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Archive for the ‘Of Historical Note’ Category

Albert Schweizer, Image by Wikipedia

The holidays are fast upon us and I had the good pleasure of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my sons after dinner last evening. At one point in the show, Linus mentioned that Albert Schweitzer’s dislike of Christmas stemmed from the fact that he did not take kindly to writing thank you notes. I hadn’t heard that name in a while, so I did a little digging…

As you may know, Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence of Life,” which is translated from the original German phrase “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben.” The compelling ethical philosophy was best summarized by Schweitzer himself in his book Civilization and Ethics: “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”

The idea came to him after a period of deep thought in Gabon in 1915 as he was developing the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. Again, Schweitzer tells it best:

But what is civilization?

The essential element in civilization is the ethical perfecting of the individual as well as society. At the same time, every spiritual and every material step forward has significance for civilization. The will to civilization is, then, the universal will to progress that is conscious of the ethical as the highest value. In spite of the great importance we attach to the achievements of science and human prowess, it is obvious that only a humanity that is striving for ethical ends can benefit in full measure from material progress and can overcome the dangers that accompany it…” “The only possible way out of chaos is for us to adopt a concept of the world based on the ideal of true civilization.” “For months on end I lived in a continual state of mental agitation. Without the least success I concentrated – even during my daily work at the hospital, – on the real nature of the affirmation of life and of ethics and on the question of what they have in common. I was wandering about in a thicket where no path was to be found. I was pushing against an iron door that would not yield.

In that mental state I had to take a long journey up the river…Lost in thought I sat on deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal concept of the ethical that I had not discovered in any philosophy. I covered sheet after sheet with disconnected sentences merely to concentrate on the problem. Two days passed. Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase : “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben” (reverence for life”). The iron door had yielded. The path in the thicket had become visible.

You would think that breakthrough moments like that are unforgettable, but I have known many people who have “seen the light” or put in different terms, recognized their life’s purpose and then for one reason or another have turned their backs on it. Fortunately we have the example of Dr. Schweitzer (among many other great leaders), who never gave up on his passionate quest to discover a universal ethical philosophy.

A passionate, thoughtful, purposeful life is a life worth living. Anything less is a compromise, a deliberate refusal to let the vibrancy of life course through your heart and mind and out into the world through your expression.

The will to live is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. Life has a magical way of finding expression through even the most limited and barren places. If given the chance, a literal or figurative womb, life will spring forth abundantly.

Take time this holiday season to renew your reverence for life. Magnify its blessings by extending blessing to the world around you. Remember this always: your fulfillment is directly proportional to your reverence for life.

Der Friede sei mit dir. Peace be unto you.

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The last two hundred years were particularly transformative for humanity. Dramatic increases in both longevity and wealth swept across the globe, affecting the industrialized nations first and the developing nations second. While a wide gap remains between the richest and the poorest nations, just about every nation is better off no than they were two short centuries ago.

A friend of mine sent this excellent presentation that depicts the statistics of this phenomenon in a creative and understandable way:

It’s no wonder that the largest charities in the world are looking to bring financial prosperity to the nations they serve. With higher incomes comes lower birth rates and improved longevity. Whether or not happiness follows these trends directly or inversely is debatable, but the point is that a nation’s wealth and the longevity of its citizens appear to be directly related.

Longevity and health, on the other hand, do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can be both extremely old and extremely ill. While longevity has improved dramatically, there is much more that we could be doing to improve health and subsequently, quality of life.

Many of the doctors served by the company I work for are finding that toxicity is no longer strictly intercellular. In fact, toxins are moving deeper and deeper into the cells of the modern body, a fact that presents great challenges to anyone seeking optimal health. Eating cleanly, exercising regularly, hydrating sufficiently and getting enough rest can go a long way, but the world – as a result of the industrial development that made the advances in longevity and wealth possible – is becoming increasingly toxic.

The good news is that the body does have the ability to rid itself of these xenobiotic squatters. With the right support, including the presentation of homeopathic sarcodes (which I’ve heard described as a “blueprint for healthy tissue”), the body can come to the point where it is in position to release the toxins that are likely stored so deeply out of self-preservation.

