If you are a woman – especially a “successful” woman – you likely expect yourself to do it all – at home and at work, and to do it with a smile and homemade cupcakes to send to your child’s class. These expectations lead to 60-70 + hour work weeks, kids who are on their own much of the time – or glued to electronics, and a husband you barely see.
“Those of us committed to our careers and our families, who are unable or don’t want to pause or slow down our career pursuits, end up more exhausted, stressed out, depleted, and sick than any previous generation of women,” says Tiffany Dufu in her book, dr p the ball: achieving more by doing less.
Gloria Steinem notes, “Drop the Ball is more than a personal memoir; it’s also a manifesto. I want women to know that their individual problem is a collective one, too. The research is unequivocal: the most complex problems are best solved by a diverse group of people. Yet the highest levels of leadership are glutted with the same type: male, white, straight, able-bodied, and wealthy. This has been true since the dawn of our country two and a half centuries ago. Don’t get me wrong. Like many of our founding fathers, today’s corporate decision makers are accomplished, smart, and well meaning. It’s just that now that it’s the twenty-first century, their lens is too narrow to address gigantic problems like economic inequality, climate change, terrorism, or the decline of America’s educational system. If we care about these problems, we have to care about the women whose help we need to solve them. . . . We need a Drop the Ball movement–not just to prevent working mothers from crashing but to fast-forward history” (9).
Even if you now do not have young children and are in the middle of your career, Dufu provides useful models and ideas for everyone stressed out by all we feel we must do.
Her definition of “Drop the Ball” is – “to release unrealistic expectations of doing it all and engage others to achieve what matters most to us, deepening our relationships and enriching our lives” (xv).
Dufu learned “the importance of focusing attention on the areas where we bring the most value . . . instead of on the areas where we might be better than others because of experience alone. . . . What you do is less important than the difference you make. I could spend my entire life checking off items on my to-do list, and in the end, it would make very little difference. I didn’t want my epitaph to read, ‘She got a lot of stuff done.’ Instead, I had to figure out how I, and I alone, could make a difference–and this was as true for my homelife as it was for my professional one. Where could I be most useful in order to achieve the things that mattered most? . . .
This is the Law of Comparative Advantage: “just because you’re better at doing something doesn’t mean you doing it is the most productive use of your time” (94). . . .
“Prior to my comparative advantage realization, my to-do list looked like this: grocery run, schedule preschool tours, pickup dry cleaning, call Uncle Kenny re: surgery, order Lisa’s shower gift, marinate chicken, review Seattle flooring estimate, get Kofi [her son] umbrella stroller. All these tasks had to be fit into my day, on top of then hours at the office and whatever was on my professional to-do list.
Here’s what happened to my list when I put each item to the comparative advantage test, asking myself if I was working toward my highest and best use by doing the task in question:
Grocery run: No. I could love Kojo [her husband], raise conscious global citizens [her children], and advance women and girls [her job] without going grocery shopping.
Schedule preschool tours: No. The environment where Kofi will spend nearly nine hours a day, five days a week will definitely shape him. To raise a conscious global citizen, I definitely need to attend the tours, but I guess someone else could schedule them.
Pick up dry cleaning: No.
Call Uncle Kenny re: surgery: Yes, I need to do this one. It’s meaningful for my uncle to hear his niece’s voice checking in on him. I want Kofi to know how important family is. Maintaining this relationship is critical. Plus, delegating this task to someone else would be callous.” . . .
Out of the eight items on my original to-do list, only one of them was critical for me to complete myself in order to accomplish what mattered most to me. Only one represented my highest and best use. To be clear, the other tasks on the to-do list still needed to be attended to, and I wasn’t sure how they would all get done. What was different was my perspective: now I was certain I would not be the one to do them all. Instead of eight things I absolutely had to accomplish to be a good worker, wife, and mom, there was now only one task for me to accomplish and seven that someone else could do. For the queen of domesticity with a bad case of HCD [Home Control Disease], this change in thinking was revolutionary! “((95-96).
Also Dufu uses her own experience to model how to “Delegate with Joy” – to speak not just to the ears but to the heart – and more.
Especially for those of you exhausted from all you are expected to do, please look at your to-do lists with new eyes. Are the things you have on that list for tomorrow, for example, really critical in accomplishing what matters most to you? Drop those extra balls!
Images of balls from – https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/drop_the_ball.html
P.S. Dr p the Ball is listed in the Business Insider article “Eight Books to Read Before You Get Married” http://www.businessinsider.com/books-to-read-before-marriage-2017-4/#happier-at-home-by-gretchen-rubin-1 Check out the other recommendations too.
And I would add to that list The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate – by Gary Chapman.
Even if you are married, it’s not too late to learn good strategies for living and loving. Good luck.
“Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely–make that miraculously–fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all to briefly–in you” (3-4).
