Ask the Right Questions

13 07 2017

“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” (Anthony Robbins)

I once asked one of the pupils of the late Dr. Edwin Friedman why his teacher was so effective as a Family Therapist.  His answer was telling.

“Ed Friedman was a rabbi.  And rabbis tend to deal in questions rather than answers.  I like to ask questions because they lead to better questions.”

One of the secrets of life is to ask the right questions of life, of people, of literature.  It’s known that one secret to successful comprehension of a book is that one must ask the right questions of the book.  You don’t ask of a science text, say A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking), what you would of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

Here are some helpful questions you should be asking yourself:

  • What do I really want from my life? Corollary is do I know what it is to want versus having a passing interest in a thing?
  • Who do I spend the most time with? And is this helping me or hurting me? “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn)
  • Am I simply going with the flow of interest and information that floods the news and social media? Or do I take the time to get to the truth and separate as much fact, fiction and bias as I can?

There are other questions.  These will get us started.  More in the coming blogs.

 

Suggested Resources:

Friedman’s Fables (Edwin H. Friedman)

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren)

http://sourcesofinsight.com/day-20-ask-better-questions-get-better-results/

 

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Ray Bradbury On the Joy of Writing

3 07 2017

“You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. And then your public reads you and it begins to gather around…The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me — so that means, every day of my life, I’ve written. When the joy stops, I’ll stop writing.”

Suggested Resources:

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity (Ray Bradbury)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)

 

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Deadlines Are Your Friends

30 06 2017

“No one owes you a reading.”

Ralph McInerny, late Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, had a problem.  It was early 1964.  He had a growing family.  He had just purchased a house and found his teaching income from Notre Dame and a branch of Indiana University in South Bend was not enough to make ends meet.  “We…were overextended.”  What to do?

Ralph loved writing and usually wrote short stories for the magazines.  But he would get them rejected time and again.  He was thirty-four and decided to get serious.  He did so by setting a one year deadline.

“I decided that I would write for commercial markets, not just sporadically, but determinedly, every day, and keep at it for a year, after which if I had not sold anything I would admit to myself that I was not really a writer.”

That deadline forced Ralph to hone his craft within a specific time-frame.  His method caused him to focus, sleep less, make do with what space he could commandeer in the new house.  He put his family and teaching career first.  His writing would come after hours, having fulfilled his primary duties as husband, father and provider.

He set up a writing space on an old workbench in his basement.  He taped the sentence at the top of this post on the wall above the bench, a reminder of the need to keep pecking away at his typewriter and master the skill of creating an interesting story.  “No one owes you a reading.”

For the next year, from 10 at night until 2 in the morning, Ralph wrote.  And wrote.  And shipped product.  And continued writing.  And continued mailing manuscripts.  Eventually he learned what a story is and isn’t, where to cut fat that did not serve the story, the basics of plot, intriguing characters, etc. In short, the kind of writing that keeps readers coming back for more.

This one year deadline and the pressure of not being able to make ends meet served Ralph well.  He began selling stories and generating income.  His after-hours work on his second career was a good example of what in self-development circles is called “working the margins.”  You work during the day at your primary job but you use the time you have after work and obligations are met to develop your other vocation and, hopefully, earn extra income.

Ralph passed away in 2010.  He taught over half a century at Notre Dame, but he’s probably best known for his Father Dowling mysteries.  He wrote many other novels and philosophical works but he made his bread and butter writing mysteries.  And all because he set a one year deadline in his thirties and kept to it.

Questions:

  • How have deadlines forced you to stretch and develop in a way you could not have done otherwise?
  • Have you ever set a clearly defined goal with a time limit for its fulfillment?
  • Have you experienced the satisfaction of meeting deadlines that were set by your boss, noting how it showed you that you were capable of more than you believed?

Suggested Reading:

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life and Pastimes (Ralph McInerny)

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen)

 

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What Lights You Up?