When the flow systems of the body are blocked for whatever reason, the body wisely, but dangerously (as it is a last resort) walls off and hides away that which normally would be expelled under less stressful circumstances. Helping guide a patient through a process of naturally-paced detoxification is an art and a science, and I would highly advise against unmonitored self-detoxification programs. They are often do more harm than anything.

I believe that we can create a world where health, longevity and wealth converge and become the norm rather than the exception. What about you?

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Washington's Farewell Address, Image by Wikipedia

MAGNANIM’ITY, n. [L. magnanimitas; magnus, great, and animus, mind.] Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.

Having read now quite a number of the leaked cables exposing the underbelly of American foreign policy, I cannot help but be shocked at the great distance we’ve travelled from President George Washington‘s vision for American diplomacy to the pusillanimity that dominates the international political arena today. In President Washington’s famous “Farewell Address,” he described the ideal quite succinctly:

Observe good faith and justice toward all Nations; Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period a great Nation to give mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it?

Whatever is said about the rightness or wrongness of Mr. Assange’s disclosures via Wikileaks, we now have over 200,000 more specific reasons to realize that we have a long way to go before we live up to the standard set by President Washington.

So where do we start? Schools are a good place. Children, like nations, interact, form friendships, develop trading partners, experience conflict and so on, so the microcosm they live in provides a complete and relatively safe representation of what they will likely encounter later in life and on a larger scale.

The workplace is another field of tremendous opportunity. Pettiness only thrives in soil devoid of magnanimity. Pettiness needn’t be stamped out, rather, it must be displaced by a culture of peace, harmony, good faith and justice. Most importantly, there must be consistent representation of magnanimity by those in leadership positions.

What can you do to be more magnanimous? The more you are, the more those around you will be sorted out naturally (and without the need for judgment) as to who is with you and who is against you. It is that simple. A true friend responds favorably to your magnanimity, while those who are repelled by it are better off left to their own devices at whatever distant orbital they end up occupying in your atmosphere.

Let your life be one that is led by exalted justice and benevolence as you aim to achieve useful and noble objects. Anything less is not worthy of you. Anything less is not consistent with who you are at the core of your being.

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Manessische Liederhandschrift, Image by Wikipedia

“Though the practice of chivalry fell even more sadly short of its theoretic standard than practice generally falls below theory, it remains one of the most precious monuments of the moral history of our race, as a remarkable instance of a concerted and organized attempt by a most disorganized and distracted society, to raise up and carry into practice a moral ideal greatly in advance of its social condition and institutions; so much so as to have been completely frustrated in the main object, yet never entirely inefficacious, and which has left a most sensible, and for the most part a highly valuable impress on the ideas and feelings of all subsequent times.” ~ John Stuart Mill

 

I once inadvertently upset a young woman by holding the door open for her. She took offence to my gesture, interpreting it as a chauvinistic power play rather than a gesture of respect. I wrote it off as a poorly executed sign of the times, where young women are eager to assert themselves in a show of equality. I must admit, though, that I continue to hold the door open for women of all ages to this day.

The incident did stick with me over the years (hence this post!), and I think that part of the tension that surrounded the young lady’s heart in the matter is rooted in a misunderstanding of equality. Equality is not sameness. Men and women are different from one another and I believe that it is healthier to respect those differences than to smother them through political correctness.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are women who are smarter, stronger and wittier than me. Stereotypes based purely on anatomical differences are foolhardy. Women are no more the “lesser of the species” than they are from a different planet.

Men and women, when comfortable in their own skins, complement one another wonderfully. They exist along a spectrum – from “girly-girl” to “manly-man” with significant overlap in the middle. That said, some of the most masculine men I’ve known possessed a surprisingly sensitive side while some of the most feminine women have proven to be the toughest and meanest creatures I’ve known.

Whether you believe that men and women are the product of evolutionary forces or the crowning achievement of a divinely designed world, it is clear that we’re both here for a reason. A friend of mine in high school used to joke about women being “obsolete fertile vessels” when he read about test tube babies and oddly enough the young lady who was most offended by his poking ended up marrying him several years later. Obsolete? I highly doubt it. Pigs will fly first.

