Posts Tagged ‘benjamin franklin’

“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Talking somebody down from the wall of worry is not an easy task. To do so you must deftly skirt accusations like “you just don’t understand” and “you’re not hearing me” while reassuring, distracting and refocusing attention on what can be done here and now.

Troubles are fed by the attention you pay to them. Wise is the person who understands the scope of his problems without succumbing to the temptation to fixate on them. Problems are resolved with solutions, not worries.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” ~ Mark Twain

One of the silliest things you can worry about are those things which you have no control over or any means of influencing. They are what they are and stressing about them will only drain the very battery you will draw upon to handle the challenges that pass through your sphere of influence.

If you have a list of worries, take the time to cross out those about which you can do nothing. Next to those crossed out write something you can handle or influence as things are now. You can either spend time worrying or moving in a productive direction. The choice is yours.

“You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.” ~ Pat Schroeder


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Nothing is more fatal to Health, than an over Care of it. ~ Benjamin Franklin

For whatever reason, many human beings tend toward obsessive-cumpulsive behavior. For example, being in the health care industry I find that I must take great care not to become imbalanced in my perspective about my own health, for fanaticism eventually consumes and destroys its possessor.

Many in my industry lead imbalanced lives, weighted at the center by an obsession with physical health. Rather than striking a balance, they become exercise junkies, diet aficionados and supplement addicts. As with an improperly balanced exercise regimen, certain muscles grow while others atrophy and strangely and they become blind to their own disfiguration.

To someone who is looking to achieve greater health, such a picture can be perplexing if not off-putting. Tragically, many a person who would make great strides toward wellness was stopped dead in his tracks by the fear of becoming even more imbalanced than he already is, given the all-too-frequent example of a health nut gone wrong.

The mother of a good childhood friend of mine was a well-intentioned health junkie. Breakfast for my friend consisted of equal parts food and pills. Vitamins, minerals, herbs and remedies of all types were stuffed down his throat and I remember taking note of his increasing distaste for anything related to “health.”

My company’s clients – doctors of all stripes – are in the business of helping their patients achieve their health and wellness goals. Each one of them works tirelessly to help other people discover a balanced approach to health and I have heard over and over again that one of the central keys to helping their patients lies in the ability to outline a course of action that meets the patient where they are.

Every patient that comes in is not ready to move gracefully with an aggressive treatment plan. There are those who respond favorably to a more vigorous approach, but most seem more likely to stick around for the long haul if the process is a gradual, albeit with notable milestones that confirm that progress is being made.

One of the downsides I’ve observed of taking the aggressive approach – even if the patient is ready for it – is that it tends to strengthen the conviction that an imbalanced, fanatical health regime works in the long run. In all things, balance. Now there may be the need in an acute situation for a strong approach, but generally speaking, with the chronic conditions that dominate today’s medical landscape, the gradual approach is more meritous.

The gradual approach begins with the establishment of a firm foundation. Most disease is the product of a faulty foundation. It is exacerbated by other elements, such as environmental toxins, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc., but without a foundation no amount of renovation above ground will be sustainable. If you’ve seen the show, “This Old House,” you known what I mean about the importance of having a solid foundation in place before you undertake anything else.

No matter how you approach your health, be sure that you do not become obsessive about it. What some call health, if obtained by incessant worry about food, supplements or exercise, can be more of a prison than a chronic disease. Take care, take control, but don’t obsess.

The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind. ~ G.K. Chesterton

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Image by Gregg Hake


My youngest son, who is now four years old, learned to pronounce the letter “l” properly this weekend. I daresay that I will miss the “w” that typically stood in the place of a properly pronounced hard “l”, but hey, “wife” goes on. He spent the entire weekend searching for words that began with or contained the newly mastered letter and it was such a thrill to behold that his brother, mother and I proposed a toast in his honor (he wuvved it).

One of my greatest delights in life is when I have the privilege to witness the personal victory of another. No matter how big or small, life’s accomplishments are worthy of notice and celebration. It is on this basis and only on this basis that education becomes and remains something to be looked forward to rather than dreaded or shunned.

The process of education is taking on a whole new meaning to me as my sons begin to interface with the education system in the United States, a system that has its roots in and retains much of its shape from the transition between America’s distant past as an agrarian society and its more recent past as an industrial nation.

