Shosh, when you were young, you were a voracious reader. Your mom did one thing right: she read to you constantly. As a result, you had a huge vocabulary and were a smart little tyke!
Unfortunately, Jaialai, when you were about one, I lost my job as a result of blowing the whistle against the Enron of Healthcare and your mother had to go back to return to work because no one wanted to hire a whistleblower. I stayed home to watch you, but was also occupied with the lawsuit against crooks who were ripping off the sick and dying; thus, I failed to read to you as often as your mom did for Shosh. But, you still ended up being brilliant!!!!
That said, we tried to read to you both when we had the opportunity. I hope you continue to read voraciously in my absence.
Books are wonderful things. In addition to exposing us to far flung places in distant lands, they also introduce to us ideas that help shape our understanding of the world in which we live. The wisdom of those who came before us is passed down in stories captured and preserved in those great instruments of knowledge: books. Appreciate them. Be kind and gentle to them. Be grateful for the knowledge they bring and the authors who made such transfer of knowledge possible.
The lessons of yesteryears remain amazingly relevant today. For example, today, I finished Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and found a quote towards the end of the book that captured well current events of the day. Speaking to the protagonist (a journalist who had managed to spend years in Indochina to cover the conflict there without investing himself in any side), one of the characters said, “[O]ne has to take sides. If one is to remain human.” Page 166.
Life requires us to choose. Will you side with might or right? Will you choose to help the oppressed or the oppressors? To do nothing in the face of evil is to give tactic approval to that evil. Don’t. Choose wisely. Read voraciously and gain the wisdom of those smarter than you or I.
There are difficult days, then there are DIFFICULT days. Today is the latter. The sadness is palpable.
But, as the enlightened Buddha has said, “Life is full of suffering, and the cause of suffering is selfishness.” Open your eyes and see the world for what it is. On one hand, you have 30 children die in a hospital in India because the hospital failed to pay for the oxygen needed to keep its patients alive. On the other, you have a man drive his car into a crowd of protesters who hold views different from his own.
What is more important — the life of sick children or the death of those whose beliefs are different from your own? A mere child can see the value of the former and senselessness of the latter. Yet, adults often allow foolish thoughts to cloud their better judgement.
Don’t fall into this trap. Remember always that people come first — not things, not ideas, not money.
(Let me be clear: even the grandest idea finds beauty only in its expression. If a beautiful idea brings about ugly results, then the idea must not have been beautiful to begin with — its beauty was but an illusion. Religion may be a beautiful idea, but countless number of people have been killed, maimed, and tortured in the name of religion. The concept may not be flawed, but the expression of that concept certainly can be.)
As Americans, it is believed we have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. That is a fool’s errand. Happiness is not thing that we can catch. It is more like a butterfly that will alight upon us when we are in the right frame of mind.
How do we achieve this “right” state of mind? By being real, and by channeling your energies toward helping others. (I use the term “help” here loosely to mean any act of kindness which would bring positivity to the lives of those around you.)
As one of my favorite sites states,
Kim Cameron, a University of Michigan professor and pioneer in the field of positive organizational psychology, tried a new kind of mapping: He plotted employees by their “relational energy.” Relational energy is how much your interactions with others motivate, invigorate, and energize them (rather than draining or exhausting them, something we’ve all experienced).
The result? The relational energy network predicted performance four times better than networks based on influence or information. In other words, having a positive and energizing impact on others seems much more important to how much you achieve at work than getting people to do what you want or hoarding secrets. And when a leader is more positively energizing, her employees perform better, are more satisfied and engaged with their jobs, and have higher well-being at home….
Are you searching for meaning in your life?
Most of us don’t have to look too far, argued University of Missouri professor Laura King. In a passionate and thought-provoking talk, she cited research showing that little things can increase our sense of meaning: seeing images of trees that represent the passing of the seasons; being reminded of morning-related words (pancakes, bacon, sunrise) in the morning; or having more routine in our lives….
“People don’t need to know how to make their lives meaningful. They need to know that they already are,” King said. And when we believe in the meaningfulness of our lives, we unlock the benefits of more positive feelings and better relationships.
Heed the words of the wise. In life, you either work hard and try your best to achieve your dreams, or suffer the pangs of regret later in life for having never tried.
Look around you. How many do you see falling into the latter camp? Look at your cousins, aunts, and uncles on your mom’s side? They are roofers, fast food workers, warehouse laborers, sanitation department workers, etc. Those are honest jobs and there is nothing wrong with those types of jobs in and of themselves. But, the question is what else could they have made of themselves?