You are a miracle.
– from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
How have you been doing with your 2017 New Year’s resolutions? Like me, your intentions may have been easy to make — but not that easy to fulfill. One of my resolutions was to take swimming lessons. Although I can swim, I’m not really competent nor confident in the water. It’s taken me until this month to enroll in a class. I’ve gone to the three lessons. There are five more classes, and I should be practicing during the week, which I’ve done once. Why is something that I know would be good — and many people especially here in Hawaii love to do – so hard for me to accomplish?
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor says that “whether it’s a strict diet, a New Year’s resolution, or an attempt at daily guitar practice, the reason so many of us have trouble sustaining change is because we try to rely on willpower. We think we can go from 0 to 60 in an instant, changing or overturning ingrained life habits through the sheer force of will. Tal [the author’s mentor] thought telling himself he was on a diet would be enough to keep him away from his mother’s chocolate cake. [But after struggling and resisting for hours, he got up in the middle of the night and ate the entire remaining cake!]. I thought telling myself to follow some spreadsheet would discipline me enough to practice the guitar. Well, that worked . . . for four days. Then I went back to regularly scheduled programing.
WILLPOWER GETS A WORKOUT
The reason willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change is that the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets” (152). . . .
“Unfortunately, we face a steady stream of tasks that deplete our willpower every single day. Whether it’s avoiding the desert table at the company lunch, staying focused on a computer spreadsheet for hours on end, or sitting still through a three-hour meeting, our willpower is consistently being put to the test. So it’s no wonder, really, that we so easily give in to our old habits, to the easiest and most comfortable path, as we progress through the day. This invisible pull toward the path of least resistance can dictate more of our lives than we realize, creating an impassible barrier to change and positive growth.
THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
As Cathy sits tethered to her desk on Tuesday, she daydreams about the upcoming Saturday and all its possibilities. She wants to go biking on the trail by her house, join in a pickup soccer game at the local park, and see that Matisse exhibit at the museum.. She might even dive into that pile of books she has been wanting to read. Like all of us, Cathy has a number of hobbies and activities that engage her interests and strengths, energize her days, and make her happy. And yet, when her free Saturday actually does roll around, where does she end up? Conspicuously not on her bike or at the soccer field, and certainly not at that art exhibit everybody was raving about–it’s 20 minutes away! Her remote control, on the other hand, is within very easy reach, and Bravo happens to be airing a Top Chef marathon. Four hours later, Cathy has sunk deeper and deeper into the couch, unable to shake a listless sense of disappointment. She had better plans for the afternoon, and she wonders what happened to them.
What happened to Cathy was something that happens to all of us at one time or another. Inactivity is simply the easiest option. Unfortunately, we don’t enjoy it nearly as much as we think we do. In general, Americans actually find free time more difficult to enjoy than work. If that sounds ridiculous, consider this: For the most part, our jobs require us to use our skills, engage our minds, and pursue our goals–all things that have been shown to contribute to happiness. Of course, leisure activities can do this too, but because they’re not required of us–because there is no “leisure boss” leaning over our shoulder on Sunday mornings telling us we’d better be at the art museum by 9 A.M. sharp–we often find it difficult to muster the energy necessary to kick-start them. So we follow the path of least resistance, and that path inevitably leads us to the couch and the television. And because we are ‘mere bundles of habit,’ the more often we succumb to this path, the more difficult it becomes to change directions.
Unfortunately, though these times of ‘passive leisure,’ like watching TV and trolling around on Facebook, might be easier and more convenient than biking or looking at art or playing soccer, they don’t offer the same rewards. Studies show that these activities are enjoyable and engaging for only about 30 minutes, [my emphasis] then they start sapping our energy, creating what psychologists call ‘psychic entropy’– that listless, apathetic feeling Cathy experience.
On the other hand, ‘active leisure’ like hobbies, games, and sports enhance our concentration, engagement, motivation, and sense of enjoyment. Studies have found that American teenagers are two and half times more likely to experience elevated enjoyment when engaged in a hobby than when watching TV, and three times more likely when playing a sport. And yet here’s the paradox: These same teenagers spend four times as many hours watching TV as they do engaging in sports or hobbies. So what gives? Or, as psychologist [and writer of Flow, The Dynamics of Flow, & Creativity] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it more eloquently, “Why would we spend four times more time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?”
The answer is that we are drawn–powerfully, magnetically–to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia [my emphasis]. Active leisure is more enjoyable, but it almost always requires more initial effort–getting the bike out of the garage, driving to the museum, tuning the guitar, and so on. Csikszentmihalyi calls this ‘activation energy.’ In physics, activation energy is the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction. The same energy, both physical and mental, is needed of people to overcome inertia and kick-start a positive habit. Otherwise, human nature takes us down the path of least resistance time and time again” (152-156). . . .
