Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

LEGACY 21: The Legacy of Asking Key Questions

July 13, 2018

It’s been several weeks since I’ve written a blog myself, but the idea for one popped up this morning when I awoke. We (my wife and I) are on our way to northwest Ohio (a 12-hour drive) to wrap up the affairs of her 93-year-old father, who died (preferable in my book to the somewhat euphemistic “passed”) this past Tuesday. In his waning days, he asked a relative, “What is the purpose of life?” The relative, definitely younger and less experienced in life, was taken aback and, not knowing how to answer, didn’t respond. She said she wished she had known what was going on and said something. I’m not sure that was the important thing. Can we ever really know if we say the right thing?

So I found myself thinking, “What are the key questions we should ask?”

What prompts us to ask? What is the purpose of asking? Do we really want answers? Or are we looking for something attendant—Relationship? Mere information? Satisfying our curiosity? (Why is it that children are always asking WHY? and we as adults stop asking?)

There are 2 kinds of questions—unimportant and important. Key questions definitely fit into the latter. But there are probably a host of questions that are important but not key. So let’s keep delving down into levels of importance and “key-ness.”

There are questions that identify information that matters, as opposed to trivia. There are questions that help influence decision-making. And there are questions that change our lives. I’m not a philosopher, so questions of epistemology (the theory of the nature of knowledge) I’m not qualified to begin to answer. How much can be known? The answer is the Question of the Ages: Who knows? (and if you respond in pat theological certainty, “God knows!”—how do you know that? And the begging questions, “Are there things He doesn’t know?” And on and on it goes…)

In my little, often-unknowing mind, there are a few KEY key questions for sure. My father-in-law asked one of them: “What is the purpose of life?” It can be asked in other ways or with other nuances: “Why am I here?” “How can I find meaning/significance?” “What do I need to be doing with my life?” Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING (according to a 1991 survey conducted by the US Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club, one of the 10 Most Influential Books in the US. See Wikipedia under the term “MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING.” A humorous footnote: The archived article, from the NY Times, has 13 total books listed. Five of them, including Frankl’s, are tied for 9th place. There is no actual 10th place book.)

Key questions revolve around key needs: purpose, relationship, legacy. What will I leave behind? (Why do I blog? What do I gain by it?)

My father-in-law was one of the most purposeful and effective men I’ve ever met. He lived a full and productive life and left a great legacy for his family and his world.

I wish I could ask him now, “What did you mean by that question? Do you have an answer? Was it the answer you expected? Is it the answer you wanted?” and “Are you still asking questions? If so, why?” And perhaps the most important one for me, “What question should I be asking right now?”

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LEGACY 19: The Luxury of Being Able to Choose Legacy

June 6, 2018

I am thankful for the luxury of having time to prepare a legacy, to have the choice, to think about and mull over and meditate on what I’ve done, what I wish I had done, and how I want to be remembered. Not everyone is given that.

I think of the 19-year-old young lady who slipped and plunged several hundred feet over Whitewater Falls just a little over a week ago. She was the 2017 beauty queen of the adjacent county, a dance aficionado who loved teaching young children, and looking forward to going to Clemson from the local technical college. Full of life and joy and vibrancy—and suddenly gone. No chance to look back, to think over what she wanted to leave as a legacy. She did leave one, but sadly through no choice of her own, did not get to leave a greater one.

It’s above my pay grade to know why. God in his infinite wisdom knows why she’s gone and we’re here, still trudging along and thinking about the trudging. But you are, for now, and I am, and I’m glad.

