5 years, 4 months, and 14 days. Keep your eyes on the prize.

 

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The Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt pointing speaking president early 1900s

TR’s life shows us that hard work, tenacity, and a desire to do the right thing can get you far in life. In the most memorable section of his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, Roosevelt captured his life philosophy in just a few sentences. “The Man in the Arena” tells us that the man we should praise is the man who’s out there fighting the big battles, even if those battles end in defeat. In our day, when cynicism and aloof detachment are considered hip and cool, TR reminds us that glory and honor come to those “who spend themselves in a worthy cause.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/manvotional-the-man-in-the-arena-by-theodore-roosevelt/ (emphasis added)

My dearest dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I apologize for the absence.  The days have been challenging.

When the going gets tough, I seek comfort in the words of T.R. Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech.  It is far better to have tried and failed (even failed greatly) than to have never tried at all.  People can bitch and moan all they want, but unless they are willing to pitch in and help bring about improvement, they are just wasted breath.

Unfortunately, too many these days are but useless talking heads.  I shall never forget a Superbowl ad I saw years ago:  two consultants were pitching an action plan to a company executive who replied, “Great!  I want you guys to execute that plan.”  The two consultants then laughed and said something to the effect of, “We are consultants.  We come up with the ideas, but we don’t know how to do it.”

Consultants these days are a dime a dozen — many are fresh out of college.  Without substantive knowledge and experience, on what are they basing their critical thinking and analytical skills?

Can critical thinking actually be taught?  Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really.  People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation.  Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill.  The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge).

….

Thought processes are intertwined with what is being thought about.

Willingham, Daniel T., “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?” American Educator (Summer 2007), 8-10.

Thus, the lesson of the day is two-fold: gain substantive knowledge, and use it.

Be good, my sons.  Live well.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with two additional thoughts.

 

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5 years, 4 months, and 7 days. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

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The adage “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts is heard often, and is normally used to refer to an act of charity that masks a hidden destructive or hostile agenda.  But it’s not widely known that the phrase originates with a story from Greek mythology–specifically the story of the Trojan War, in which the Greeks, led by Agamemnon, sought to rescue Helen, who had been taken to Troy after falling in love with Paris.

This tale forms the core of Homer’s famous epic poem, The Illiad. 

https://www.thoughtco.com/beware-of-greeks-bearing-gifts-origin-121368.

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Always, beware of Greeks bearing gifts.  Humans act of out self-interest.  It is what drives most people.  The truly selfless are the rare exception — extremely rare exception; thus, it behooves you to ask yourself in almost all instances, “Why is this person doing this?”  You may not like the truth your inquiry reveals, but it is better to stare the ugly truth in the face than to accept a lie and be stabbed in the back by the dishonest and dishonorable.

We have recently endured such betrayal of false friends.  They came to us without our asking and made much noise about wanting to help us to grow our business and take it to the next level.  Yet, curiously, during the month-long discussion about the potential business partnership, they NEVER ONCE asked what our business needed in order to expand to the next level.  It was all about how much money we could lend them, whether we could introduce them to our contacts, whether we could refer business to them, etc.  Once this observation was pointed out to them, they left in anger and bad-mouthed us to others.  Beware Greek bearing gifts.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson has once said success is, among other things, to have earned the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends.  Why did he say this?  Because you cannot success unless you extend yourself to others and to the world.

Despite the real threat of betrayal by false friends, befriend people anyway.  What choice have you?  Can you truly be happy living in isolation, without a single friend to share your joys and troubles?  What a sad existence that would be!!!  Unfortunately, that is the reality for many of us today.  Studies seem to indicate that our social circles are shrinking and that a growing percentage of us have no close friends with whom we could share our joys and sorrows.  See, e.g., https://www.livescience.com/846-americans-lose-touch-report-close-friends.html; https://www.livescience.com/16879-close-friends-decrease-today.html; https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/you-gotta-have-friends-most-have-just-2-true-pals-f1C6436540; and, https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-friendship-doctor/201105/why-would-someone-have-no-friends.