We need one another. The line, “You complete me,” made famous by the movie “Jerry Maguire” (or was it Austin Powers?) is a great way to look at it. We are two parts of a whole, not opposites, and our differences are what makes the union so powerful, meaningful and creative.

The principles of chivalry also apply to generational differences, in fact, many of the principles of chivalry can and should be exemplified and taught to children at a very young age. Giving up a seat for an adult or not talking balk, for instance, are perfect symbols to children of how the different sexes can and should relate later in life. Respect is a fundamental building block of chivalry.

There are many implications to the continued practice of chivalry that I hope to investigate further with you in future posts and I hope that you take no offense to me holding the door open for you as you take steps to develop a deeper understanding of the topic.

Good day!

 

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Politics is the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are its opposite halves – sometimes split into quarters – which grind on each other. Not only individuals but states have thus a confirmed dyspepsia. ~ Henry David Thoreau

One of the microphones came on prematurely during a performance of Cirque du Soleil‘s “Ovo” the other day, revealing someone’s stage directions to the entire audience. It was just a momentary lapse, but it’s effect was powerful.

The recent posts by Wikileaks rocked the international community in a similar fashion. The door was opened a crack by Julian Assange and his shadowy associates, revealing confidential statements and communiques that were never intended to be seen by the general public and the effect is chilling. The show behind the show was revealed, if only for a moment.

The question that comes to my mind, as Assange works assiduously and at great personal risk to reveal secrets about government and private enterprise, is why? What is the point? In a recent Forbes interview Assange himself answered “I don’t know.” Whether it is to promote greater transparency in the management of human affairs or the result of a deep-rooted aversion to secrecy, the revelations are polarizing the world community.

It seems strange to me that while most corporations appear to be moving toward greater transparency, inclusion and conversation, governments seem to be moving toward greater secrecy. The US Government creates over 16 million new secrets per year, according to a Project on Government Secrecy estimate and the over-classification of documents continues to be a problem in government, one that drives up costs while obfuscating the undoubtedly real need to protect truly classified information. History shows us that governments that hide behind too many secrets are a dangerous thing indeed.

One lesson I’ve learned from this is that there is never good reason to disparage another – personally, privately or otherwise. It inevitably comes back to haunt you. Disparagement amplifies the very thing you wish to be free from and diminishes its source much more than it does its target.

Gustave Dore's "Tilting at Windmills", Image by Wikipedia

I firmly believe in and have witnessed the power of the approach outlined in the brilliant injunction: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you…” So few human beings have come to the point of understanding the power inherent in this approach to living yet it is the key – the one and only key – to unlocking the veil of secrecy that Assange is presently attacking head on, like Don Quixote upon his faithful steed Rocinante.

Those who contend that such an approach (“Love your enemies…”) is foolish and weak never give it a chance, while those who espouse it tend not to hold fast to the spirit of the words in life’s trivial situations (in traffic, when confronted with a pet peeve, etc) and they therefore cannot be expected to be in position to wield its power when the greater challenges in life come their way.  The point is that very few people have really given it a shot, let alone everything they’ve got and we have the world we have because of it.

While I imagine that whistle-blowing has its place, it is ultimately only a short-term solution. New heads grow into the place of the old if the body itself is not transformed and I would venture to say that the regular beheadings that have occurred throughout history – politically, scientifically, religiously and commercially – are nothing but red herrings that have kept perfectly capable people from addressing the root problem with the only remedy effective against this chronic, yet curable dyspepsia.

When, o when, dear readers, will you stop tilting at windmills?

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“Here is a country lovely and unspoiled. Here is a simple and satisfying restfulness…a place to charm the mind while nature mends nerves worn thin by living too fast and too hard. Here, in short, is peace, and play, and freedom.” ~ Howard Coffin

Howard Coffin, photo courtesy of Sea Island Company

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to visit Sea Island or St. Simons Island, Georgia, you’ve likely heard the name of the man who developed the area as Georgia’s premier coastal tourist destination. Howard Coffin, a native of Ohio and a graduate of the University of Michigan‘s engineering program, came to be known as the Father of Standardization in the automotive industry.