The older I get (approaching 66) the more I feel that life is designed to prepare us for the afterlife. The aches and pains and burdens and sorrows accumulate, and it’s easier to want to leave, to find that better place, to not have those any more. I think of the counsel of Ecclesiastes 12, where beautiful metaphors are used to compare aging to natural phenomena—dimming eyesight like shades pulled down on windows or rain clouds darkening your sky, hair turning white like an almond tree in bloom, “apple-blossom white,” (MESSAGE), teeth as servants stopping grinding, legs like guards trembling, “you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper” (NLT) [I went to bed last night at 7:30, and woke at 2:30 with the idea for this blogpost incipient, and so it’s not even 3:00 a.m. yet!]—see creatively paraphrased versions like Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE or New Living Translation, or ones where it’s spelled out clearly like the Amplified Version.

The point of the comparison, the counsel, is to remember your Creator before it’s too late. When is it too late? Definitely when we’re dead and gone. And Solomon (supposing he is the writer) sees the danger of not having the faculties in old age to remember (e.g., Alzheimer’s or other diseases debilitating to the memory) and of having great regret for all the missed opportunities.

But my pastor, who’s 79, sees this as a time of great opportunity, of being able to look back and look forward and prepare. A time to grow closer to the Lord, to allow him to purge the past of pain by becoming more Present. I like that thought. And I’m learning to luxuriate in it. That is, for me, creating an eternal legacy.

And if I can encourage one other to do the same, I’m on it.

Legacy 3: Keeping It Simple

May 9, 2018

(Also originally written 9/16/14)

In “Legacy 1” my penultimate point (another mellifluous word stuck in there! I love it!) was this:

KISS—“Keep It Simple, SIMPLE!” Stick with what you know, are good at, do best. (Warren Buffett and Donald Trump—and probably many others—espouse this idea. Being too scattered dissipates energy, and results in no legacy of significance. Dan Ariely, in Predictably Irrational, points out an experiment that supports this line of thinking. Often the most successful are those who focus on one or two things, and do them superbly.)

Keeping it simple is hard. “It’s simple, but it’s not easy.”

Life is complex. It requires juggling lots of balls. Compartmentalizing. Categorizing. Shifting focus constantly.

Life takes on a life of its own. It won’t leave you alone to live it. Life erupts, interrupts, disrupts.

And then, to further complicate matters, we corrupt it with complexity, losing sight of the significant. How many people have gotten to the end of life wishing they’d done less and focused more?

I like the acronym KISS—I’ve used it as a PIN since my first marriage, taken from the letters of our first names and last (her name began with I), so it’s a treasure to me. But I don’t like the usual rendition of the last S—“Stupid.” Ignorant, maybe, but not Stupid.

Maybe “complexifying” things IS stupid, but calling ourselves that is, at the very least, counterproductive. So I choose to re-emphasize SIMPLE. It could be simply reiterating the concept with emphasis, or it can be seen as addressing ourselves as “SIMPLE.”  But keeping things SIMPLE is not nearly as easy as it sounds.

Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” His equation, E = MC2, is one of the most famous ever. Simple—but it had to have 2 C’s, an M, an E, and an = sign. No more, no less. Getting to that equation could take a lifetime, and extend into eternity.  It’s that simple—and that complex.

Did you ever notice that the hardest words to define are the simplest? Often one syllable. LOVE. LIFE. JOY. PEACE. FAITH. HEART. TRUTH. Philosophical timebombs, loaded with meaning. How do we capture them? How do we live them out? It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Sometimes life changes drastically in a single moment or event, but most often it accumulates, an unnoticed series of small decisions and non-decisions that snowball into an unstoppable avalanche, a glacier moving mountains.

Simplifying helps. Stepping back and getting perspective helps. Finding focus helps.

“All generalizations are false, including this one.” Ultimately, it’s impossible to keep it all simple. But the effort to do so may be one of the most rewarding and life-giving choices we make. And it IS a choice. Free will is a gift of inestimable value. Choose well. Choose wisely. Choose simple.

Why Write At All?

November 17, 2013

It’s been a full—FULL—5 months since I wrote for my blog. Work, building a business, spending time with my grandson, simply enjoying life as it comes fast and furious—all of these have consumed my time. I had almost forgotten my blog, to be honest.

So why do I even bother to write?

