the plants to grow. The next day you come out and sure enough your plants have started to grow! Unfortunately so have more weeds. You think didn’t I just remove these yesterday? So you water the plants and pull the weeds. Then you notice a small little worm starting to eat the leaves of your plants. Great you got rid of the weeds now you have pests to deal with too? So you take steps to remove the pests, water your plants, maybe even fertilize them a bit and pull the weeds. This whole production goes on for weeks, perhaps even months. After which time you begin to be able to pick some fruits and vegetables. Some plants only give you one harvest, others continue to provide as long as you take care of them.

Ok, so what does all this have to do with living an amazing life? The steps to growing a good garden are fairly easy to understand even though they do take a good amount of time and effort. Honestly so are the steps to growing an amazing life. They are also quite similar. Let’s compare. The seeds are like your skills and talents. Some you are just born with, others you may choose and wish to develop. The spot for your garden is like the life you chose. You need enough sun and shade. Time to shine and time to relax. Even if your plot of ground is not ideal with the right effort you can still grow a very good garden. So you plant your seeds or choose your skills and talents you wish to develop. Now here is where some people get off track. They water them once and expect a crop the next day. Everything in life takes time. Sometimes even longer than it normally should. A plant will take longer to sprout if the weather is cool and there is a lack of sun. So a talent may take longer to develop if some key ingredients are missing. Continue to take care of them both and they will surely grow. Now come the weeds which can be likened to the challenges that arise in our life. Often before our talents had a chance to get started. Now when the first weed pops up do we give up on the garden? I hope not or you will never grow anything. Still if we do not do our best to remove the weed it will continue to grow and take over our garden. The same can be true of our challenges and weaknesses. If we do not strive to improve them eventually they will choke out any chance of a good life for us. So now your plants start to sprout, or in the case of your life you begin to see your talents come to light. If you only focus on removing the weeds or improving your weaknesses and never water your plants or build your strengths they will surely die. This is a curse of even the person with the best intentions on self-improvement. They often see it as just “fixing the problems with themselves” That is only roughly 50% of the plan. You must also grow the good that is in you. Develop it fully so you can bring the most to the world. So we come to the pests. What do they represent in the real world? Well, simply put, pests. They are the negative people who come into our lives and begin to eat our dreams and hold us back from our goals. if we do nothing to eliminate them or at the very least reduce their effect on our lives we will have no garden at all. Now much like a garden more weeds and pests will always come up and at times it might seem frustrating but if we keep watering our plants and pulling the weeds quite often they will provide us with far more fruits than we expected. So work on not only removing the challenges in your life and improving your weaknesses, but growing your talents. Try to at least make that a 50/50 effort, but understand much like in a garden both will continue in order for us to continue you reap our harvest

GRAPH OF PROGRESS

line graph photo

As you can see in the graph most prices has both its ups and downs. Just stay focused on your goal and keep moving forward. Whether your goal is to improve your financial situation or your relationship there is very seldom a straight line up. Nor should there be. The beautiful thing about the downs is that is forces us to refocus. If everything is going along smoothly there is little motivation to think about improvement. When things start slipping away then we often are forced to take things seriously and work harder. It is quite often after someone suffers a heart attack or some other health scare that they suddenly adopt a healthy lifestyle they have been avoiding. When someone loses some of their income they often start to review their budget. We grow from our challenges. A set back is only a failure if you give up. Any growth or goal you are working toward is never a straight line from A to B but is quite often a crooked line moving in that direction. If you are able map your goal. Keep an eye on your budget, if you start to spend more than you should or income should decline and the graph go down use that to motivate you to positive action. If you are trying to keep track of how many positive days you have with your spouse and one week you have 5 and the next week you only have 3 use that to examine the difference. Sometimes it can be circumstances you hadn’t expected or even ones beyond your control. Your car breaks down, your spouse is sick and in a bad mood. Still keep your goal firmly in mind and remember where you are heading.

WHAT’S SO HARD?

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know one’s self”

-Ben Franklin

This quote from our first postmaster general has a lot of truth to it. Funny thing is one of the people we know the least is the person we see in the mirror every morning. A lot of your opinions of ourselves are generated by what others share about us. Which, since most of the people we talk to are our friends we seldom get the whole picture. So here is this weekends challenge. Make a list. On one side list everything you think is good about yourself, on the others areas you would like to improve. The goal here is to come up with more of the positive than the negative, but be honest with yourself. When you are done with that list take a look at each item on its own. How did you come to that conclusion? Did someone once tell you that you are a bad dancer? Did someone once tell you that you have a nice voice? Have you finished a few races with good times so you believe yourself to be a good runner? Does going to the gym make you a healthy person?

