2006 Final Edition Vol. 6 Issue 6
A free Internet Newsletter publication for all CIM Alumni and friends.
A friend once told me that I think too much, implying that I’m only making things harder for myself because in the presence of even a minor problem, I would consider or at least wonder about the whys and the wherefores. I had to admit he was right but not in a sense that makes me worry unnecessarily but in a sense that I just want to learn anything there is to learn. I believe that whatever we’ve learned no matter how insignificant enhances our life. Thus over the years I have nurtured the attitude of learning like it's the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. It has slowly eliminated my disappointments and significantly reduced my frustrations. I’ve found out that with such attitude, any mistake I inadvertently make all too often leads to new discovery. And what could be more amazing than to discover something!
Just a month ago while digging and planting trees and shrubs with a mattock in our yard, I inadvertently hit and shattered a couple of PVC pipes of the underground sprinkler system. Years ago I would have stopped everything and cussed and cursed like a sailor, getting restless until someone could come and fix them. But with my eagerness to learn, I decided to try to fix them myself. It turned out that it’s actually easier to fix them than I thought. You don’t need a course in plumbing, and all you do is bring a piece of the pipe to a hardware store like Lowe’s and purchase a replacement, its connecting links and a PVC cement for a little more than five bucks total. Indeed it’s nothing significant, but it’s one of those little things you learn that make you feel confident. Now I don’t have to worry anymore about hitting any of the underground sprinkler pipes in our yard.
For many years, I used to want to learn only something that is big or significant, something impressive, something that would put me above others or give me the advantage over them, something I could show off or brag about, and ignore anything small even if I thought that it could later on be useful. I guess maturity got the better of me and I realized that it’s actually the little insignificant things that have a way irritating and frustrating many of us, like a leaking toilet, busted water pipes, door locks that don’t work properly, dead car battery, flat tire, etc., little things that we haven’t learned to fix or handle and thus we are forced to relinquish control to other people. It’s the loss of control – the feeling of helplessness because we don’t know what to do - that makes us frustrated, if not angry.
But what is aggravating is when these so called “little insignificant problems” happen on Friday evening and all too often offices are closed for the weekend and thus it’s hard to find somebody to fix them. One of these little things can easily become like a pinprick that has turned into a boil. Like a busted water pipe, for example, if you don’t even know where the main water control valve is located, you will have a flood in your house. Or if you don’t know how to fix a leaking toilet especially if you have a septic tank rather than a sewer system, that room will just have to stink the whole weekend. So you are likely to have a whole weekend of frustration. Then note that for every second of frustration, you take away a minute of happiness in your life. Figure out the amount of stress or unhappiness accumulated from those little things over the years and you’ll probably have a better idea why your blood pressure is running high. The song is right – “Little things mean a lot.”
Methods of learning
Through the years, I have developed the habit of wondering about events as to how they might affect my life and that of my family especially my children, and of reflecting on stories, movies, TV shows, legends, fables, etc. as to how they relate to real life. It has often led me to reflect on my actions and reactions, silences and outbursts as well as my experiences. Somehow I seem to understand myself better with it, and all too often I don't have to struggle to accept the choices I've made and surrender to the experiences they bring, pleasant or unpleasant. It has also helped me realize that other people's actions don't affect us unless we choose to let them, and that no words can really wound us unless we turn them into weapons. Indeed we do have conscious choices but oftentimes we allow our negative thoughts to dominate and thus we make choices based on these thoughts. So if we think what others say about us is hurtful even if it's not meant to be, then we have chosen to turn their words into weapons like a knife just to stab us. It's sad to say that too many of us don't realize that we have that kind of self-injurious behavior.
Many of what we call pain or hurt that is hurled to us by others is really learning. It's just that when our ego is hurt which is the one that is hurt almost all of the time, our pride stiffens us against change and keeps us from learning, from knowing and understanding ourselves better. You see, when we know and understand ourselves better, we tend to accept ourselves as we are and thus we don't have to struggle with denials. It's the knowledge of the self that brings a freedom to be, to act, to know, and to soar and connect beyond ourselves. Without knowledge of ourselves, we act and react in knee-jerk fashion, and then we blame others for our behaviors. As a result we leave the devastations of these actions and reactions for others to deal with and clean up. In any case, learning that brings about a change in our behavior will hurt. The price of wisdom is pain. The barrier of wisdom is pride. Take away the barrier, and the pain, if any, is nothing more than a pinprick, gone in 60 seconds. Yet the experience leaves us a little wiser if we reflect on it and learn something from it. But Mohandas Gandhi said: "Many could forego heavy meals, a full wardrobe, a fine house, etc; it is the ego they cannot forego."