Loud clanging bells still mark the hour, preparing students for beginning and end of shift bells in shops, factories and manufacturing centers around the country that are increasingly hard to find. The industrial-era influence continues to shape the architecture of most schools with an austere aesthetic. Sure, computers are plugged into the “wired” schools of our advanced era, but in my view it is generally lipstick on an outmoded jig.

What is needed is a new template, one that takes the realities of our current era into account. For starters, our students need to move around more and eat better. No matter how many facts we fill their minds with, a child who leaves the educational system with a diploma and a diagnosis of obesity is at a disadvantage. Many schools, particularly on the West Coast, are revamping their cafeterias and meal programs with the help of passionate innovators like Jamie Oliver. It’s a good start, but we need more!

With regard to my two previous posts on the future of our country and of the freedom we have enjoyed over the last two centuries, we are in desperate need of programs and tools that help educate the future electorate that walk the halls of our educational institutions. What good is a specialization in this, that or the other if you do not understand what role you have in maintaining the delicate balance between anarchy and tyranny made possible by a Constitutional republic?

In my previous post Civic Virtue and the Rise and Fall of Empires I quoted Benjamin Franklin on the necessity of forming and training our youth in wisdom and virtue. There is no greater challenge faced by educators today. Unless we get this right no effort expended or dollar spent to put the American educational system back in the game will have any meaning.

Education is a tremendously inspiring and engaging process when delivered correctly. The future of the world rests in the hands of an educated and virtuous electorate and we must do all within our power to create a system that meets today’s needs and answers today’s challenges.

As an aside, if we fail on this point we had all better start practice saying: “Wong Wive the King!” No pressure!

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“Life every man holds dear; but the dear man holds honor far more precious dear than life.” ~ William Shakespeare

I daresay this morning that virtually every unpleasant element aspect of the human condition came into being through the words and actions of men and women who held their lives more dear than their honor.

Is your honor in tact? Do you live life nobly? One way to check how you are doing in this department is to ask yourself at the end of the day – the end of every day – “Did I do my best today to assist others to their fulfillment?”

Take time today to help another. How? Be creative. Pay attention. Pay it forward. Pay homage to someone you’ve respected in secret.

Pay Attention

Look into the eyes of those with whom you converse. Stay focused. Multi-tasking is overrated, especially when one of the tasks is a conversation. Let others complete their sentences. Don’t interrupt. Hear them out.

Pay it Forward

Benjamin Franklin articulated this valuable concept in a letter he wrote to Benajmin Webb on April 22, 1784:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.

Ralph Waldo Emerson also described how to pay it forward in his 1841 essay Compensation: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”

Pay Homage

You have no doubt been witness to a “PDA” (Public Display of Affection), but when was the last time you were witness or even party to a “PDR” (Public Display of Respect)? Take time to publicly recognize those whom you hold in high esteem. Others may snicker or sneer, but the world is in desperate need of honor and genuine homage.

When honor becomes your central concern, one of the last things on your mind is how you feel about your life at any given point in time. In fact, honor and integrity banishes self-centeredness.

Have a wonderful Sunday and be not the Knave that stops the progress of a good deed.

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An old friend of mine mentioned that she is moving in a couple of weeks and that a friend of hers was going to accompany her in true “Thelma and Louise” style. I don’t remember much about the 1991 movie starring Susan Sarandon  (Louise Sawyer) and Geena Davis (Thelma), apart from a poignant quote by the character Louise Sawyer that stuck with me through the years:

You get what you settle for.

While life is better lived through giving than getting, the point is well made. You will ultimately end up with what you settle for. Benjamin Franklin, a man who refused to settle all the years of his life, made the astute observation that “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” Die when you die, not before.

Settling requires acquiescence to lethargy. In settling you say “thus far and no further.” To avoid settling, you must maintain a sense of adventure. Adventure, venturing forth, is the stuff of life. Every chapter of the book of your life can be filled with tales of adventure, excitement, challenge and growth. To be sure, one man’s adventure is another man’s picnic, adventure is adventure!

To be adventurous you must not fear mistakes. While you can be certain that you will make mistakes and you will taste failure on occasion, it is important to develop the strength of character that allows you to pick up the pieces and move on.

Kennedy was right, for the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Relinquish fear and you release the most common impediment to wisdom. A simple formula for a powerful experience.

Take care not to collapse in a heap of futility when you are faced with the prospect of a new adventure. Instead, embrace it. Enjoy it. Approach it with confidence, creativity and curiosity.

And never forget: you get what you settle for.