If you are interested in taking this a step further, contemplate on a few interesting matters. Think of where a lot of your identity comes from. A lot of us it comes from your job. When people ask me who are you? Providing they already know my name I must confess my first reaction may be to tell them my occupation. “I’m a postal worker” or “I’m an author” or even “I’m a bartender” the problem with this thinking is the state of change in today’s economy. I realized this when I was dangerously close to losing my Post Office job…the first time. I thought to myself “I’ve been working here for 13 years, it’s who I am. Now what?” This makes a job loss twice as tough. Not only do you lose your source of income, but you lose your identity. That’s why a lot of people slip into a depression after losing a job. From the outside people may say “What is the big deal? He just lost his job” In reality a lot of people fail to realize that to a lot of us that is also losing a part of our identity. Something many employers fail to recognize as well. So how did I get out of this funk? How did I protect myself in the future and how can you do the same? Great questions! That is what this site is all about. Living an amazing life. So here is something I suggest you try as soon as you can. That day I was basically told I would lose my job I went to a secluded spot in nature I go to do all my thinking. There is something about nature that seems to clear my mind. I began to think what will happen in the future. I also thought what was I like before I started to work for the postal service. I realized there was a whole other Neil I was missing. Now 13 years is a fair amount of time, but I am blessed to have several fans I have known a good deal longer than that. I called a few up and asked them what they first remember about me and basically who they thought I was. After making sure I wasn’t hitting the rum a little too hard they provided some great insight. Still other’s opinions are only part of the equation. Recently I have had the good fortune of spending a good deal of time and conversation with an amazing new person. They give me their opinions of me of course, but one of the greatest things is they stimulate me to think of things including my life and myself. Think of the people you associate with daily. Do they all tell you just what you want to hear? Are they all from the same group such as work? Do they permit you to be different without judgment or ridicule?  The goal is to be with people who bring out the best in ourselves. They not only encourage us, but also are honest and accepting of ourselves. This post was quite a mouthful. But as Ben Franklin said getting to know yourself is one of the hardest things. The rewards however can save you from years of heartache and bring you lots of rewards. It is a journey well worth taking.

USE YOUR RESOURCES

A funny thing happened to me the other day. Ok, funny things happen to me most days. Especially Friday because it involves my good friend Margie and rum. This was not one of those moments. You see, I am always looking for ways to improve this blog, and listening to ideas. Quite often you will see them make the pages of this website. While typing the post ‘Picking your posse’ last week an idea just popped in my head. Usually that is to hit the snooze one more time or have one more slice of pizza, but this was neither of these so I thought I should listen. I remarked in that post how my friends have changed and how I discovered I had naturally gravitated to a more positive and inspiring group of people. Why was I not using this precious resource? A lot of what you read here comes from the minds of great people in history. Lincoln, Martin Luther King jr, Tony Robbins, my own mother. Still here was this group of genuinely inspiring and optimistic people. Why have I not been picking their brains? So I started. I asked George, the insurance sales man his secret to happiness. Truly the world of insurance can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. I also asked Jim, who sells fireplace blowers. I began to ask all of my customers at both the post office and the bar what was the secret to their happiness. The answers varied, but there were some common traits as well. Then, proving that all people in our life are gifts I began to ask those less than inspiring characters I encountered the same question. Oddly enough, there was patterns there as well. Over the next couple of days we will explore both. For today, however, I encourage you to do the same. Find someone who has a genuinely sunny disposition and ask them their secret. I will let you in on a clue. Happy people tend to be eager to share what makes them so. You may even wish to do the same with those who genuinely seem unhappy. If nothing else you may get their minds pondering the joy in their life. See if you notice any patterns. Feel free to let me know. Oh, and if you see me on the street and have any ideas on how to make this blog better, feel free to do that do.