In World War I Coffin was named to the Council of Defense, our country’s unofficial war cabinet at the time and put in charge of the military’s aircraft production. When the war ended he parlayed his newly developed aviation experience into a new and exciting industry in the United States, civilian aviation. As Board Chairman of the National Air Transport Company (a forerunner to United Airlines), Coffin helped launch commercial aviation in the United States.

His interest in automobile racing as a means of advertising the automobiles he built drew him to Georgia and during one of the races he learned about the sale of one of Georgia’s coastal islands, Sapelo Island. He and his wife developed a mansion on the island and from this new base they began purchasing and developing other plantations in the area.

What a remarkable set of accomplishments built one upon another! Coffin’s ability to leverage previous experience and opportunity into future expansion is a quality that many successful people seem to possess. To take this approach you must hold the attitude that everything matters. Everything might not have the same importance, but everything and everyone, counts.

While I do not share the commonly held belief that “everything happens for a reason,” I do believe that the unexpected can be used to advantage in any situation. Random things do happen and the more accustomed and prepared  you are to moving from victory to victory, the more likely it is that you will make good use of everything that comes your way.

The barrier islands off the Georgia coast are a rare treat and I would highly recommend a visit to anyone who loves peace, beauty and the rich marsh and sea air. Enjoy your weekend!

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I read a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday titled “Kindness of a Stranger that Still Resonates.” The article described the kind and selfless acts of a successful businessman in the depths of the Great Depression during an era where charity was seen as a moral failure.

The secret philanthropist, Samuel J. Stone, published an ad under a pseudonym (“B.Virdot”) offering to give assistance to those who wrote him a letter describing their need and how they planned to use the money. He promised anonymity as the idea of accepting help in those days was much less morally acceptable than it is in our common era. A kind gesture, to be sure, and one that points to the power of people helping people.

I wonder what would happen if people in need were more industrious on the one hand and if those with means beyond their need were more generous on the other? Would the massive and costly governmental systems that mediate by way of tax dollars become obsolete?

A friend of mine who spent time in Puerto Rico told me that many of her conversations with locals said that they felt that the American welfare system was at the root of many of the problems in their country. Laziness, graffiti, unclean streets and neighborhoods were apparently less prominent prior to the implementation of welfare as the lack of a safety net served as incentive to get out there and work. Was this the only factor involved? I doubt it, but it does strike me as more than a coincidence.

The article went on to describe the current situation in Canton, Ohio, the town in which the article was published some 77 years ago:

Many people need such help in Canton. More than half the city’s children live below the federal poverty line, according to the Census Bureau, up from 38 percent in 2008. More than 3,000 people called the United Way for help in October, a 33 percent increase over last year, the agency said.

The US Census Bureau publishes a number of statistics on poverty in the United States. Here are just a few:

  • In 2009, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.1 percent and 8.8 million, respectively, up from 10.3 percent and 8.1 million in 2008.
  • The poverty rate and the number in poverty increased across all types of families: married-couple families (5.8 percent and 3.4 million in 2009 from 5.5 percent and 3.3 million in 2008); female-householder-with-no-husband-present families (29.9 percent and 4.4 million in 2009 from 28.7 percent and 4.2 million in 2008) and for male-householder-no-wife-present families (16.9 percent and 942,000 in 2009 from 13.8 percent and 723,000 in 2008).
  • The poverty rate increased for children younger than 18 (from 19.0 percent in 2008 to 20.7 percent in 2009) and people 18 to 64 (from 11.7 percent in 2008 to 12.9 percent in 2009)

Is our present approach working? Relatively speaking, maybe, but in absolute terms, absolutely not! It’s easy to look the other way but sooner or later ignoring the problem only makes things worse. Far too many responsibilities that could be handled by caring, conscientious and wise individuals are passed on to the government and it seems to me that more often than not the solution to government becoming too big is for individuals to step up to the plate, as a whole.

If it is true that the sum of the part is greater than the whole, then the parts, when playing their part fully, actively and passionately, should be more effective at solving the systemic problems we face as a society, as a nation and as a world.

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