HandlesFlowAndChaos


Do you think much about logic? There are probably folks who do but I suspect they constitute a very small minority. Even for the logic obsessed few, they probably limit their syllogism consumption to only a few a day for fear of overdosing. They fully appreciate Rabindranath Tagore’s warning, “A mind all logic is like a knife all blade.” No, I don’t think Tagore’s point for the knife all blade had anything to do with being sharp through and through, as appealing as that may be. I suspect he was more aligning with the “mind all logic” is not a great thing camp. We need a handle, a place to grab and hold. – Save that thought. We’ll need it in a bit.

Along with logic being something we can overdo, it is also something we can pursue too far. According to Samuel Butler, “If you follow reason far enough it always leads to conclusions that are contrary to reason.” I think his point may have better been made by suggesting pursuing logic too far can lead to the counter–intuitive; but I am quoting Samuel Butler here and who am I to nit pick? Logical thinking, unlike most regular thinking, is highly linear. It proceeds according to its own …, well, its own logic. Sure, logicians would tell us to go back and examine our premises if we trust our reasoning and still doubt the validity of our conclusions; but Butler had a point. We really can over–think things at times. We sometimes do well to just go with the flow. – Another thought to hold onto for a bit.

Most of us also tend to behave as if all questions have answers, all problems have solutions, and we can always figure things out if we are clever enough, smart enough, and persistent enough. The idea is anything less than full success reflects badly on us and means we just aren’t up to it. It’s sort of like when Oscar Levant observed, “She has the answer to everything and the solution to nothing.” Not having a solution has to be someone’s fault or we often behave as if that were true. Let’s accept as our premise, it isn’t necessarily that way. Sometimes logic and reason, brain power and being sharp, as desirable as they are, just don’t cut it. Things are as they are; what happens is what happens; and what will be really is what will be. A certain amount of chaos is merely a part of life and living.

I think we have established our premise. We need a handle to hold onto as we go with the flow through the chaos of our lives. Anything else is illogical, nay unreasonable.

Always pause to think things through.

That’s the logical thing to do.

But when logic fails and you just don’t know,

Hang on and go with the flow.

Habits Are The Very Dickens To Change


Samuel Johnson told us that the chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken; and John Dryden added that ill habits gather by unseen degrees — As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.

The truth of it is that Arnold Bennett got it right when he said that habits are the very dickens to change. Abigail Van Buren was also on point when she added that a bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo–it–yourself project. Of course Mark Twain was also there, egar to join in, “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Naturally, St. Augustine had a wise caution for us, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.;” and as we would expect, Mark Twain inserted his take here on putting too much stock in saints and wisdom, “To have nothing the matter with you and no habits is pretty tame, pretty colorless. It is just the way a saint feels, I reckon; it is at least the way he looks. I never could stand a saint.”

“Habit is a man’s sole comfort. We dislike doing without even unpleasant things to which we have become accustomed,” according to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. We already knew that habbits are sticky and not easily abandoned so aren’t surprised that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg added that habit might be described as a kind of moral friction — as something not allowing easy passage to the mind, but rather so binding it to things that to work loose from them is difficult. A Spanish Proverb puts it like this, “Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables;” and Horace Mann like this, “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.”

As much as there is to say on the side of giving up our bad habbits, Eng’s Principle advises that “The easier it is to do, the harder it is to change;” and bad habbits are definitly hard to change. At least mine are and I suspect yours are too, so we don’t want to stop short, without reminding ourselves that habbits are not without virtue. Frank Crane said that habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them, either. They keep you. Well that may not be quite the virtue we had in mind so let’s leave it with this from William James, “Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

Now you know so there you go.

GutsImaginationAndBlogging


Starting a post with a quotation or some other wise saying seems to help break the ice or since I am into clichés, it more likely is merely priming the creativity pump. Either way, a quote from Sylvia Plath struck me as useful for my present purpose, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self–doubt.”

Before using the quote, I thought a refresher on Sylvia Plath might add to the pump priming so in came Wikipedia to fill the need. Just search for Ms. Plath to find her life story or at least the Wikipedia version of her life story. The story is too intense and far too sad to tell here but think Fulbright scholarship, Pulitzer Prize for poetry, novelist, poet, controversial writer, and getting her own stamp from the Post Office next year. If she said it (and she did) it’s true enough for me, “…everything in life is writable about….”

This certainly opens a world of possibilities and opportunities. Now all that is needed are, “…the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.” There you go, guts and imagination. That does reduce the challenge to rather simple terms. It surely helps to be brilliant and gifted as a serendipitous bonus but guts and imagination may be doable for most of us even if Pulitzer Prizes and our own stamp are not in the cards. We need only keep self–doubt arrested and far off our creative path.

Writing for the ages like Shakespeare or being as clever as Ogden Nash,

Would pretty well guarantee the conversion of your writing to cash.

But if guts and imagination are mostly what you’re about,

Remember the words of Sylvia Plath as you keep all self–doubt out.