“In the workplace, the path of least resistance is especially maladaptive, luring us into a whole host of bad habits that breed procrastination and undercut productivity. , , , Regardless of our job description, we never seem to have enough time to get everything done. Eight-hour workdays turn into 12- and 14-hur ones, and still we feel behind. How can this be? Why do we have so much trouble being productive? . . .The American Management Association reports that employees spend an average of 107 minutes on e-mail a day. , , . And I suspect that if most office workers tallied up all the minutes they spent each day on blogs, social networking sites, Amazon.com, and so forth, it would paint a very alarming picture indeed. . . .
And that’s not even the worst of it. The actual time we give to these distractions is part of the problem, but the larger issue is that our attention hits a wall each time we stray. Research shows that the average employee gets interrupted from their work every 11 minutes, and on each occasion experiences a loss of concentration and flow that takes almost as many minutes to recover from. Yet in today’s world, it’s just too easy for us to be tempted. As a New York Times article put it, “distracting oneself used to consist of sharpening a half-dozen pencils or lighting a cigarette. Today, there is a universe of diversions to buy, hear, watch and forward, which makes focusing on a task all the more challenging. . . . It’s not the sheer number and volume of distractions that gets us into trouble; it’s the ease of access to them. . . . In short, distraction, always just one click away, has become the path of least resistance. . . .
[However, you can] lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt [put the guitar on the chair where you usually sit], and raise it for habits you want to avoid [freeze your credit cards in a block of ice if you are trying to stop impulse buying]. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change” (157-161). . . .
For instance, “in our quest for healthier eating habits, researchers have found that they can cut cafeteria ice cream consumption in half by simply closing the lid of an ice cream cooler. And that when people are required to wait in another, separate line to purchase chips and candy, far fewer will do so. In essence, the more effort it takes us to obtain unhealthy food, the less we’ll eat of it, and vice versa. This is why nutritionists recommend that we prepare healthy snacks in advance so that we can simply pull them out of the refrigerator, and why they recommend that when we do eat junk foods, we take out a small portion, then put the rest of the bag away, well out of our reach (163). . . .
For the author Shawn Achor’s example of Ted, the guy who is working almost all the time, and yet is not getting much done, there are specific actions that will help him establish better work habits.
SAVE TIME BY ADDING TIME
“The first step is a seemingly counterintuitive one–disable many of the shortcuts that were originally designed to ‘save time’ at the office. For example, I encouraged Ted to keep his e-mail program closed while he worked, so it would no longer send jarring alerts whenever he received new mail. Any time he wanted to check e-mail, he’d have to actively open the program and wait for it to load. While this reduced involuntary interruptions, it was still too easy for him to click on the little Outlook icon whenever his mind wandered, so to protect against habitual checking, we made it even more difficult. We disabled the automatic login and password for the account, took the shortcut off the computer desktop, then hid the application icon in an empty folder, buried in another empty folder, buried in another empty folder. Essentially, we created the electronic version of Russian stacking dolls. As he told me one day at the office, only half jokingly, it was now “a total pain in the ass’ to check e-mail.
‘Now we’re getting somewhere,’ I replied.
We did the same for his other distractions, disabling his stock widget, changing his home page from CNN to a blank search page, and even turning off his computer’s ability to process cookies so it couldn’t ‘remember’ the stocks and websites he usually checked. Every additional button he was required to click, even every additional address he was required to type into a web browser, raised the barrier to procrastination and improved his chances of remaining on task. I pointed out that he still had complete freedom to do what he wanted; just like in an opt-out program, his choice had not been taken away at all. The only thing that had changed was the default, which was not set to productivity, instead of to distraction. . . .
Ted was not only skeptical, but a little annoyed with me. It seemed to him (and to the other executives on whom I had inflicted similar miseries) that I was only making their busy lives more difficult. . . . But a few days later, once they realized how much more work they were getting done (and in less time), they had come around.
SLEEP IN YOUR GYM CLOTHES
. . . Limiting the choices we have to make can also help lower the barrier to positive change. . . studies showed that with every additional choice people are asked to make, their physical stamina, ability to perform numerical calculations, persistence in the face of failure, and overall focus drop dramatically. And these don’t have to be difficult decisions either–the questions are more ‘chocolate or vanilla?’ than they are Sophie’s Choice. . . .
If you’ve ever tried to start up the habit of early-morning exercise, you have probably encountered how easy it is to get derailed by too much choice. Each morning after the alarm clock sounds, the inner monologue goes something like this: Should I hit the snooze button or get up immediately? What should I wear to work out this morning? Should I go for a run or go to the gym? Should I go to the nearby gym that/s more crowded or the quieter gym that is slightly farther away? What kind of cardio should I do when I get there? Should I lift weights? Should I go to kickboxing class or maybe yoga? And by that point you’re so exhausted by all the options, you’ve fallen back asleep. At least that’s what would happen to me. So I decided to decrease the number of choices I would have to make in order to get myself to the gym.