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Edward Gibbon, Historian

Edward Gibbon, Historian


 Every great civilization of which we have record in history that came and went, failed from within.  Edward Gibbon, in his seminal work The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, outlines this process in great detail: internal weakness precipitates external vulnerability and collapse inevitably follows.  

Gibbon argued that the Roman Empire succumbed to barbarian invasions because of the gradual loss of civic virtues of its citizens.  Thumbing through the pages of history, it is easy to see a similar pattern unfold in any great civilization, up to our present era.  Basic civic virtue lies at the center of any great nation.  

In a Republic such as the United States, decisions about public matters are made by a relatively large group of people, rather than just one person, such as in a monarchy.  The decisions in such a system are ideally based on the civic virtues held dear by that society.  

Benjamin Franklin was queried while leaving Independence Hall after the final day of deliberation of the Constitutional Convention in 1787:  

“Well Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?”  

to which Franklin reportedly replied:  

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”  

Do you feel you’ve done your part to keep it?  

George Washington, in a letter to Lafayette written in 1788 noted: “Though, when a people shall become incapable of governing themselves and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes.”  In the absence of basic civic virtue, people become incapable of self-governance.  

Virtue doesn’t appear automatically.  It must be cultivated or drawn forth from the individual.  Families, schools, churches, civic groups all have opportunity to strengthen the fundamental sense of virtue in their members.  Benjamin Franklin emphasized this point, noting the importance of teachers:  

“…I think with you, that nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue.  Wise and good men are, in my opinion, the strength of the state; more so than riches or arms…  I think also, that general virtue is more probably to be expected and obtained from the education of youth, than from the exhortations of adult persons; bad habits and vices of the mind being, like diseases of the body, more easily prevented than cured.  I think, moreover, that talents for the education of youth are the gift of God; and that he on whom they are bestowed, whenever a way is opened for the use of them, is as strongly called as if he heard a voice from heaven…”    

Today I encourage you to consider your civic responsibilities, to cultivate a greater sense of civic virtue in yourself and in those around you and to thank a teacher (who deserves the thanks) for his or her work in shaping the future of our great nation.  

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Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name “Voltaire,” was a central figure during the French Enlightenment.  Both reviled and revered during his lifetime, Voltaire’s works and ideas served as catalysts for the French and American Revolutions.  A friend of Benjamin Franklin and a contemporary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Voltaire fought tirelessly for the protection and expansion of civil rights.   

Voltaire made many memorable and valuable statements on life in a tumultuous period of human history.  Today I would like to share two of my favorites.  The first, sage counsel for anyone who finds themselves in a rut, is this: “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.”  What excellent advice!  While it is perhaps one of those concepts that is easier to grasp on fair weather days than while under pressure, it is invariably true.    

If you inadvertently brushed up against a thorny bush while walking on a path in the woods – whether you put the bush there or not – you would probably move swiftly to extract yourself from the bush and move on.  You think that people would do the same with the emotional and mental thorns encountered in the path of life, but do they?  In my observation the greater tendency is to wrestle with the bush, roll around in it, jump in it, jump on it, walk away and leap back onto it just when it looked like they were clear of it…anything but get away from it!  It just doesn’t make any sense.   

Which brings me to my second favorite quote from Voltaire: “Common sense is not so common.”  Why not?   There is plenty of instruction on the foundational elements of common sense.  Almost anyone has the power to understand its tenets.  In fact, the wonderful thing about common sense is that it is so easy to recognize and it is universally true.   

Let’s reflect for a moment on several arch-enemies of common sense:   

  1. Prejudice of any type.  The tendency to pre-judge a situation, to arrive at a conclusion before the event occurs often precludes common sense.  Many a simple situation requiring the application of common sense is rendered intractably complex by virtue of prejudice.
  2. A failure to maintain objectivity and openness to other perspectives.  Thomas Jefferson once said: “The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory.”  Common sense is often ignored, perhaps in the knowledge that it can make a wrong or incomplete but dearly held approach look foolish.
  3. Over-complication of everything.  One of the by-products of the tendency toward specialization in virtually every field of human endeavor is that nothing appears to be simple anymore.  What used to be simple decisions now seem to be more difficult due to information overload.  Look too closely at a problem or a limitation and you will lose your ability to balance the details against the big picture.  If you can’t see the forest for the trees, it is likely that your decisions will be based not on common sense but on a myopic understanding of the factors.

William Somerset Maugham once remarked: “Common sense and good nature will do a lot to make the pilgrimage of life not too difficult.”  I agree wholeheartedly, do you?

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