22 04 2014

Enjoying the sunWhat lights a fire in your gut? And no, we’re not talking about indigestion from too much Thai cuisine last night.  What drives you to get out of your comfort zone and set off into the dangerous unknown?  What is that inward power, that energy that gets a man or a woman out of their seats and into action–the kind of action that protects life and brings lasting change and good to society?  Where does that kind of heat come from?

The ancient Greeks had very rich languages and dialects.  Greek is a lot like math with its precision.  Many of us are familiar with the many Greek words for love, one of the most common and oft-misunderstood words we use.  Storge.  Phileo.  Agape.  And, of course, eros.  These words talk about the various manifestations of love.

They also gave us the word thumos.  Doctors and nurses will recognize its kinship with thymus, one of the organs in our immune system.  It is not a common word when used in the world of biblical studies—an area very important to many of us.

Thumos may be described as “an inner fire that motivates action.”  It is used of the soul, but, unlike psuche—from which we get words like “psychology”—it describes the soul with a fire lit under its seat.  It is protective by nature.

I first came into contact with writer Paul Coughlin a few years back.  His book No More Christian Nice Guy radically took apart my idea of virtue, namely, that being nice and being good are not necessarily the same thing.  Jesus is the embodiment of goodness.  But he wasn’t always nice.  And He didn’t always play nicey-nice.  He would get into a lot of trouble today, upsetting the applecart.  Being good, rather than just nice, has a way of doing that.

Thumos is the fire, the motivation that enabled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to champion civil rights—a fight that ended in his death.  It enabled Martin Luther to challenge a corrupt and ossifying Church with the need of reform.  It enables people to defend those who are bullied.  It is that intangible quality that stimulates action—change of behaviour—not simply a change in an intellectual position, a modified idea.  It’s what pushes Popeye to say, “That’s alls I can take; I can’t takes it no more.”  Then out comes the spinach, the muscle and the bad guys are put in their place.

So….how’s your thumos level today?  That fire inside your gut?

Listen to it.  It has something important to tell you.

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Every Human Being A Miracle

19 10 2013

Human Beings Are MiraclesEvery human being who is now, will be or ever has been is a miracle.  The co-workers, family members and friends with whom you trafficked today are, every one of them, wonders beyond belief.  We are all—regardless of color, creed or cult—made in the image of God.  There is no such thing as an ordinary person.

C.S. Lewis, writing in his essay “The Weight of Glory” says this, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Our society, especially here in the West, is enamored of celebrity.  I don’t quite know how to account for it.  Perhaps it is, in some weird way, a seeking after God, power embodied in fame.  The Kardashian sisters are lovely women but they are no more a miracle than your boss, the clerk at the store down the street or your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart greeter.

Ask yourself this one question:  “How do I treat those who have absolutely nothing by which I can, knowingly, be benefited?”

Tomorrow, when you stop by the gas station on the way to work, remember you are looking into the eyes of creatures made a little lower than the angels, indeed a little lower than God (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7).

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Influences and Inspiration

9 10 2013

Influences and InspirationsI read an interesting article some time ago about Viggo Mortensen and his influences.  Viggo is an actor of no mean accomplishment and a Watertown native.  He spent a number of his growing up years here in the North Country.  People who frequent neighboring Clayton see him from time to time as he comes back to visit family.

The article was not so much commentary as it was comprehensive lists.  Being a list junkie, I found it fascinating and invigorating.  You can read about it here.

I heard a wise speaker remark once that we are all composites of the people who influence our lives, whether directly or through their work.  I resonated with this observation and it helped put to bed the nagging urge to “be an original.”

So I thought I would list some of my own, collected over forty-eight years.  I’d be interested in yours if you choose to comment.

Guitarists:  Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, David Russell, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton, Ted Nugent, Paul O’Dette (lute), Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Slash, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Joe Fava, Konrad Ragossnig (lute), Tommy Emmanuel, David Gilmour, Rick Foster, Angel Romero, Wes Montgomery, Jacob Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anthony Phillips.  And many more.