Make the shadows disappear

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only Love can do that”

-Martin Luther King jr

Wow. That is a powerful statement from a great man. Might I suggest you pause for a moment and read it again. Ok, now that we have grasped the obvious power and truth to that statement, let us begin today by looking at the second part of that quote. we can begin to see how we cannot only go about changing our lives for the better, but the lives of our families, friends and our fellow-man. Conflict if ended in the form of debate, or violence never truly has a winner. Now before you think I am getting far to altruistic, stick with me for a second here. During the great divide that started both world wars ideals were challenged. People had conflicting beliefs and were unable to solve them in a peaceful fashion. The same holds true for the American civil war. In both cases there was a decisive military victor. So what then of the loser? Did they then agree to the opinions and ideals held by those who were victorious over them? I think we all can agree that was not the case. This holds true when I listen to people debate politics and to some of the more zealous, even sports. What do we really hope to gain by out debating another person? A momentary feeling of self-righteousness? A more resolute feeling about our own beliefs? More importantly, what do we stand to lose? A friendship? A good working relationship? Maybe even a peaceful household. Yes, we all have beliefs we hold dear, and well we should. We should also never fail to realize and respect the fact that other people may have feelings they hold in equal regard, but that differ from our own. Some people may approach us in anger for things they have no right to. Our political beliefs, our faith, or even the color of our skin. Now we can argue with these people. Prove their ignorance, but will it change their hearts? Not likely. Therefore, I suggest proving these people wrong with kindness, understanding, patience and love. I am not talking about cowardice, I am talking about the one of the bravest acts you can do. Respect their opinion without sacrificing yours. How to do this takes tact, skill and a lot of practice. I do not pretend to have all the answers in this arena, but I do not that Martin Luther King jr was right. hate will never drive out hate, only love can do that.

A HIGH SCHOOL REUNION AND TWO OLD MEN

A customer came into the post office the other day to mail thank you cards to people who showed up to her 40th high school reunion.  She had nothing to do with the planning of the event and stated quite simply, “I just wanted to thank them for showing up and being kind to me”.  Not only do I think it is a marvelous idea to sit down and write people a proper thank you letter, but she said something that impressed me even more.  She stated that everyone she met seems to have turned out so nice, but some people she spoke with after told her they had the opposite experience.  Even though they talked to the same people.  How could this be? How could two people go to the same event, talk to the same people, but have entirely different results?  There are many factors I suppose, but it reminded me of a story I heard that I would like to share with you.

Two old gentleman were sitting outside of a local diner discussing how the neighborhood was changing and a lot of new people were moving in.  Suddenly their conversation was interrupted by just one of those people.  “Excuse me, but you look like you may have been a member of this neighborhood a while. What are the people like here?”.  That was the question put forth to the old men.  “Well what were the people like in the town you came from?” replied one old man.  “Oh they were very nice.  In fact, we were sad to leave, but my husband’s job had us relocate here” was the reply from the new neighbor.  “Well there is no need to worry, I believe you will find the people just as pleasant down here” replied the old man.  She thanked them and was off.  Well in the middle of a heated debate as to the fate of the local college football team the old men were interrupted by another new neighbor asking the same question.  Again the old man replied by asking what the people were like where the individual came from. “They were terrible.  Never friendly, rarely said hi to us.  That is why we moved here in hopes of finding a nicer group of people”  replied the young man.  “I’m sorry to tell you, but you wasted your time.  I’m afraid you will find the people the same here” replied the old man. The new neighbor left shaking his head.  Well now the other old man couldn’t help but ask how he could give two completely different answers to the same question and which one he believed was the right answer.  “They both are.” he replied.  “People will find just what they are looking for. It has to do with a great deal in how they see the situation.”

Now I like this story, and it brings up a good point.  People often do find what they expect to find. Unfortunately there are people who have no expectations and wait for the world to dictate to them how the situation will be.  Even worse, there are people who expect the worse in every situation.  Have you ever heard someone say “Expect the worse and you will never be disappointed”?  Not only is this a very dismal and cowardly way to go through life.  Effectively saying you have no control over how things turn out, but it is also negating one of our greatest powers.  If you enter a situation or even a day expecting it to be a good day, chances are you will have more good than bad happen.  Even if some things do not go as planned, they are easier to take in stride and quite often may be part of a greater plan.  If you approach ever day with anxiety and expecting the worse, you will quite often find yourself correct. There are a million reasons why this is so, and we shall discuss them another day.  We must ask ourselves, what feels better expecting joy and experiencing the occasional disappointment or glumly expecting the worse and being occasionally pleasantly surprised? I can tell you the attitude I would rather bring to life.  The important thing here to realize is we have the power to choose, or to leave it to chance.