Human being is the only living species that can transmit his store of knowledge from generation to generation; but such transmission requires the process of thought on our part as recipients. There are two different methods of learning – by memorizing and by understanding. The first involves the process of repetition like what we use to teach animals like dogs and parrots. The problem with this method when it comes to humans is that the knowledge we acquire is all too often temporary because our memory of a given subject has a way of vanishing within even a short period of time. The second method involves reflecting, questioning or wondering particularly about the whys and the wherefores, and then focusing on the content of a given subject, isolating its essential and integrating it with other related subjects. It’s like when you see a tree, you look for the forest. What you learn from this method stays in your mind for a long time if not forever, unless part of your brain responsible for cognitive function is destroyed either by trauma or diseases.
Like nature, life involves change. Change means growth, and growth is possible only with our willingness to learn. When we stop learning, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we start dying. It's because our desire and willingness to learn energize and enrich our life, rather than deplete and diminish it. Further, when we are learning something, we feel like we're spending our life to a purpose. We feel good about ourselves no matter our age, liking ourselves a little more. Then as we go on learning some more, we begin to understand that life thrives on options and possibilities, and what is called risk is really nothing more than that which is unsure. As Hillary Duff's song says, "In a moment, anything can change …." It's just a way of saying that the future, even the next moment, is uncertain so that if we don't take risks and act on our desires, we will never know the result. The result of our action would at least tell us to approach things differently. In not acting and thus not knowing the result, we have nowhere to proceed and nothing to go on. We become stagnant. As we all know from Microbiology, the next stage of stagnation is the stage of decline that starts the process of dying.
So as often as we can, we should stretch, expand, and puzzle our minds into new perceptions by acting on our plans and desires, reflecting on our experiences, and being open to what happens around us. We should not just limit the possibilities of our experiences by staying within our routines, protecting what we know and maintaining our status quo, while the world around us offers us myriads of possibilities for living that we do not even allow our senses to perceive. Whatever happens to us as a result of the action we take, we should call it progress, for everything we do involves risk and by taking risks, we push back our limits and expand our boundaries. If it's a change of behavior we want to act on, it must be preceded by a change of heart. If it's a journey toward personal fulfillment we want to achieve, we must expect and be ready to accept the stops and starts and ups and downs that would occur in that journey.
A Russian legend
One of the legends I read years ago that nagged my mind is about a Russian countess who was driven to the theater by her coach on a bitterly cold evening. To be sure that she wouldn’t have to wait afterward, she ordered the driver and footman to remain outside until she returned.
She cried during the play when a loyal servant was being mistreated by an uncaring lord. When the performance ended, it was snowing heavily outside and a small crowd had gathered around her carriage. She demanded to know what was going on. The driver fearfully told her that the old footman who had stayed with the coach as she ordered had frozen to death. The lady was appalled.
So how could a sensitive woman who cried at the plight of fictional characters be so callous and numbed about the comfort and safety of her own servants? This is a kind of story or legend that makes me think because it relates to real life.
There is what is called willful blindness in which people see only what they want to see and know what they want to know. This blindness afflicts many of us. We profess to have the principles of caring and respect and yet when we deal with people in our own lives, we ignore these principles and contradict ourselves. But what makes this blindness bad is when we continue to let it widen the gap between the standards we profess and the actions we perform. We lose sight of what our beliefs, values and principles are. We deprive our conscience with nourishments. Stephen R. Covey defines conscience as “our internal guidance system, which allows us to sense when we act or even contemplate acting in a way that’s contrary to principle.” When our conscience or guidance system is starved, we act as though our principles are unimportant and thus we ignore them. But principles are the backbones of our life. When we ignore or disregard them, we have nothing to stand on.
I have to admit that I was once badly afflicted by this so-called willful blindness many years ago. There is no question that most if not all parents want their children to be happy, self-confident and honest. Indeed as a parent it’s all I’ve ever wanted for my children. Yet like many parents, I once used to brutalize my children with relentless criticisms, and manipulate them with threats and guilt. Then I started looking into myself, probing my depths, questioning my thoughts, values and beliefs and thus asking how could my children or anyone’s children become self-confident by brutalizing them with destructive criticisms and manipulating them with uncalled-for threats and guilt? How could they be honest when I was confusing them by lying to my wife or lying on the phone, making excuses to someone for not having been able to come to their barbecue party and some other occasions, etc.? And how could they be happy when with just a minor disagreement, I fought with my wife and we yelled at each other in front of them? Yet I was so nice and gentle with other kids and other people. That’s when I realized that I was living in a world of contradictions. It’s like I was telling my children, “Don’t do what I do. Do what I say.” Yet I believed that children mainly learn from examples – what they witness, rather than what they are told.