I turned 61 in early September, and one of my goals was to read 60 books. I did it, and started on my next year’s worth. While on vacation in late October that week I read FOREIGN AFFAIRS, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alison Lurie. Good story about 2 characters who get transformed by interaction with people. Earlier I had read SOUL SURVIVOR: HOW THIRTEEN UNLIKELY MENTORS HELPED MY FAITH SURVIVE THE CHURCH by Philip Yancey. Several of those mentors were Pulitzer Prize winners also, including Robert Coles. I happened across a book of his, titled HANDING ONE ANOTHER ALONG: LITERATURE AND SOCIAL REFLECTION, at a thrift store. It was even signed by him on 10/10/10, addressed to someone in a scrawly writing. It’s a hard book to read because of not having read a lot of the works he mentions, but still meaty and well worth reading. His chapter “The Heart of Healing” particularly touched me, because a black nurse without all his psychiatric training and intense academic background (but with trainloads of wisdom) encourages him to spend a few minutes with his just-deceased mother (rather than simply hurry through the perfunctory necessities of completing government and institutional requirements for moving on). The few minutes he spends sitting beside her corpse turn out to be profound, as he goes back through how much she has impacted his life.

That is why I read, and why I write. To make connections. To get insight. To learn wisdom.

I got it on vacation in a small caplet, as I went to get a haircut in North Myrtle Beach, on Main Street. Usually my wife cuts my hair, but we had been too busy. So I just went and found somewhere. I wanted somewhere homey, not just a Great Clips franchise. I found an old-fashioned barbershop. George, the guy who cut my hair, was 84, and had started cutting hair when he was 13, gotten his license at 16, came home from the Korean War on emergency leave in 1952 (the year I was born) to help his sick father move into his new location, the same location I was getting my haircut in 61 years later! What a story!

His 73-year-old brother was also with him that day. That was on Monday. I went back on Friday to get a picture, but he only works Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Still, the picture is in my mind.

And so I write to honor him, and the writers I read who move me, and the people I meet who change me.

It’s a small thing. But somehow important. Life-giving. Connecting.

 

Letter to Roby on Becoming the You You Were Meant to Be

January 18, 2013

(Below is the last part of an email I wrote to a friend this morning. What preceded the first comment was my explanation of an accomplishment I’ve done that he admired in his email to me…)

I don’t encourage people to do what I’ve done. You have to find what sparks your imagination and do that. You are a totally unique creation God designed specifically to be and do what you are called to be and do. As the old Mission Impossible statement says, “Your assignment, should you choose to accept it…” is to find out what that is, and do it excellently, just as you do your accounting. That is why you are unhappy with yourself–I know, I was there for the better part of 55 years (I’m 60 now)! It IS doable.

Here’s are the rubs that are keeping you from getting there (I thought of 1, then another, so not sure how many I’ll list here):

1)     FACT 1: Our culture does NOT encourage contentment, satisfaction, or real joy. They SAY they want you to be happy, but if you think about it, NOTHING sells unless there is DISSATISFACTION! The entire premise of advertising and marketing is CREATING DISSATISFACTION! (Read Romans 12:1-2 in this light, and you will see that by and large, Christianity in our culture has bought into being “conformed to the world” rather than being “transformed” into the Glory they were meant to be!)

2)     FACT 2: Christianity as taught ant practiced typically says “Our hearts are BAD, and we can’t trust them.” And there is a truth there, but it’s only a partial one. Scripture also says that when the Lord comes in, He gives us a NEW HEART, one that DESIRES to serve Him, to love Him, to worship Him. If we really believed that, and lived it, it would transform our lives into lives of PASSION and DESIRE–but DESIRE THAT IS GOOD AND WHOLESOME AND AWESOME IN THE WAY IT IS LIVED OUT! And THAT, my friend, is what Jesus was willing to DIE for (“for the JOY that was set before Him, endured the cross…” etc.)