So, extend yourselves, but beware Greeks bearing gifts.

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 4 months, and 4 days. Be open-minded.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

We see them everyday … closed-minded people who hurt themselves and others because of their unwillingness to consider other perspectives.  They think they know it all already.  Often, their resistance stems from fear … of the unknown, of looking foolish, etc.  For example, when hand washing — something do as a matter of course as a matter of hygiene — was first introduced and suggested to physicians and surgeons, they resisted, claiming they have always went from patient to patient without washing their hands in between.  The “always done it that way” is but a cry of fear.

Don’t be like that.  What’s the harm of trying, assuming you have fully explored the new concept and understand that it does not pose a harm?  (For example, experimenting with drugs or doing dangerous stunts with neither experience nor safety precautions are simply stupid.  You do not need to touch fire to know it is hot.  You can learn vicariously.)

We visit the three month old son of a friend this weekend.  The baby is hospitalized for pneumonia because fluid is getting into lungs while he’s nursing.  The solution is simple: hold the baby up when he’s nursing instead of leaving him horizontal.  Unfortunately, the mother insist that’s how babies have always been nursed in her family, and refuses to change her nursing behaviors.  Why?  What’s the harm of trying?  The benefits are significant (the baby no longer has fluid going into his lungs while nursing) and the costs/efforts are minimal.  Being closed-minded results in continuing harm to her son, but she refuses to see it.

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She is not unique.  Many an “educated” man remain closed-minded.  For example, a professor of “23 years” — as he proclaimed — was observed by another doctorate that his teaching was ineffective because he was talking AT the kids instead of engaging them and talking to them.  He was talking above their heads.  Instead of acknowledging the constructive feedback, he dismissed it and reasserted his claim that he has taught at universities for 23 years.  Because he stressed his robust university teaching experience, I asked why he is not tenured.  His response was that the tenure process is nothing but a popularity contest.  In other words, he failed to get tenure (which usually occur withing 7-10 years of teaching) because people did no like him.  But, doesn’t that go to the root of his problem — he lacks the requisite soft skills to engage effectively and communicate with his students and colleagues?  His protests stem from his fear and insecurities, and he is not helped by being closed-minded. How does it benefit him to brush off all suggestions that he has weaknesses? It doesn’t.  He continues to move from school to school, with each subsequent school being less reputable than the preceding one.  You know how his story will end.

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Be open-minded my sons.  Eleanor Roosevelt said you can learn something from everyone.  She’s right.

This reminds me of a story.  Once, there was a great swordsman.  He came to this small town, and boasted to the barkeep about how great a swordsman he is.  The barkeep, not missing a beat, refilled a bottle of house wine from the cast without spilling a drop.  He then turned to the swordsman and asked, “Can you do that?”

The lesson is that we each have our strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t be blinded by your skills and arrogance and fail to recognize the gifts of others.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

 

5 years and 4 months. Extend yourself, and empathize with others.

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“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Love is a choice.  Choose to love … life, the good people who positively affect your lives, the forests that clean our air, the ocean that provides for and recharges our soul, etc.  Go forth.  Experience life.  Extend yourself.

There are many whose advice is contrary to mine.  Ignore them for their words come from fear.  To them, the world is a dangerous place, where their feelings might get hurt, where they might get hurt, where they might be lead astray, etc.  “Might” is the operative word here.  All things are possible, but few are probable.  Do you lock yourself away from the world and live in a cocoon for fear of something improbable?

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131219-lottery-odds-winning-mega-million-lotto/

Based on the above information, do you not go to the toilet because there is a 1 in 10,000 chance you could get injured by it?  In other words, if you go to the toilet 10,000 times, you may get hurt by it one time.

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Do you never step foot into the ocean because there is a 1 in 3.7 million chance that you could get killed by a shark?  Do you avoid going outside for fear of dying from a bee sting … even though the likelihood of that happening is 1 in 6 million?