Each night before I went to sleep, I wrote out a plan for where I would exercise in the morning and what parts of my body I would focus on. Then, I put my sneakers right by my bed. Finally–and most important–I just went to sleep in my gym clothes. (And my mom wonders why I’m not married yet.)
But the clothes were clean, and I had essentially decreased the activation energy enough so that when I woke up the next morning, all I had to do was roll off my bed, put my feet (which already had socks on them) into my shoes, and I was out the door. The decisions that seemed too daunting in my groggy morning state had been decided for me, ahead of time. And it worked. Eliminating the choices and reducing the activation energy made getting up and going to the gym the default mode. As a result, once I ingrained a lifetime positive habit of morning exercise, I now don’t have to sleep in my gym clothes anymore. . . .
This isn’t just about getting yourself to exercise. Think of the positive changes you want to make at your job [or at home or with personal growth], and figure out what it would mean to ‘just get your shoes on’ at work. The less energy it takes to kick-start a positive habit, the more likely that habit will stick.
SET RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Whether you’re trying to change your habits at work or at home, the key to reducing choice is setting and following a few simple rules . . . like deciding ahead of time when, where, and how I was going to work out in the morning. . . . [S]etting rules in advance can free us frm the constant barrage of willpower-depleting choices that make a real difference in our lives. If we make a rule to never drive a car when we’ve had more than one drink, for example, we eliminate the stress and uncertainty of trying to make a judgment call every time we aren’t sure if we’re too drunk to drive (which probably means we are). At work, setting rules to reduce the volume of choice can be incredibly effective. For example, if we set rules to only check our e-mail once per hour, or to only have one coffee break per morning, we are less likely to succumb in the moment, which helps these rules to become habits we stick to by default. . . .
The key to . . . permanent, positive change — is to create habits that automatically pay dividends, without continued concerted effort or extensive reserves of willpower. The key to creating these habits is ritual, repeated practice, until the actions become ingrained in your brain’s neural chemistry. And the key to daily practice is to put your desired actions as close to the path of least resistance as humanly possible. Identify the activation energy–the time, the choices, the mental and physical effort they require–and then reduce it. If you can cut the activation energy for those habits that lead to success, even by as little as 20 seconds at a time, it won’t be long before you start reaping their benefits. The first step metaphorically–and sometimes literally–is just to get your shoes on” (163-170).
Or for me, just jump in the water – and swim. I will go to my five remaining swimming classes. In October and much of November, I will have easy access to a pool, so I’ll continue practicing there. My goal is to swim for an hour without stopping. Surely, I can do that (and not hate it) before the end of December — when I’ll write another New Year’s resolution list.
Image from – http://www.freeimages.com/search/woman-swimming
The book has other good advice including a section on the importance of relationships. I encourage you to read The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. If you can’t get that done by the end of the year, you could add it to your 2018 New Year’s resolutions.
What about you? It’s not too late to revisit your 2017 New Year’s resolution list. Perhaps you’ve been relying on your willpower to accomplish your goals. It’s probably not enough. As Shawn Achor suggests – Figure out how can you put your desired actions as close to the path of least resistance as humanly possible.
Besides working on my swimming, I’m putting my vitamins on the counter each morning right by the sink; the bottles must be back in the cabinet before the end of the day. Learning to play a ukulele is also a goal, so like Shawn Achor, I’ve been leaving the instrument on my chair.
The year isn’t over. You can still accomplish what you resolved to do. Good luck.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor <https://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Advantage-Principles-Success-Performance/dp/0753539470/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1503851065&sr=8-1&keywords=the+happiness+advantage+by+shawn+anchor
P.S. I recommend this book for other good insights. Although the focus is for success and performance at work, you can apply the principles in all aspects of your life. “Principle #7 SOCIAL INVESTMENT – Why Social Support is Your Single Greatest Asset” is particularly useful.
On T.V. news, we’ve been seeing marchers spouting hate in the U.S. It’s beyond shocking. But finding scapegoats is nothing new.
One of the world’s greatest writers, Leo Tolstoy, (1828-1910) known for his fiction, including War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, also wrote insightful and wise non-fiction.
An example of such wisdom are two of my favorite quotations from Tolstoy:
“The error at the root of all the political doctrines (the most Conservative, as well as the most advance) which has brought men [and women] to their present wretched condition, is always one and the same. It is that people considered, and still consider, it possible so to unite men [and women] by force that they should all unresistingly submit to one and the same scheme of life, and to the guidance for conduct flowing therefrom.
It is intelligible that men, yielding to passion, may by force oblige others who do not agree with them, to do what they wish. One can by force push a man out here and drag him in there, where he does not wish to go. (Both animals and men, under the influence of passion, always behave in this way.) And this is comprehensible. But what is not as all comprehensible, is the argument that violence can be a means of inducing people to behave as we want them to behave.