Life isn’t that difficult, really. The rules are fairly simple:
Do your best.
Be true to yourself.
Treat others as they want to be treated.
You will find that many people in life are “minimally exceptional” not because of their abilities (or lack thereof), but because of their lack of efforts. They’d rather complain and blame others than strive to improve their lots in life. The good ones who do will rise to the top while the rest will gravitate towards their rightful places in life. The good ones will leave healthier legacies for their children while the minimally exceptional will leave their children the minimally exceptional. I introduced you to Mr. Ted, one of the best in our field. Who has your mom and her siblings introduced you to?
Where will you be in 10 years, boys? I know what your abilities are, but will you put in the effort to get yourselves there? I pray you will. That is how I taught you to be. Don’t be like your mom, who would rather veg out in front of the TV instead of taking you to the park, the library, the beach, or other places where you can exercise your bodies and your minds. Strive to be the best you.
I had a dream about you last night, Shosh. I was helping you with your homework assignment on sharks. We caught a baby shark, and I tried to put a nose ring on it to keep it on a leash. Note to self: sharks hate nose rings.
Remember how we used to draw pictures of dinosaurs, construction equipment and starfish? You used to have an immense curiosity about those things and we constantly read about or talked about them. Once, when you were about 3 1/2, we were at the aquarium and looking at the tide pool/touch pool where a number of different starfish was on display. You pointed to a starfish and said that it was a leather starfish (the second one above). The aquarium guide “corrected” you and said it was an ocre starfish (the top one above). You disagreed and tried to explain to her that it was a leather star. She wouldn’t have it. I smiled and told her that she should listen to you. She decided to go off and consult her books. Shortly thereafter, she returned to apologize and confirmed that it was a leather star.
Three lessons reveal themselves here. First, don’t believe in “experts” just because they are experts. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, “experts” are too smart for their own good and can be blinded by their own “expertise” and blinded to the data confronting them. Second, always pursue what you love. Be curious. Be intensely curious. Life is an unlimited buffer if you nurture that curiosity. Third, trust yourself. Be willing to entertain other ideas, even opposing ideas, but never jettison your thoughts because it’s expedient, because an “expert” said you’re wrong, or because others disagree with you. If you are right, you stay right even if everyone disagrees. If you are wrong, you remain wrong even if everyone agrees. Don’t worry everyone else. Trust in yourself.
I wonder what you’re like now at 16, Shosh. Has your voice deepened? Have you put on weight? Are you still biting your nails? (That’s a very unhealthy habit, and I hope you’ve long outgrown it.) Do you own the room upon entry? Do you think for yourself, or allow others to influence you? How are you doing in school? Who are your friends? Have you made plans and preparations for college? (You should be, if you are not already doing so.) I have million and one questions. But, I can’t engage in this exercise often for it reduces me to a useless lump of flesh that must will itself to breathe. I hope that you are well, and that you are well along the path I laid out for you during our time together.
Boys, remember how I used to always say that your greatest weapon and tool is your brain? It is. With a sharp wit, a keen eye, and sound knowledge, you can extract yourself from most unpleasant situations. Success may not be immediate, but it will come with time and perseverance. I hope you’ve continued to use and sharpen those great tools of yours.
Think for yourselves. Don’t EVER allow others to do your thinking for you. That never bodes well.
Note above how specific and detailed the 10 Commandments are. God gave them to the people at a time when the latter were enslaved and uneducated. However, when Jesus came much later, the people had been freed and educated. Thus, he reduced the 10 commandments to only two: love God, and love your neighbors as yourself.
Jesus’s two commandments are the thinking man’s version. A smart man can think for himself and figure out how best to live and to express himself. He knows being a good person is about more than simply not killing, stealing, cheating, or bad-mouthing others. A good man is also kind to those in pain, generous to those in need, firm with those who are unruly or unethical, etc. Thus, the list for the uneducated and the unthinking is not sufficient.
Think for yourselves. Never let anybody — not some hired marketer, not your teachers, and certainly never any government official — tell you what or how to think. Beware when they try. Bad things follow.
Think for yourselves and arm yourselves with knowledge. Don’t allow others to disarm you with empty promises, falsehoods, and lies. Take care of yourselves and each other.
The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children’s writing, said: “When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
“But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen “tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity”.
It’s summer time. Remember our last summer together when we visited as many waterways as we could? We caught fish and crawdads at Scotts Mills, remember? The water was cold, wasn’t it? But, it was so much fun! Even Little V waded into the water.