Bad things CAN happen.  It’s possible.  However, the bad things that most people fear are often unlikely to happen … if they take the usual precautions.  For example, the likelihood of getting hit by lightning is 1 in 3,000.  However, if you are foolish enough to go out during a thunderstorm and stand in a pool of water on an empty field while holding an umbrella or metal club, then you’ve drastically increased your chances of getting hit by lightning.

All of the good stuff happens in the little moments where you just say to yourself, “A “heck with it, I’’m going for it.” When you extend yourself beyond what you thought was possible.

You’ll never see what the Grand Canyon looks like from an eagle’s perspective unless you have the guts to step out onto the Skywalk.

http://www.successful-blog.com/1/extend-yourself/

Everyone searches for success, however it is defined by that individual.  Often, social acceptance (e.g., being famous or popular), social rewards (e.g., making a lot of money), and happiness are components of how most people define success.  Yet, they act contrary to their goal by contracting into themselves instead of extending themselves to others.  You are unlikely to be successful sitting by yourself in a cave.  Your chances for succeeding are better if you go forth into the world and try your best.

Empathy is also a key to success.

This article by Dr. David Tobin, Senior Lecturer in Communication at Rice Business, was originally published as part of the curriculum in his class, Leadership Communication.  

In the business world, the problem with empathy is that too many people don’t understand what it really means and how big a factor it is in successful communication.

Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson sums it up well: “Surveys show that many managers consider empathy a sign of weakness or femininity, not the kind of thing macho businessmen embrace.” Quite simply, these managers are wrong. “Researchers who study leadership and corporate culture are turning up more and more evidence that empathic leaders build better teams, negotiate better deals and produce happier clients” (26 July 2015).

New York Times columnist David Brooks, who was the Rice University commencement speaker in 2011, makes the same point when he describes the rise of the “relational economy.” Computers are doing more and more of the cognitive tasks that used to be accomplished by lawyers and financial analysts–but they fail dismally compared to humans when it comes to handling a position of authority or accountability, or being part of a team. “Empathy becomes a more important workplace skill: the ability to sense what another human being is feeling or thinking” (4 Sept. 2015).

Here’s Tomlinson again: “Empathy is not mollycoddling, and it’s not a synonym for sympathy. It’s not solving someone’s problems for them or feeling pity . . . Empathy is an advanced communication skill that requires . . . understand[ing] the other person’s perspective by identifying his or her problems, needs, feelings, thoughts and values.”

Sound familiar? In Leadership Communication, we call it audience analysis. You know the mantra: “Business communication is goal-oriented and receiver-focused.” The best business communicators try very hard to know what their receivers are thinking, feeling, and worrying about. This knowledge (which, again, is not the same thing as sympathy) shapes how they communicate.

The last word on empathy I’ll leave to a Houston physician. Internist, hospitalist, and essayist, Dr. Ricardo Nuila spoke at a Rice TEDx event about the importance of paying attention to patients’ stories. Inevitably, empathy came up: “Teaching doctors to empathize,” he said, “is modern medicine’s Higgs boson [the elusive “God particle” of subatomic physics] – how do we keep our doctors competent and simultaneously empathetic? . . . This is the essence of empathy: using your brain to extend yourself into someone else’s story” (14 February 2015).

The problem with empathy is the assumption that it’s mostly about flexing your emotional muscles–but it’s not. It’s about using your brain.

https://business.rice.edu/wisdom/commentary/empathy-about-using-your-brain (emphasis added)

 

Empathy is the ability to share another person’s feelings and emotions as if they were your own.

noun

1. 

the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand the person better; ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings
2. 

the projection of one’s own personality into an object, with the attribution to the object of one’s own emotions, responses, etc.
Sympathy

1. 

sameness of feeling; affinity between persons or of one person for another
2.  Rare

agreement in qualities; harmony; accord
3. 

a mutual liking or understanding arising from sameness of feeling

In other words, empathy is putting yourself into another’s shoes.  If you are to reach your audience and truly understand the person you are speaking to, you must empathize with him/her.  “Seek first to understand,” remember?

