Posts Tagged ‘mark twain’

“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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“We are always too busy for our children; we never give them the time or interest they deserve. We lavish gifts upon them; but the most precious gift, our personal association, which means so much to them, we give grudgingly.” ~Mark Twain

Having just departed on a business trip I find myself thinking constantly of my wife and children and the familiar world that now sits miles away from me. I can’t help but think that parenting is one of the most sacred responsibilities on earth and that we should spend far more time educating our future parents on how to be mindful parents capable of giving Twain’s gift of “personal association.”

Why wait until we are grandparents to realize that spending constructive, creative time with our children is perhaps one of the greatest uses of time imaginable? Life places so many demands on our time, yet rather than bemoan life as a “cruel mistress,” why not take the reins and be the authors of our fate?

When I was in high school I taught soccer camps around the state of Michigan. As a young man who had grown up in a life of privilege, I was particularly intrigued by the week-long camps that we taught in areas of the state that were less fortunate than the community in which I spent my adolescence.

I remember noting at the time that the children in the wealthy areas were typically dropped off by nannies or caretakers other than the parents while the children in less factory towns such as Flint, Michigan, were not only dropped off by their parents, their parents (typically the father) took the week off to watch and participate in the camp!

Not being one who makes value judgments based on such observations, I do distinctly remember how much it meant to the children to have their parents see them perform on the soccer field with their new-found friends.

One of my favorite activities is playing with my boys after a busy day. I love to get lost in their imagination, to release my own ideas of how things should be, to let go of the concepts I’ve built in my life experience and to see what is possible when there are – once again – no limits on what is possible.

Life experience tends to show you what is and what is not possible. Experience defines the limits of capability, the edges of the envelope. Those limits then tend to condition our future function. One of the greatest attributes of childhood is that in a child’s mind, anything is possible. Imagination is neither tempered by prejudice nor clouded by fear.

If you become a parent, be a good one. Be a first-rate parent and don’t treat children as second-class citizens. More often than not children will surprise you with their insight, their creative flair and their ability to transcend the strictures of adult consciousness.

Take the time to associate with them and when you do, don’t just sit idly by, wishing you were somewhere else. Engage with them. Teach them. Learn from them. Enjoy them. Let go of your worries and let go to the vibrant, innocent, joyful experience of life.

When you gain a new perspective on life you are typically still looking at the same life. Time well-spent with children is a powerful form of perspective management. It is as refreshing as it is invigorating. Take the time today, tomorrow, to see the world through a fresh, unscratched and un-smudged lens!

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“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.” ~Plutarch

Sympathy is the death knell of a good friendship. Empathy, on the other hand, is a restorative balm that heals life’s cuts and scrapes. Sympathy says to another “you are right to complain” while empathy elicits solutions from friends who express genuine concern.

Friends rightly chosen consistently call for the finest from you. They expect your best and refuse to accept excuses for shortcuts, shortcomings and short-sightedness. At the same time, friends well chosen are the most forgiving of your associates. They accept you as you are but always leave room for the new you, especially when others would write you off or turn a cold shoulder, in search of fairer weather.

True friends invest trust beyond the point where you feel trustworthy. Such trust compels greatness in action. While it is said that competition fuels innovation, in my estimation a trusting, cooperative friend is the greater catalyst.


“It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.” ~Epicurus

I thank my lucky stars for my circle of friends. Their expression of excellence inspires mine. Their solidity – no matter how stormy life’s seas may become – affords me an island upon which I can catch my breath and regain my legs. More importantly, their unconditional love enkindles my respect and appreciation for others.

Do you have such a friend? There is nothing on earth to be more prized than a true and honest friend. Many who would claim to be your friend will turn their backs on you or even stab yours out of smallness, desperation or shame, but find one friend, one true friend, and your life will never be the same.

Let not the small and desperate acts of those who would violate your friendship cause you to lose heart. Instead, let the experience redouble your resolve to be a right and dependable friend to those who remain.

Mark Twain

“Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.” ~Mark Twain

Retaliation, retribution, diminution, disrespect and dishonesty are the tools of those who have failed to come to know the reality of their greatness. Those who employ such tools will eventually find themselves alone, distrustful of others and in need of a true friend. Conversely, forgiveness, inspiration, reverence and honorableness constrain to a noble and endearing state of being.

Which will it be for you?

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“In ev’ry job that must be done, there is an element of fun!” ~Mary Poppins

While I am not typically quick to admit it, as the father of two young boys I have watched several kid’s movies enough times to know the lines by heart. The classic movies from my day, such as Mary Poppins, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang and the Sound of Music, offer a refreshing relief from the comparatively intense movies produced for children today.