That’s what summers are for … exploration, trials, and growth. Reduce your screen time, boys. Remember, spend no more than 2 hours of screen time TOTAL! That includes television as well as video games, computer, etc.
Why? It’s simple: your brain needs down time to process information about the world around you, about you, etc. Years ago, during a psychological experiment, researchers examined the brain activities of people under MRI as they were told to focus on certain stimuli. However, during the brief period in between the experiments, when there was a lull, the entire brain lit up. That was unexpected. What where learning now is that there might be organized into two separate systems: one system (extrinsic) that operates when we’re actively focusing on a task, and an intrinsic or default system that operates when we are at rest. Scientists now believe it is when our brain is at rest (during down time, when our mind wander) that the brain works on the self, on defining who we are, etc.
Dr Josipovic’s research is part of a larger effort better to understand what scientists have dubbed the default network in the brain.
He says the brain appears to be organised into two networks: the extrinsic network and the intrinsic, or default, network.
The extrinsic portion of the brain becomes active when individuals are focused on external tasks, like playing sports or pouring a cup of coffee.
The default network churns when people reflect on matters that involve themselves and their emotions.
But the networks are rarely fully active at the same time. And like a seesaw, when one rises, the other one dips down.
This neural set-up allows individuals to concentrate more easily on one task at any given time, without being consumed by distractions like daydreaming.
“What we’re trying to do is basically track the changes in the networks in the brain as the person shifts between these modes of attention,” Dr Josipovic says.
Dr Josipovic has found that some Buddhist monks and other experienced meditators have the ability to keep both neural networks active at the same time during meditation – that is to say, they have found a way to lift both sides of the seesaw simultaneously.
And Dr Josipovic believes this ability to churn both the internal and external networks in the brain concurrently may lead the monks to experience a harmonious feeling of oneness with their environment.
Scientists previously believed the self-reflective, default network in the brain was simply one that was active when a person had no task on which to focus their attention.
But researchers have found in the past decade that this section of the brain swells with activity when the subject thinks about the self.
The default network came to light in 2001 when Dr Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in the US state of Missouri, began scanning the brains of individuals who were not given tasks to perform.
The patients quickly became bored, and Dr Raichle noticed a second network, that had previously gone unnoticed, danced with activity. But the researcher was unclear why this activity was occurring.
Other scientists were quick to suggest that Dr Raichle’s subjects could have actually been thinking about themselves.
Soon other neuroscientists, who conducted studies using movies to stimulate the brain, found that when there was a lull of activity in a film, the default network began to flash – signalling that research subjects may have begun to think about themselves out of boredom.
But Dr Raichle says the default network is important for more than just thinking about what one had for dinner last night.
“Researchers have wrestled with this idea of how we know we are who we are. The default mode network says something about how that might have come to be,” he says.
Be bored, boys. Let your mind wander and your imagination roam. Don’t buy into the false gods and false promises of electronics. The answers to life’s major questions do not lie there. They lie out in the world. Go explore. Live. Use your imagination.
I apologize for the long absence. It has been busy and I have been exhausted by day’s end. Even though I have neither strength nor mental clarity to write you, my thoughts do not stray far from you. There is a place in my heart where only you can reside. It will never be filled by anyone else.
The days may be long and exhausting, but I am at least slightly happier because I have supportive friends. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of friendship, my sons. Good friends are the spices that add flavor to your life, the winds that lift you to dizzying heights and the safety lines that catches you should you fall, and the mirrors that truthfully reflect back how you are presenting yourself to the world. They will be there with you through thick and thin.
But, beware false friends. They may tell you what you want to hear, but their hearts do not belong to you. They may be fair weather friends, who will only be there with you during the good times to share a laugh. That’s fine, but know that is their true aim and purpose. Don’t be disappointed when they abandon you during difficult times. These are not true friends, but are more like acquaintances.
I find it best to find and surround myself with good people and true friends who inspire me to be better. Such are often hard to find, but they are worth their weight in gold. Treat them with kindness and respect, and care and feeding. Cultivate those friendship and protect them as you would treasure — for that is what they are.
Good and supportive friends bring you as much health and happiness as you do them. On the other hand, bad people are never worthy of the label friends. Stay away from them. They are not the harbinger of joy and good health, but of their opposites. For example, a recent headline states:
Guilty Verdict for Young Woman Who Urged Friend to Kill Himself.
This is a misuse of the much coveted label of friendship. That woman was never a friend. She was anything but a friend. Beware of the likes of her.