The Best Gift I Can Give

During the Christmas season, I am generally a scrooge. Not surprisingly, I loathe shopping malls where the almighty god of commercialization is most worshipped. This past weekend, I was at a mall in Metro-Detroit – a suburban sprawl which requires a 30-minute commute to seemingly every destination. This mall was packed to the gills, and I felt like a human bumper cart weaving in and out of overpriced clothing stores. Me being me, I ranted to Christina the whole time about how stupid it all was and how I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over. My wife is the opposite of my curmudgeon self; her ideal world would probably be the one located inside a snowflake where celebrations occur for maxed-out credit cards – Whoville. After a few grumpy rants, Christina started to deter my negativity with every woman’s rationalization for the holidays…

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Me – “What is the point of buying all these gifts that no one needs?! I can’t wait till the 26th.”

Christina – “MY LOVE (not said in a loving way) stop being an old man. Christmas is all about tradition and celebrating family.”

Me – “Why can’t we just celebrate family without all the gifts? It just makes us materialistic.”

Christina – “We have to give gifts because God gave us the gift of baby Jesus. That is why we need to stand in line for an hour at Pandora and buy a $100 charm. And if you don’t shut up I am going to buy some gifts at that new vegetarian make-up store that doesn’t believe in “sales.”

Me – “Alright, I’ll stop. Maybe we can find a “What Would Jesus Do” charm?”

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This conversation is a microcosm of the American Christmas experience. That is why I wanted to write this blog about the reason for the season. Jesus is indeed a forgotten figure during this time, and I thought it would be fun to juxtapose some of His philosophy with the philosophy in my most recent classic The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Prince is a how-to guide to being a powerful and successful monarch during the 1500’s. Although the book is old, it has many sad truths about how politicians can climb the career ladder – the term “Machiavellian” is defined as…

cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one’s career.

Essentially, Machiavelli makes the point that a Prince needs to be ready at any time for battle…

“A prince should therefore have no other aim or thought, nor take up any other thing for his study; but war and its organisation and disciplice, for that is the only art that is necessary to one who commands…”

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 A key component in the battle of politics is to know when to be good and when to be evil…

“Therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.”

This advice sadly has a lot of relevance today for politicians and government officials. Put in another way, one must appear in public as an angel and in private as a demon – sounds like a House of Cards episode.

The advice of the Earthly Prince must be juxtaposed with the Heavenly Prince of Jesus. Jesus said that…

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:27-30
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Humility and generosity should be the most common tools of today’s leaders. Aggression, deceit, and pride all help individuals reach temporary power – shortsightedly killing the goose to get the golden egg. Leadership depends on relationships and relationships depend on some degree of love.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
So this Christmas let’s give each other the gift of mercy. Let’s be more patient with each other. Let’s be more empathetic with each other. Let’s be more honest with each other. The material gifts on the 25th will eventually fade away, but the rewards of virtue will make you feel like royalty throughout the rest of the year.
Merry Christmas Everyone

Small Steps = Big Success

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.

-Jim Rohn

What is the key to accomplishing all your goals in life? It is simple, small steps repeated day in and day out leads to success. Whatever you wish to accomplish can be achieved by just small actions on a regular basis. Think about your goal. Is it to lose weight? Become stronger? Write more? Master the guitar? Learn something knew? Be more social? Be less material? Whatever the goal, there are usually things we do to set ourselves up for failure. Below are the top 3 reasons we fail at our goals.

  1. Wrong motivation: We take up a goal not for the betterment of ourselves but for bettering people’s image of ourselves. The motivation should come from intrinsic desires not extrinsic. Ask yourself this one question: Would I still pursue this goal if no one but me could see/acknowledge its completion? For example, would you still want to hike the Appalachian Trail if you had to keep it a secret for the rest of your life?
  2. Too grandiose: Do you have a weird pear shape and think that you can workout enough to look like a celebrity? Are you extremely introverted and want to have 20 close friends? Sometimes we need to be realistic with our goals and not set the bar too high. It is always good to better ourselves but don’t forget that we are all unique and do not possess all the same abilities and talents. The perfect goal is one that pushes us enough to progress and shoot for the stars that are realistically within our reach.
  3. Too impatient: It is easy for us to expect results from our goals immediately. I remember picking up weights for the first time and after a week wondering why I didn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Make intermittent-measurable steps for your goals so that small wins can snowball into big victories overtime. There is a reason why most people are overweight-uneducated-couch potatoes; it is easy. Bettering yourself is hard and it takes a crap ton of time. Don’t expect quick results, look at all your goals as marathons-not sprints.