3)     FACT 3: NOTHING EVER GETS DONE OF ANY SIGNIFICANCE WITHOUT DESIRE AND PASSION! Think about it: All of us do the very things we WANT! We may even sabotage and kill ourselves doing it, but we MAKE time for what we FEEL is valuable! It IS ultimately about the FEELING, and only when you get passionate and on-fire for something will you invest the time and energy to make it work. Millionaires become so mostly through this–it’s the one keystone that mentors and positive thinking teachers and motivational speakers build their careers on!

4)     FACT 4: You are UNIQUE, and NO ONE can tell you exactly how to find that PASSION and DESIRE! Most of our society, sadly, spends all its time trying to be something they are not, were not designed to be, and never will successfully be! It’s true, but it doesn’t have to be this way. BUT in order to escape it, you have to become YOU! No one else can do it for you. It may be a pain-full process, but ultimately, it is well worth it! (See #3 above.)

5)     FACT 5: You don’t have to do it alone–and yet you do. There are people out there (like me) willing to help you get there–but you have to put the rubber to the road. And as one of the mentors I listen to says (if you like, I’ll send you a link), you have to have 4 kinds of people in your support group: teachers, doers, pushers, and cheerleaders. Usually they are NOT all combined into one person who “speaks into your life.” That’s one of the values I see in this group we’re in–and I’ve not had that kind of thing for most of my life.

6)     FACT 6: You won’t get there overnight. As the saying goes, an “overnight success” most likely has put in decades becoming that. BUT DON’T LET THAT DISCOURAGE YOU! If you do nothing, 5 or 10 years will STILL pass, and you’ll be at least as dissatisfied as you are now. Charlie Tremendous Jones said, “The only difference between the you now and the you you’ll be in 5 years is the people you meet and the books you read.” Lot of truth in that statement. There are other factors in it too, but basically, you have to commit to a PROCESS! As Steven Covey says, “Start with the end in view.” (With this advice, he advocates picturing your funeral, with 4 people who knew you in different ways [family, friend, co-worker, and one other–can’t remember right now]–and ask yourself, “What do they say about you? What would you want them to say?” Then begin consciously, conscientiously, and persistently to work toward that vision of yourself at your own funeral. Good exercise.

7)     FACT 7: Books are one of the easiest ways to gain wisdom–but you HAVE to pick the right books! You have limited time, limited energy, and limited passion–so use them wisely. Someone said, “An intelligent man learns from his mistakes; a wise one learns from others’ mistakes.” In that vein, I’ve attached an Excel spreadsheet of a book I recently read and thought enough of to encapsulate in this chart. One of the authors is Jack Canfield, of “Chicken Soup” fame, and his story is in there too. The book is titled YOU’VE GOT TO READ THIS BOOK! but the subtitle says it all: 55 stories by people telling what books changed their lives. Jack is one of the people; Covey is another. Yes, some of the books are NOT Christian, and could lead people into Buddhism or Stoicism, or “New-Agey” thinking–but I’ll take that chance. One of the books mentioned is the Bible, and God’s Word CAN and WILL stand the test–it really, as Roy says, is the “Book of Best Practices,” not only for business but for ALL of life! And I firmly believe that the principles Christianity is solidly based on (e.g., faith) are actually laws in the sense that gravity and inertia are laws: They operate on their own, by God’s design, whether we acknowledge them as coming from Him or His Word or not! Think about it: Every time you turn on a light switch, or the ignition switch for your car, you’re operating in faith!

I’ll stop off here. I would suggest you begin by making a list of 10 books you want to read this year. I can suggest some if you like, and even lend you some (though I really recommend you INVEST in them, as that will make them mean more to you, and you can then annotate them, a valuable exercise in itself). And I can suggest some other things to get you on track of living that ABUNDANT LIFE Jesus promised as we go along.

I’m glad to get to know you. Thanks for being someone I can invest my talents into!

Blessings,
Ken