Moral blind spots
Perhaps it’s cultural but for whatever reason, many of us take each other especially in the family for granted that all too often we ignore the principles we profess to have whatever they are. Like the principle of gratitude, for example. Suppose I ask you: “Have you thanked your spouses lately?” How many of us express our acknowledgement and appreciation or simply say “thank you” to our spouses, families and friends for having given us something no matter how little even if we don’t need it, or for having done something for us no matter how trivial even if we haven’t asked for it? Not too many, I reckon. Yet how many of us readily jump on our spouses and children, often firing critical comments for even minor mistakes they have committed, or nurture a grudge or resentment against our friends for something they did that we don’t like or something that hurt our fragile feelings even if it was not meant to be? Too many, I reckon.
Now how about when it comes to strangers and other people; how many of us are so accommodating, nice and gentle, and would readily ignore or rationalize their mistakes and eager to say “It’s okay” and “Thank you so much,” even for basically nothing? I know. We have our reasons to ignore our own spouses in particular. We feel awkward because we are not used to it, or our ego wants us to wait for who should start first. So, many of us are still waiting, waiting for our ego to make the move.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we often contradict ourselves mainly because we rarely reflect on our behaviors, let alone re-examine our values and beliefs in order to realize whether we are believing one way and behaving another so that we can have an idea that it might be time to change either our behavior or our belief. We want our children, for example, to become independent and yet even if they are already grown up or even married, many of us continue to impose on them our own ideas of what’s good for them. We insist on rationalizing that we know better because we are their parents. However, we believe in the notion that people are different; they see things differently and they have different tastes, likes and dislikes. Yet we seem to ignore the fact that our children are people too.
Like the Russian countess, we all have moral blind spots; some more, some bigger, and sad to say, many of us are not aware of them. For, it takes humility to detect these blind spots, and character to fix them. Building character involves the heart as well as the head. The goal is to make good thoughts and conduct a matter of habit. We’ve got to develop the habit of wanting what is good and right, and doing what is good and right. We should not just stand by or allow our mind to deceive us with negative thoughts and attitudes that are corrosive to our sense of well-being, but develop the habit, instead, of nurturing our conscience by getting into our inner lives with an honest heart, examining our beliefs, thoughts, actions and motives.
Anything that we repeatedly do becomes a habit. Thus every now and then we should stop and take a close look at the habits we have built during our lives, for these habits have much more influence over us than we would like to admit. The lovely fact about habits is that they can be changed. We built them. We can dismantle them.
So why not start building new habits - good habits to replace the bad ones - like praying for those you are jealous with, envy, hate or resent to bless them rather than keep hanging on to your grudges if any? Believe me. You may sound insincere in your prayers initially, but you’d be surprised that as you keep doing it, you would slowly start to feel that it really comes from within you, and would slowly feel like whatever envy, jealousy, grudge or resentment you have harbored has gradually dissipated. Isn’t that what we believe that God wants us to do – to love one another? After all, one should realize that dislikes and resentments – especially when nurtured, fertilized, and watered, can all grow into full-blossoming trees of hatred. And as Saying of the Fathers 2:15 says: “Your hatred of other men destroys your own soul.”
Now that the end is here for this newsletter, let me say thanks to all of you for letting me into your life the past five years through Brain Waves. I must confess that there were times when I was indulging on rationalization to quit writing, than to see my goal reached. But each time I thought of backing off, letting my commitment die, I realized that I would be opting for less than my desire, and I didn’t like it. After all, I feel blessed in being able to communicate with you even with the silence I get as a response, comment, or form of gratitude.
It’s been a wonderful five years of challenging experience that has changed many things in me that tremendously improve by ability to understand myself in particular. It has made me not just a strong person but a lot better person as a whole - intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and even physically. But if not for you, I would not have reached my goal to keep Brain Waves for five years which is what I had committed myself to do. If not for you, I would not have developed an analytical mind to sharpen my philosophical skill. If not for you, I would not have nurtured my creativity, shaped my whole brain thinking, and solidified my focus on doing what is good and right. If not for you, I would not have learned to harness my innate capabilities - the positive energy of the mind and the determination of the spirit.
All because of you, I have been able to break away from my old routines and create new ones. You might ask; “What have I done?” Well, just the thought of you reading what I have written even if you were actually not reading it, had been more than enough to push, probe and pull out the best in me. To be perfectly honest, there had always been a dark side to my nature. I had the predilection for sarcasm, cynicism and judgmentalism. Although there are still traces of them in me, they no longer just pop up without being put out immediately.
Believe me. If you think your friends and colleagues deserve nothing but the best, try as you might, you would do your best. And from that best, you’d learn something from everything, and discover something good about yourself you never thought you had. That’s what I had been doing the past five years – the best – all because I believe that every one of you deserves the best.
I have become more than I am, better than I was, and brighter than I used to be, all because of you. As a country song says, “Who I am now, is who I wanted to be.” And with my goal reached, I am now comfortable to say, “Farewell to Brain Waves."
Thank you all so much, and God bless.