All violence consists in men [and women], by the threat of inflicting suffering or death coercing others to do what the coerced ones do not wish to do. And therefore the victims do what they dislike doing, only so long as they are weaker than their oppressors, and cannot avoid the evil which threatens them if they do not fulfill what is demanded of them. As soon as they become stronger, they naturally not only leave off doing what they did not wish to do, but, irritated by the struggle with their oppressors and by all they have suffered at their hands, they, after freeing themselves from their oppressors, in their turn force those they disagree with, to do what they (the stronger) consider good and necessary for themselves. So it seems clear that the struggle between oppressors and oppressed cannot possibly unite people, but on the contrary can only divide them the more the longer it lasts (16) . . .
The teaching of Christ in its true meaning consists in the acceptance of love as the supreme law of life, and therefore does not admit any exceptions.
Christianity (that is, the doctrine of the law of love) that permits occasional violence in obedience to other laws, is a contradiction in nature similar to cold fire or hot ice.
It seems evident that, if some men, for the sake of certain desirable results in the future, though they acknowledge the beneficence of love, may allow the necessity of tormenting or killing certain people, then, by just the same right, others, also acknowledging the beneficence of love, may allow the necessity (also for the sake of some future good) of tormenting and killing other people. So that it seems evident that the admission of any kind of exception to the command to fulfill the law of love, destroys the whole meaning, the whole significance, the whole beneficence of that law, which lies at the root of every religious teaching and of all moral teaching. This appears so evident that one is ashamed to argue it; but yet people of the Christian world, professed believers, as well as men calling themselves non-believers but yet acknowledging a moral law — regard the teaching of love, which rejects all violence (and especially the doctrine of not repaying evil by evil, which flows from that teaching) as something fantastical, impossible, and quite inapplicable to life.
It is understandable that those in power may say that without violence there can be no order or good life, meaning by the word “order’, a system under which the few can enjoy to excess the fruits of the labour of others, and meaning by the words ‘good life’, the non-interference with such a life. However unjust what they say may be, it is comprehensible that they should talk like that, for the abolition of violence would not only deprive them of the possibility of living as they do, but would expose the whole long-standing injustice and cruelty of their life.
But at any rate one would think the working people do not need the violence they (strange to say) so carefully inflict on themselves, and from which they suffer so much. For the violence the rulers do to the subjected is not the direct, personal violence of strong men to weak men, or of the many to the few: of, say, a hundred towards a score, etc. The violence of the rulers is upheld, as the violence of a minority towards the majority can only be upheld, by the fraud long ago devised by shrewd and cunning men, which causes people, for the sake of a small present and evident gain, to deprive themselves not only of the greatest advantages, but even to sacrifice their freedom and undergo most cruel sufferings (29-30) . . .
[N]ot only during the first three centuries of Christianity, during the time of persecution, but at first even after the triumph of Christianity over paganism, when Christianity was recognized as the dominant, State religion, the conviction still maintained itself among Christians that war is incompatible with Christianity. Ferrucius expressed this definitely and decidedly, and was executed for so doing: ‘Christians are not allowed to shed blood, even in a just war and at the command of Christian Emperors.’ In the fourth century Lucifer, Bishop of Caliris, preached that even the blessing most precious to a Christian — his faith — must be defended, ‘not by killing others, but by one’s own death’.
Thus it was during the four first centuries of Christianity. Under Constantine, however, the cross already appeared on the standards of the Roman legions. . . .
From that time, during nearly fifteen centuries, the simple, indubitable and evident truth, that the profession of Christianity is incompatible with readiness to commit every kind of violence and even to kill at the will of other people, was hidden from men to such a degree — and to such a degree was real Christian feeling weakened–that from generation to generation, men, nominally professing Christianity, lived and died sanctioning murder, participating in it, committing it, and profiting by it”(41-42). . . .
The State law, in its demand of military service: that is, of readiness to slay at the will of others, cannot but be contrary to all religious-moral law, which is always founded on love to one’s neighbour, like all religious teachings, not only Christian, but also Mohammedan, Buddhist, Brahminist, and Confucian (45-46). . . .
Fifteen years before his The Law of Violence and The Law of Love, Tolstoy wrote, “A terrible weight of evil is hanging over the people of the earth, and presses upon them. Those standing under this weight, and more and more crushed by it, seek ways to rid themselves of it.