All my love, always,

Dad

I leave with one last article

Extend Yourself

snowThe half life of an average new year’s resolutions is about a day or so. Just my guess, since that’s what this type of resolution usually looks like in my mind. “Tomorrow I’ll start to diet.” “Come Monday I’ll plan to go to the gym three times a week.” “I’ll meditate every morning.” “I’ll call one of my old high school friends once a week.” Blahblahblah.

It’s not about planning to get started. It’s about doing it. Right now. There is no time like the present time.

Our self improvement culture is relentless. We all get caught up in those muddled thought loops about what we should do and how to be a better person. It takes up an enormous amount of time and space – energy that could be spent to get up and just engage in whatever you think is good for yourself.

Engaging is not always easy for the Gentle Self. We get self conscious and are plagued by self doubts. It’s very tempting to just withdraw and avoid what makes us uncomfortable. We come up with all kinds of deals that we try to make with ourselves. Ok, I hid away all day behind my desk at work, but tomorrow at the family party, I’ll finally talk to uncle John. I’ll think of something to say, other than the weather…

Never mind that these plans mostly go unrealized, so we feel bad about it, and we come up with a plan how to make up for our failures. And fail again.

Engaging doesn’t have to be scary. It’s just a small piece of life we are looking for, and in order to get it we have to extend ourselves. Stretch yourself a little. Step out of your comfort zone, even if it’s just an inch.

All it takes is turning off your computer, pack yourself in some warm clothes and step outside the house. Breathe in the cold afternoon air. Notice the birds up in the sky. Touch the bark of a tree. Put your hands on your eyes and pay attention to how your senses sharpen. Play with your neglected cat. Meet the gaze of a person in the street, or at the supermarket register. Crack a smile. Make contact with the world.

There are millions of ways to engage, many of them too subtle for our clumsy minds to even recognize them. Extend yourself. Just a little. Again and again. Stop planning. Just do it.

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/gentle-self/2012/01/extend-yourself/ (emphasis added)

 

5 years, 3 months, and 29 days. I miss you.

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Shosh, do you remember this book?  We used to read it to you all the time when you were a toddler. The father and baby hares tried to show the extent of their love for each other — by distance of their outstretched arms, the length of their bodies, the height to which they could jump, the distance to the river, the distance to the moon and back…  We loved the story, and I am still reminded of it from time to time.

Jaialai, I’m not sure what happened to the book by the time you arrived.  We read to you, but, I must admit that, we didn’t read to you as much as we did Shosh.  The reason is simple: during Shosh’s tender years, I worked long hours and your mom stayed home with grandma to take care of Shosh.  They read, took him places, etc.  On the other hand, not too long after you were born, Jaialai, I lost my job for blowing the whistle against the Enron of Healthcare.  Fortunately, you mother found work and returned to the workforce while I stayed home to help grandma babysit you, and lead the legal battle against the Enron of Healthcare.  (Litigators are experts at laws relating to litigation, but lack substantive knowledge about health insurance laws and processes; thus, they didn’t understand how the Enron of Healthcare defrauded and cheated policy holders out of the health benefits for which they have paid and to which they were legally entitled … despite the lies by the insurance company.)  Those were dark days for me, and I was not as attentive to you as I should have been.  I put the battle against the Enron of Healthcare before your needs.  For that, I am sorry, Jaialia.

To the extent your brain and language developments were not the best they could have been, I am to be blamed.  You are as brilliant as your brother, and that difference is different only in its expression.  For example, at 17 or 18 months, Shosh could spell his name.  That is your mother’s doing.  (Always give credit where credit is due.)  On the other hand, your expression of brilliance is much more organic and mischievous.  For example, when you were but a tot, I pointed to a picture of a horse or other animal and asked you what it was.  You looked and said, “It’s not a fish!”  Well, you are not wrong, and your brilliance could not be denied.  =)  You are also the one who asserted that we are all from Africa.  Again, you are not wrong and numerous anthropologist concur.

We continue to face challenges daily, and continue to fight and find our ways back to you.  Know that you are loved … beyond distance, beyond measure.

All my love, always,

Dad