The line quoted above is one of my favorites, spoken just before Mary Poppins performs an inspiring Tom Sawyer-like show that inspires the children in her charge to tidy up their room. Far too often people dread work only to find themselves depleted and dour when it comes time for play or holiday. The time it takes to unwind often eats up most of the free time and the embattled and worn soldier must return to his wearisome post unrested, unhappy and unfulfilled.

Work, like play, can and should be enjoyed. Whether or not you enjoy it depends on how you handle it, not on the nature of the work. Mark Twain, in his inimitable style, noted the difference between work and play in Tom Sawyer:

If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why people are so willing to blindly follow the idea that work is to be disdained. Some may say that my position in the company makes it easier to enjoy work, but I can assure you that every job I have ever held, from cabinet-maker’s assistant to CEO, was thoroughly enjoyed.

Enjoyment is a radiant stance that can be maintained independent of the nature of the work you are obliged to perform. Whether you work alone or with others, on complex systems or on simple ones or doing repetitive tasks or something new every minute, you have the opportunity to enjoy what you do when you recognize that joy and enjoyment is something that can be generated from within you.

Far too often people are convinced that the source of joy is external to themselves. Life becomes an endless pursuit of situations and people that will somehow make them magically happy. Rather than enjoying what they lust after what they don’t, vainly hoping that the next thing will deliver the coveted sense of fulfillment and joy that is missing from their lives.

What about you? Are you willing to accept the challenge to find “an element of fun” in “ev’ry job that must be done”? What do you have to lose, really? A word of caution here: when it comes to enjoyment, don’t fake it until you make it. Do the work necessary to come to the point where you can truly and honestly enjoy your life.

Have a great one!

For the full excerpt of Tom Sawyer’s marvelous insight see: http://www.pbs.org/marktwain/learnmore/writings_tom.html.

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“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. but the most important thing is, even if we’re apart.. I’ll always be with you.” – Winnie the Pooh

Pooh’s kind words are the words of a true and loving friend. You never really leave the sphere of influence of a true friend, no matter how far apart you may be nor how long it has been since you last spoke in the shade of a willow tree.   

A real friend…

A real friend uplifts in times of need, disagrees when you are wrong and forgives in all things.  A true friend never seeks your agreement in denigrating another, for true friendship is based entirely in love and never in hatred, the absence of love. 

Unconditional love…

Unconditional love is your birthright.  There is nothing more inspiring or powerful than unconditional love. When you love, truly love, your expression blesses, uplifts, strengthens and encourages.  True love is not blind, in fact, it intensifies all that it touches.  Love is the natural currency of friendship.

A true friend…

A true friend is great in stature and noble in expression.  You would be wise to heed the words of Mark Twain: “Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you think you too can become great.”   The company you keep helps to amplify the value of your life.  If you express love through those with whom you associate, you give a gift that can be given again, without fear of depletion or exhaustion.  Whenever the gift of love is received and re-gifted, the world is made a better place.

Have no fear, my friends, for Virgil’s instruction is as true now as when he said it 2,000 years ago: “Love conquers all.”


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My eldest son, who just turned five, loves to ask me questions on the way to school every morning.  “Excuse me Daddy, what types of storms are there?”  “Daddy, what is the difference between asphalt and concrete?”  “Why does it look like the moon is following us, Daddy?”  The questions come daily, and I am thrilled to help provide answers that no doubt are providing a context for his understanding of the world that my generation will be handing over to his a few short decades from now.

This morning the question was not one that could be met with a quick reply, either from the repository in my brain or from a quick Google search on my iPhone while at a stop light.  He looked pensively out of the back window from his car seat and asked “Daddy, why do we have wars?”

My first reaction was one of embarrassment that we human beings, in our lofty and evolved state, must still resort to war to settle differences.  How do you explain to a child that grown-ups more often than not act like children?  I wished at that moment and still wish that I can hand his generation the keys to a world free of conflict, turmoil and suffering.

I began by asking if he knew what war was, and his reply made it clear that he had a basic idea.  He was curious, though, as to why people would hurt or even kill one another.  He wanted to understand the motivation and how to prevent war.  We spoke for a moment about a spat between he and his 3 year old brother over a toy that escalated to blows the previous day.  It was a small-scale skirmish, but it was easy to point out his options in the situation.  He could have resolved it peacefully on his own or with the help of an arbiter.  He could have allowed his little brother to have the toy and moved on.  He could have found an acceptable substitution and they both would have been happy.  The opportunities for peaceful resolution were endless.