“They know that with their united strength they could lift the weight and throw it off, but they cannot agree to undertake it all together, and each one stoops lower and lower, to let the weight rest on the shoulders of the others. So the weight presses down more and more, and would have long since crushed them, were it not for those who are guided in their actions not by considerations of the external results of their actions, but only by an inner accord between their conduct and the voice of conscience. Such men [and women] have existed and still exist — Christians– for, in place of an eternal aim (for the attainment of which the consent of everybody is required), to set oneself an inward purpose (to attain which no one’s consent is needed) is the essence of true Christianity. And therefore deliverance from the slavery in which people are living, impossible for ordinary people, has come, and is coming only through Christianity — only by exchanging the law of violence for the law of love. ”
To a Christian who has recognized the demands of the law of love, all the demands of the law of violence not only cease to be binding, but present themselves as human errors which must be exposed and abolished (50-52) . . .
. . . we cannot help knowing and seeing that the people of the Christian world can no longer seriously play at conquests, at meetings between monarchs, at diplomatic cunning, at Constitutions, with their House of Parliament and Dumas, at being Socialist-Revolutionaries, at democratic or anarchist parties and at Revolutions; and above all, cannot do all these things basing them on violence (60). . . .
Human life as a whole moves, and cannot help moving, toward the eternal ideal of perfection, only by each separate individual advancing towards his own personal and equally unlimited perfection.
What a dreadful, pernicious superstition is that under the influence of which men — neglecting the inward work upon themselves, which is the only thing really needed for their own and society’s welfare, and also the one thing in which man was full power — direct all their strength towards arranging the life of others, which is beyond their power, and, for the attainment of this impossible aim, employ violent means, certainly evil and injurious to themselves and to others, and more surely than anything else removing them both from their personal and from the general perfection!” (65).
It’s love that will make the changes. And it comes from within each of us.
Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) has words of wisdom for us today:
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us.
Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.
Image from: https://www.google.com/search?q=images+of+Epicurus&tbm=isch&imgil=XJgsYyxeHRRAsM%253A%253B_IRJbSwuqE4wiM%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.pinterest.com%25252Ftilly26%25252Fepicurus%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=XJgsYyxeHRRAsM%253A%252C_IRJbSwuqE4wiM%252C_&usg=__4AKaKpEnSQuC3JjTl38ivYfunck%3D&ved=0ahUKEwig45S8ncTVAhWChFQKHexXArIQyjcITw&ei=GeWHWeDyEYKJ0gLsr4mQCw&biw=1440&bih=759#imgrc=NXjO7cdGjVWwhM:
In his book The Consolations of Philosophy,” French philosopher and writer Alain de Botton condenses the wisdom of some of the world’s greatest thinkers into advice for us today.
Amazon describes The Consolations of Philosophy: “Solace for the broken heart can be found in the words of Schopenhauer [but de Botton offers us much humor too as he describes the old lecherous Schopenhauer trying to marry girls half his age]. The ancient Greek Epicurus has the wisest, and most affordable, solution to cash flow problems. A remedy for impotence lies in Montaigne. Seneca offers advice upon losing a job. And Nietzsche has shrewd counsel for everything from loneliness to illness.”
Go to: https://www.amazon.com/Consolations-Philosophy-Alain-Botton/dp/0679779175 The Kindle version is $6.99.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the ideas of Epicurus as to what brings us happiness. Although I’ve associated Epicurus with over-the-top sensual pleasure, he actually promoted simplicity. Epicurus influenced Lucretius, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Immanuel Kant among others.
Roman marble bust of Epicurus:
Alain de Botton explains Epicurus’ philosophy pertaining to happiness: “Why, then if expensive things cannot bring us remarkable joy, are we so powerfully drawn to them? Because of an error similar to that of the migraine sufferer who drills a hole in the side of his skull: because expensive objects can feel like plausible solutions to needs we don’t understand. Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. We need to rearrange our minds but are lured towards new shelves. We buy a cashmere cardigan as a substitute for the counsel of friends.
We are not solely to blame for our confusions. Our weak understanding of our needs is aggravated by what Epicurus termed the ‘idle opinions’ of those around us, which do not reflect the natural hierarchy of our needs, emphasizing luxury and riches, seldom friendship, freedom and thought. The prevalence of idle opinion is no coincidence. It is in the interests of commercial enterprises to skew the hierarchy of our needs, to promote a material vision of the good and downplay an unsaleable one.
And the way we are enticed is through the sly association of superfluous objects with our other, forgotten needs.
It may be a jeep we end up buying, but it was –for Epicurus – freedom we were looking for” (65-66).
“It may be the aperitif we purchase, but it was — for Epicurus — friendship we were after” (66).
“[B]ecause an increase in the wealth of societies seems not to guarantee an increase in happiness, Epicurus would have suggested that the needs which expensive goods cater to cannot be those on which our happiness depends.
Happiness, an acquisition list 9 [based on the ideas of Epirurus].
- A hut. [You may have a palace or a McMansion – but not be happy. However to be happy, you do need a place of shelter and safety – even if it is only very modest].