Gossiping And Apple Pie


Gossiping & Apple Pie

“I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.” –– Benjamin Franklin

Do you really believe that Franklin didn’t get into a little gossiping now and then? Well, he actually only resolved to stick to the high road. He didn’t promise to do it. That’s just as well, since he didn’t have much trust in anyone. For example, he said, “If you would keep your secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend;” and “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” It’s little wonder that he liked to play it close to the vest when it came to other people. Speaking ill of no man, excusing faults, and speaking all the good he knew was a very clever way to avoid becoming the focus of others’ gossip. Franklin may have picked up the strategy from Virgil who said, “Fama, malum quo non aliud velocius ullum, mobilitate viget, viresque acquirit eundo.” If you are a tad rusty with your Latin, that means, “Report, that which no evil thing of any kind is more swift, increases with travel and gains strength by its progress.”

With authorities the like of Virgil and Franklin admonishing you not to gossip, it’s in your interest to know as much as you can about gossiping and gossips. For instance, Walter Winchell clarified one of the gossip’s core strategies when he said, “Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.” The super stars pursue their art through inference and innuendo, not facts or plain talk. Bertrand Russell added his two cents worth with, “No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.” When it comes to gossiping, if you don’t have something good to say, it’s your turn.

Of course, Virgil and Franklin aren’t the only high road folks who advised against gossiping. Edward Wallis Hoch said, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.” If that weren’t the final word on it, a Jewish proverb says, “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.” No, that’s still not the end of the unsolicited advice. A Chinese proverb says, “What is told in the ear of a man is often heard 100 miles away;” and a Spanish proverb says, “Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” All of the high road wisdom not withstanding, don’t forget what Wendell Phillips knew to be true, “The Puritan’s idea of hell is a place where everybody has to mind his own business.”

An Apple Pie From Scratch

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” –– Carl Sagan

Now there is a humbling thought. It does tend to put a damper on one’s ego quotient, doesn’t it? Invention and creation are far less original than they are typically represented as being. Alexander Graham Bell certainly understood this, “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself.” Henry Ford got it too, “I invented nothing new. I simply combined the inventions of others into a car.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson explained how invention and creation actually work, “Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor.” The essence of the principle was captured by Auguste Rodin, “I invent nothing. I rediscover;” and what may rank as the first corollary was suggested by Jonathan Swift, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” The converse of Swift’s corollary was offered by the famous Anon., “Don’t expect anything original from an echo.”

The take home point is that inventions, creations, and discoveries aren’t themselves unique or original. They are merely the objects or outcomes. Creation is in thinking what nobody else has thought.

Robertson Davies said, “Although there may be nothing new under the sun, what is old is new to us and so rich and astonishing that we never tire of it. If we do tire of it, if we lose our curiosity, we have lost something of infinite value, because to a high degree it is curiosity that gives meaning and savor to life.” Curiosity ignites imagination; and imagination in turn fuels the fire of creation. What then is this fire, this imagination? Peter Nivio Zarlenga’s words hold the answer, “I am imagination. I can see what the eyes cannot see. I can hear what the ears cannot hear. I can feel what the heart cannot feel.” Dr. Seuss’ advice is a fitting, concluding message for all who create, from universes to apple pies. “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

You may now be asking what Gossiping & Apple Pie have to do with each other. Actually, I doubt that they have anything to do with each other; but perhaps you will see a connection, if only you Think left and think right and think low and think high. It’s merely your opportunity to pursue.

. . . . .

Benjamin Franklin said, “I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth…;” and Carl Sagan said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” You may reasonably ask what Gossiping & Apple Pie have to do with each other. Whether this article answers that pressing question is your call. However, it does raise some interesting points, even if the connection is less than obvious.

GiveInOrDigIn


            You’ve probably heard the advice that tells us that we have to go along to get along. Much of the time, if it’s not altogether true, it’s at least convenient. Christopher Morley puts it like this, “Lots of times you have to pretend to join a parade in which you’re not really interested in order to get where you’re going.”

We have our individual goals and agenda, but much of the time, prioritizing our personal interests requires too much effort or may actually be counterproductive. Michael Korda is on point when he advises, “The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by other people’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.”

The truth here not withstanding, there is a very real danger. On the one hand, we run the risk of becoming so accustomed to fitting in that we passively subordinate our goals and agenda to the will and wishes of others; or on the other hand, we are so intent on guarding our individuality that we become inappropriately rigid and inflexible. Finding the middle ground is difficult, and staying on that middle ground is even more challenging.

Bill Veeck tells us what is needed, “I try not to break the rules, but merely to test their elasticity.” Nonetheless, for most of us, the trip from knowing to doing is frequently less than smooth. At this point, I think most of us either give up and go along or dig in and side with Bill Watterson’s choice, “From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.” As tempting as either alternative may be, experience tells me that the middle ground is still the place to be.

How do you think this works as a helpful way of understanding the middle ground between giving in and digging in? “I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.” Fritz Perls’ perspective on the middle ground is one that I personally find helpful. I’m comfortable going along so long as I experience other people’s expectations as compatible with or at least not incompatible with mine. However, if I experience those expectations as incompatible, passively going along is no longer an option for me.

Saying this is easy, but deciding to dig in and then doing it is not always easy and can be down right risky at times. Doctor SunWolf knows the truth of it, “Sooner or later, you will need the courage to be disliked,” or perhaps the courage to accept even more harsh consequences. There is a cost to giving in and going along, but perhaps an even higher cost to digging in. The dilemma is in understanding the cost and benefits of both choices and then living with your choice.