Music, Artists, Performing Arts: Dan Fogelberg, Keith Green, Richard Souther, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Paul Clark, The Beatles, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Donovan, Honeytree, Sara Groves, Vineyard Music, Maranatha Music, Hillsong Music, James Taylor, Larry Norman, John Michael Talbot, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Jethro Tull, Randy Stonehill, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Kemper Crabb, Lamb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Michael Bublé, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Twila Paris, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Card, Miles Davis, Bob Bennett, Twyla Tharp, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Brian Doerksen, Debby Boone, Kenny G, Norah Jones, Diana Panton, Andrea Bocelli, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Jascha Heifetz, Glenn Gould, Malcolm & Alwyn, Phil Ramone.  And many more.

Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Gaspar Sanz, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Erik Satie, G.F. Handel, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Jimmy Webb, Francesco Da Milano, Henry Purcell, Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky, Harry Gregson-Williams, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Michael Praetorius, Joaquin Rodrigo, Antonin Dvorak, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Jerry Goldsmith, Rachel Portman, Felix Mendelsohn, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Mychael Danna, Stephen Schwartz, George Gershwin. And many more.

Film: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Steve McQueen, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Zandt, Jim Caviezel, Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola.  And many more.

Writers: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Eugene Peterson, Morris West, C. S. Lewis, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Will & Ariel Durant, Viktor Frankl, Chaim Potok, Ralph McInerny, M. Scott Peck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael D. O’Brien, William Manchester, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, Leo Tolstoy, Randy Alcorn, Joel Rosenberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Sol Stein, Mitch Albom, Mortimer Adler, Will Strunk & E.B. White.  And many more.

Leadership and Self-Development:  Jim Rohn, Peter Drucker, Michael Gelb, John Maxwell, J. Oswald Sanders, Jack Canfield, Dean Karnazes, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Warren Bennis, David Schwartz, Zig Ziglar, Warren Bennis. And a few more.

Politics and Economics:  George Will, Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Ronald Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, John F. Kennedy, George Schultz, Thomas Sowell.  And a few more.

Science and Technology:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, E.F. Codd, Stephen Hawking.  And a few more.

Enough for now.  Who inspires you in your talents, work, avocation, and hobbies?

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Learn A Language Fast (It Can Be Done)

7 10 2013

LanguageI studied the French language for six years.  Four years in high school; two in college.  I’ve always been fascinated by language, symbols essentially for concepts.  The sounds of different tongues are color and music to my ears.

In my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to meet and interact every day with two foreign-exchange students from Europe who were fellow classmates in my French IV class.  Joachim hailed from West Germany (this, of course, before the Berlin Wall fell) and Bo from Sweden.

Given the close proximity of one country to another, most Europeans are, out of necessity, polyglots.  Both of my classmates could speak numerous languages.  It was inspiring, to say the least.

There are benefits to learning languages other than your native tongue.  You can communicate with those from another country and you can read classics, newspapers and other works that are not English.  Someone once said that reading Tolstoy in translation is like kissing through a veil.  You get the picture.

I read somewhere, once upon a time, how Near Eastern scholar Cyrus Gordon learned a number of foreign languages during the course of a summer.  He said–and he learned over twenty languages throughout his life–that if you took any book in a language other than your own, read the first twenty pages of the same and took the time to up the meaning and grammar of every word, you could have a reading knowledge of that particular language in short order.  During one summer, he mastered six languages by simply giving an hour a day to each following this study pattern.  Among them, he learned Portugese and Danish.

How about adding new language skills to your tool chest?  My eldest daughter Anna–who studied French for two years in high school–is now living in the south of France and has immersed herself in the language of Voltaire and Émile Zola.  She’s become quite conversant in it and can interact with people in places like Paris and Lyons.

You may follow Gordon’s study program.  Or you may benefit from the TED talk in the video I’ve attached.  Try it!

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