2. Friends –
3. To avoid superiors, patronization, infighting and competition.
4. Thought. [Epicurus considered main sources of anxiety: death, illness, poverty, superstition. Now since jobs/careers and a sense of meaning seem most important].
5. A reincarnation of Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna (from the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice), whose melancholy expression would belie a dry sense of humour and spontaneity — and who would dress in manmade fibres from the sales racks of modest department stores. [This is de Botton’s interpretation of what Epicurus must mean as a significant other in our life. Barry is that for me].
Happiness may be difficult to attain. The obstacles are not primarily financial” (71-72).[my emphases}.
Read this interesting, wise, humorous book for advice you may use.
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“We are, by nature, a generous people. Just about every American I know who has traveled abroad and taken the time to have genuine conversations with citizens of other countries has encountered the question, as I have, “Why isn’t your country as nice as you are?” I wish I knew. Maybe we’re distracted by our attachment to convenience; maybe we believe the ads that tell us that material things are the key to happiness; or maybe we’re too frightened to question those who routinely define our national interest for us in terms of corporate profits. Then, too, millions of Americans are so strapped by the task of keeping their kids fed and a roof over their heads that it’s impossible for them to consider much of anything beyond that. But ultimately the answer must be that as a nation, we just haven’t yet demanded generosity of ourselves.
But we could, and we know it. Our country possesses the resources to bring solar technology, energy independence, and sustainable living to our planet. Even in the simple realm of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations estimates that $13 billion above currents levels of aid would provide everyone in the world (including the hungry within our own borders) with basic health and nutrition. Collectively, Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food [my emphasis].
We could do much more than just feed the family of mankind as well as our cats and dogs; we could assist that family in acquiring the basic skills and tools it needs to feed itself, while maintaining the natural resources on which all life depends. Real generosity involves not only making a gift but also giving up something, and on both scores we’re well situated to be the most generous nation on earth [my emphasis].
We like to say we already are, and it’s true that American people give of their own minute proportion of the country’s wealth to help victims of disasters far and wide. Our children collect pennies to buy rain forests one cubic inch at a time, but this is a widow’s mite, not a national tithe. Our government’s spending on foreign aid has plummeted over the last twenty years to levels that are–to put it bluntly–the stingiest among all developed nations’. In the year 2000, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States allocated just .1 percent of its gross national product to foreign aid–or about one dime for every hundred dollars in its treasury–whereas Canada, Japan, Austria, Australia, and Germany each contributed two to three times that much. Other countries gave even more, some as much as ten times the amount we do; they view this as a contribution to the world’s stability and their own peace [my emphasis]. But our country takes a different approach to generosity: Our tradition is to forgive debt in exchange for a strategic military base, an indentured economy, or mineral rights. We offer the hungry our magic seeds, genetically altered so the recipients must also buy our pesticides, while their sturdy native seed banks die out. At Fat Brother’s house the domestic help might now and then slip out the back door with a plate of food for a neighbor, but for the record the household gives virtually nothing away. Even now, in what may be the most critical moment of our history, I fear that we seem to be telling the world we are not merciful so much as we are mighty.
In our darkest hours we may find comfort in the age-old slogan from the resistance movement, declaring that we shall not be moved. But we need to finish that sentence. Moved from where? Are we anchoring to the best of what we’ve believed in, throughout our history, or merely to an angry new mode of self-preservation? The American moral high ground can’t possibly be an isolated mountaintop from which we refuse to learn anything at all to protect ourselves from monstrous losses. it is critical to distinguish here between innocence and naïveté: The innocent do not deserve to be violated, but only the naive refuse to think about the origins of violence. A nation that seems to believe so powerfully in retaliation cannot flatly refuse to look at the world in terms of cause and effect. The rage and fury of this world have not notably lashed out at Canada (the nation that takes best care of its citizens), or Finland (the most literate), or Brazil or Costa Rica (among the most biodiverse). Neither have they tried to strike down our redwood forests or our fields of waving grain. Striving to cut us most deeply, they felled the towers that seemed to claim we buy and sell the world.
We don’t own the world, as it turns out. Flight attendants and bankers, mothers and sons were ripped from us as proof, and thousands of families must now spend whole lifetimes reassembling themselves after shattering loss. The rest of us have lowered our flags in grief on their behalf. I believe we could do the same for the 35,600 of the world’s children who also died on September 11 from conditions of starvation, and extend our hearts to the fathers and mothers who lost them.
This seems a reasonable time to search our souls for some corner where humility resides. Our nation behaves in some ways that bring joy to the world, and in others that make people angry. Not all of those people are heartless enough to kill us for it, or fanatical enough to die in the effort, but some inevitably will be–more and more, as desperation spreads. Wars of endless retaliation kill not only people but also the systems that grow food, deliver clean water, and heal the sick; they destroy beauty, they extinguish species, they increase desperation [my emphasis].