I wonder at what point brinksmanship first gave way to warfare.  The first time in human history.  It must have been quite an event.  I wonder what it was over?  Something important like oil?  Religious beliefs?  Land?  Or maybe it was over a petty and meaningless difference of opinion.  Likely there were emotional drivers, such as greed or fear.  Those two ingredients were present in every war I’ve examined.

Think for a moment about your life.  Do you remember the first time a conflict ended in by force, aggression, or some non-peaceful means?  Perhaps it was on a playground, at home or in school?  Maybe it was a peer or maybe it was an adult.  No doubt it was unsettling, no matter whether you won or lost.

I am of the conviction that the natural state is one of peace and not conflict.  The world we’ve grown accustomed to, the normal state, is one that is fraught with turmoil.  I believe that human beings have the capacity to works matters out peaceably, no matter how high the stakes.  What would it take to obviate the necessity for war on our planet?

Ronald Reagan shared an interesting thought in 1985 when he said: “I couldn’t help but say to [Mr. Gorbachev], just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from another planet.  [We’d] find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this earth together.”  Oh, how human beings love to push things to the extremes in an effort I suppose to avoid the obvious.

No matter how you cut it, it is safe to say that humanity is peculiar.  Mark Twain wrote: “Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War.  He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind.  He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out… and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel…. And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for ‘the universal brotherhood of man’ – with his mouth.”

No matter where you were born, what language you speak or how long you’ve been here, we are in this world together.  It is sad that we’ve let things get so far out of balance, but we’ve got what we’ve got at this point.  The question is, what can you do – here and now – to reduce the amount of fuel you add to the fire in your personal affairs?

We do not live in a simple world, and it only seems to be growing more complicated as time goes on.  The world we live in is the accumulation of the small worlds centered by every man, woman and child on earth.  Change the course of one man’s life and you change the course of the world.  You have the most control over you, so why not start there?

The last comment my son made on war as we were pulling into the school parking lot was quite sweet and compelling.  He said “Daddy, I hope that we don’t have war when I am a big person.  Can you fix that?”  It is my great hope that, in the words of Victor Hugo, “A day will come when a cannon will be exhibited in museums, just as instruments of torture are now, and the people will be astonished that such a thing could have been.”

Let’s just hope that we can work it out in this generation, so that we don’t have to leave it for the next.  In fact, I hope that my son’s children ask him at some point when they are curious: “Daddy, what was war?”


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Mastery in any activity is revealed when the doer makes the action seem effortless. I have seen mastery revealed in many areas of human activity – in the kitchen, on the sports field, in the theater, in the classroom – and the signature qualities of one who has mastered his art are grace and poise.

In addition to grace and poise, mastery of the spoken and written word is characterized by brevity. “Brevity,” as Shakespeare said so wisely, “…is the soul of wit.” It is the ability to say exactly what you are seeking to convey in the least amount of words. Why is this important? American writer Wilson Follett hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganization can flourish.”

Brevity as an end spawns curtness, whereas brevity as a means to an end mitigates chaos. Only an ordered consciousness can deliver succinctness without error. If consciousness is disorderly, if your thoughts are unformed or mixed, then it’s hard to be brief. Have you ever tried to write a letter when your heart or mind was troubled? It can be quite a challenge!

Let this week be a week of practice. Refining your writing and your speaking is more about organizing consciousness than it is about improving your tool set, for the size of your tool chest will naturally and organically increase as you use what is already in there wisely, efficiently and accurately.

How do you organize consciousness? There are many ways. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Listen to music. The patterns and associations of musical notes can have a tremendous impact on the clarity of your mind.
  2. Enjoy the silence. Silence can be another way to bring order out of chaos. Many have noted the power of meditation, prayer, and other modes of quiet consideration.
  3. Ask for help. Ask someone to review your writing with an eye for ways to simplify and condense while maintaining the essence of what you are seeking to convey. As Robert Heinlein said, “The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.”
  4. Think before you speak. Sounds simple, but the failure to do so can result in a rambling phrase that does nothing but give evidence of a rambling mind.
  5. Be more considerate of others’ time. Time is a precious commodity and circumlocution reduces productivity more than any other cause.
  6. Learn from the masters. Many people are accomplished in the art of brevity. Experts come in many shapes and sizes, some were educated by others, while many were self-taught. Whatever road they took to get there, listen carefully, appreciate their skill and share what you’ve learned with those in your world.
  7. Resist the temptation to use a long word when a diminutive one is available. Mark Twain explained: “I never write metropolis for seven cents when I can get the same price for city. I never write policeman when I can get the same money for cop.”

Have a wonderful week, my friends!


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