So what are your goals? Did you make some goals back in January that are currently gathering dust? Whatever you wish to accomplish try these three steps.

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes a day towards your goal.
  2. Write your goal down and place it somewhere you and others can read it.
  3. Make a small event that can measure your progress

So what does this look like? I am trying to play my guitar again and it is not easy. I love  it when I have mastered a song but the process of learning chords and notes is painful. Hence, I have made the goal of playing at least 30 minutes a day, writing down the song I am currently learning, and setting a date for recording it on my video camera. I am far from perfect in achieving my goals but writing about them helps me and will hopefully help you also.

The Human Paradox

How does philosophy and marine biology relate? This question was answered, to my surprise, by John Steinbeck in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck is my favorite author and my college roommate, Chris O’Brien, recommended that I read this quite eclectic memoir. The memoir is a true account of Steinbeck, his marine-biologist friend, and a boat crew who took a 6-week journey around the Baja California Peninsula to collect marine animals from tidal zones. I was not expecting this type of book from Steinbeck and I had no idea he had interests in tiny invertebrates with obscure Latin names. Steinbeck is first and foremost a philosopher and he uses storytelling to translate his worldviews-obviously seen in his most famous works. What I loved most about The Log from the Sea of Cortez, was that Steinbeck took a quite banal subject of collecting samples of invertebrates and related it to philosophical thoughts on human behavior.

There is a strange duality in the human which makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and of bad; not changing things, but generally considered good and bad throughout the ages and throughout the species. Of the good, we think always of wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of society, the so-called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstones of success. A man—a viewing-point man—while he will love the abstract good qualities and detest the abstract bad, will nevertheless envy and admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, and hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. When such a viewing-point man thinks of Jesus or St. Augustine or Socrates he regards them with love because they are the symbols of the good he admires, and he hates the symbols of the bad. But actually he would rather be successful than good. In an animal other than man we would replace the term ‘good’ with ‘weak survival quotient’ and the term ‘bad’ with ‘strong survival quotient.’ Thus, man in his thinking or reverie status admires the progression toward extinction, but in the unthinking stimulus which really activates him he tends toward survival. Perhaps no other animal is so torn between alternatives. Man might be described fairly adequately, if simply, as a two-legged paradox. He has never become accustomed to the tragic miracle of consciousness. Perhaps, as has been suggested, his species is not set, has not jelled, but is still in a state of becoming, bound by his physical memories to a past of struggle and survival, limited in his futures by the uneasiness of thought and consciousness. (pg 80 para 2).

We are in constant battle within ourselves when it comes to survival and morals. Sadly, our society uplifts the pursuit of money, status, and selfishness while the pursuit of consciousness is only given credence when it benefits the latter pursuits. Which child would parents brag about most? One who grows up to have a high-paying career but luke-warm ethics or a child who grows up to have a low-paying career but strong ethics. Humans, in a sense, were taken out of the primordial oven before all of our consciousness was congealed. We have sentience but at the same time we have the survival instincts of a sea cucumber. The sins of survival are all around us; in the sense of personal survival there is the relentless pursuit of money and status; in the sense of generational survival their is the obsession with sex. The key to completing the “baking” process is being conscious of our limited consciousness. How can we gain consciousness? I believe it is best done by acquiring knowledge, learning from the mistakes of our ancestors, and looking at the world with an open perspective. Realize what you really need to survive—food, water, shelter, access to modern medicine, security—and once you have obtained those things focus your efforts on—”wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, and humility.” We will never reach perfection but at least we can point our feet in the right direction.