I wish our national anthem were not the one about the bombs bursting in air, but the one about purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. It’s easier to sing and closer to the heart of what we really have to sing about. A land as broad and green as ours demands of us thanksgiving and a certain breadth of spirit. It invites us to invest our hearts most deeply in invulnerable majesties that can never be brought down in a stroke of anger. If we can agree on anything in difficult times, it must be that we have the resources to behave more generously than we do, and that we are brave enough to rise from the ashes of loss as better citizens of the world than we have ever been.
We’ve inherited the grace of the Grand Canyon, the mystery of the Everglades, the fertility of an Iowa plain–we could crown this good with brotherhood. What a vast inheritance for our children that would be, if we were to become a nation humble before our rich birthright, whose graciousness makes us beloved” (p. 27-30).
From: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver – published 2002 – and perhaps even more true today.
If we can feed and take care of our pets well, and we do, we could also be making sure the refugees and hungry of the world get sustenance, shelter, and education. We must all do what we can.
Banner: made by S. Klein
Lovebird photo: Jenis
“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” says Yale historian Timothy Snyder in the prologue to his recent book, On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
“As the Founding Fathers debated our Constitution, they took instruction from the history they knew. Concerned that the democratic republic they envisioned would collapse, they contemplated the descent of ancient democracies and republics into oligarchy and empire. As they knew, Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability, while Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants. In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny. They had in mind the usurpation of power by a single individual or group, or the circumvention of law by rulers for their own benefit. Much of the succeeding political debate in the United States has concerned the problem of tyranny within American society: over slaves and women, for example.
It is thus a primary American tradition to consider history when our political order seems imperiled. If we worry today that the American experiment is threatened by tyranny, we can follow the example of the Founding Fathers and contemplate the history of other democracies and republics. The good news is that we can draw upon more recent and relevant examples than ancient Greece and Rome. The bad news is that the history of modern democracy is also one of decline and fall. Since the American colonies declared their independence from a British monarchy that the Founders deemed “tyrannical,” European history has seen three major democratic moments: after the First World War in 1918, after the Second World War in 1945, and after the end of communism in 1989. Many of the democracies founded at these junctures failed, in circumstances that in some important respects resemble our own.
History can familiarize, and it can warn. In the late nineteenth century, just as in the late twentieth century, the expansion of global trade generated expectations of progress. In the early twentieth century, as in the early twenty-first, these hopes were challenged by new visions of mass politics in which a leader or a party claimed to directly represent the will of the people. European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and ’30s. The communist Soviet Union, established in 1922, extended its model into Europe in the 1940s. The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.
Both fascism and communism were responses to globalization: to the real and perceived inequalities it created, and the apparent helplessness of the democracies in addressing them. Fascists rejected reason in the name of will, denying objective truth in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people. They put a face on globalization, arguing that its complex challenges were the result of a conspiracy against the nation. Fascists ruled for a decade or two, leaving behind an intact intellectual legacy that grows more relevant by the day. Communists ruled for longer, for nearly seven decades in the Soviet Union, and more than four decades in much of eastern Europe. They proposed rule by a disciplined party elite with a monopoly on reason that would guide society toward a certain future according to supposedly fixed laws of history.
We might be tempted to think that our democratic heritage automatically protects us from such threats. This is a misguided reflex. In fact, the precedent set by the Founders demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.
Snyder’s twenty lessons – each well documented with facts and examples from recent history – are
- Do not obey in advance.
- Defend institutions.
- Beware the one-party state.
- Take responsibility for the face of the world.
- Remember professional ethics.
- Be wary of paramilitaries.
- Be reflective if you must be armed.
- Stand out.
- Be kind to our language.
- Believe in truth.
- Make eye contact and small talk.
- Practice corporeal politics.
- Establish a private life.
- Contribute to good causes.
- Learn from peers in other countries.
- Listen for dangerous words.
- Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
- Be a patriot.
- Be as courageous as you can.
This book presents twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today” ( 9-13).
On Tyranny, a concise, important, well-researched book, can help us learn from the horrors of the past. Please read it.
“Ever’thing there is but lovin’ leaves a rust on yo’ soul,” Langston Hughes.
James Mercer Langston Hughes, (1902-1967) an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri, was one of the earliest innovators of jazz poetry.
P.S. The banner photo is of a dragon fruit bloom – planted at our house by Johnny about three years ago. Love surrounds us in the fruit and beauty of nature wherever we are.
Yesterday in my search through a cupboard for a tea bag, I came across two lovely sayings – taped to chai tea bags! I’m sure the tea bags – and sayings – were from delightful Servas guests we had recently. You are sure to like these messages too:
“The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.” 🙂
“Laughter . . . is a tranquilizer with no side effects.” 🙂
Words of wisdom from Servas guests Doris & Robin of Vancouver & Munich.