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Friday, January 20, 2017

A Few Scattered Thoughts on Inauguration Day

Jan 20, 2017

Hello, Readers. If you’ve come to me for some insight into our country’s future, I got nuthin’. Ok, not entirely true. Maybe because it’s my name, I do have hope. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s hope, right? One step forward, two steps back? Cannot go there. This election may be one step back, but, as ass-backward a way to move forward as that little dance may be, it is still moving forward.  As I said to the college student over lunch at Psychedelicatessen in Troy, I can’t say there’s a time in the past I would like to return to. Unless it would be 2015, so we could redo the primaries. But era-wise, no thank you. I mean, c’mon, surely the existence of a bagel, sandwich, and coffee shop called Psychedelicatessen represents progress. Peace, love, acid, and bagels all mixed together and mainstream? 

If you’ve come to me for some solid tips for success, I got none of those either. But I do have a story. A little one. Last week I spoke to a woman I know whose granddaughter was going to participate in Miss Teen New York. Her granddaughter has been going on the pageant circuit. She’s been Miss Altamont several times and won many local and small, regional awards. Anyway, it’s a whole scene, the pageant scene, full of hairstylists and wardrobe people and make-up and photography and entry fees and accomations, all of it very expensive. This girl, who’s about to turn 18 made it to the state level. She earned all the money herself through hard work and GoFundMe and you name it. This week, I asked how the pageant went. Well, she didn’t make it to the finals. She was devastated. All that money and time she had spent came to nothing. 

But at least she learned something, said grandma.

Yes, she learned a lot. She learned how to set a goal, how to go about achieving it, how to take on a challenge. She also learned a lot about performance, dress, and self-presentation, as well as a bit about a particular industry. The outcome was not in her control, but she took control of the process and propelled herself as far as she could. Last, she learned how to handle disappointment. 

Which means, of course, going into a depression and getting therapy. 

No? Not always? Of course not, people! It means you put on that Chumbawumba song, pull out the inspirational quotations and get back up again. 

Maybe you follow my example and pull out the little foil package your sister-in-law gave you for Christmas, the little foil package containing a Korean face mask. You do this because you’re curious, and because you don’t want to wait for a special occasion to spruce up the ‘ole face. You figure any day’s a good enough day to try out this special face mask. 

Definitely didn't expect an actual mask!

If you’ve come to me for frivolity, then you are in luck. Because aside from working on my memoir, I’ve been busy with other things. Like watching “Auntie Mame” with the college student. Her suggestion, which was surprising in a way, since the whole family quotes from the movie quite often, and her father (the husband) and I do so almost daily. “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death,” is Mame’s motto. She’s clearly referring to Epictetus, mentioned in this post. For Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher living in the Roman Empire said, “Remember that in life you ought to behave as at a banquet. Suppose that something is carried round and is opposite to you. Stretch out your hand and take a portion with decency.” 

Thought. Auntie Mame, by the way, also abhored bigotry, racism, and anti-semitism. Even if she was a member of the East Coast Liberal Elite. Or especially because she was a member of it. Auntie Mame, in fact, is a fiction based on a man - Patrick Dennis - as anyone who has read Uncle Mame knows. 

Okay. Thought. 
Hate the system, not the person. 
Remember Rump is a product of our system. We have to change the system if we want to prevent Rump and future Rumps. 

The husband is reading a three volume biography of Winston Churchill. At some point early in Churchill’s career, he met with Bourke Cockran, an Irish American lawyer and congressman in the “Tammany Wigwam.” I am in no position to tell you anything about the Tammany Wigwam. I will have to ask the husband at a later date. At the writing of this post, he was dictating the following terrific and inspiring quotation to me:

In a society where there is democratic tolerance and freedom under the law, many kinds of evils will crop up, but give them a little time and they usually breed their own cure. 

Thought. I don’t know if Bourke Cockran, being part of Tammany Hall, might have been speaking about himself - I’m guessing the Wigwam was an anti-corruption unit of that corrupt institution, but that is just a guess - but Winston Churchill made note of it. He found it wise, and if Winston Churchill found it wise, I will hang my hope upon it. I encourage you to do so, too. 

Got my game face on. Let's march!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

This Week's News

I have been massaging kale. That's my first piece of news. 

I know, kale is over. The kale bandwagon rounded the corner months ago, with its cargo of green smoothies and super food Caesar salads trundling out of sight. Kale is over, but I don’t care. I’m not a trend-setter. I’ve only just begun massaging it. I don’t really like massaging things, but kale takes some massaging to make it good. Or goodish. Honestly, why the fuss over kale? It’s kind of bland. Stiff and bland when fresh, slightly broken down and still bland, but a little salty, after massage. Kind of like me, actually.

[Every day in every way, gosh darn it....I like myself, gosh darn it. I’m as good as kale, gosh darn it.] 

So, yes, gosh darn it, I have been massaging kale, and then dressing it in a pomegranate-based dressing. How dated. How 2016. How like a different era.

Perhaps that’s why I like massaging kale, Readers. Kale takes me back to a different era. Afterwords, I relax by re-watching a movie set in a different era. Like “Sense and Sensibility,” with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant and Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton. It’s so nice to lounge on the couch and watch people observe social norms and have things work out so very, very well in the end. As I told the husband, all that is required is for one of the characters to come down with a very bad cold, also known as a “putrid throat,” and then things have a way of working themselves out.

Never mind that Emma and Hugh were far too old for their parts - they played them beautifully. And perhaps it was better they were older, because watching mere children fall in love and have putrid throats might come across as a wee bit implausible, given our current views on the marrying age. I mean the marrying age among my set. Or bubble. The marrying age in my bubble is higher than it is in other parts of the country. In other bubbles. And higher than it was back in Jane Austen’s bubble. Oh, that gorgeous wedding scene with the magnificent, decorated cake on a beribboned stick makes for just the sort of inaugural celebration I like. Never mind that what comes after the wedding is never Jane Austen’s concern. I don’t need to bother with it, either. 

Did you know that inhabitants of Las Vegas consume 60,000 thousand pounds of shrimp per day? I do, thanks to Calvin Trillin’s amusing musing on the topic in The New Yorker.* I love Calvin Trillin. I’d like to be as clever as he - and published in The New Yorker

The husband read Trillin’s piece out loud. This is news because I don’t like to be read aloud to. I like to do the reading aloud. But he did it really well. All that shrimp. My, my. It made me feel better, that article. Not because of the shrimp. I’m not a big fan of shrimp. But that Calvin Trillin had to devote so much insomnia to those shrimp. Yes, it made me feel better to know I have not been alone, awake at four a.m., trying to think of my shrimp equivalent. 

In other news, I watched, “Singin’ In the Rain” with the college student. Her idea, not mine, I swear. It did fit my agenda, however, to disappear into another era. I spent a lot of time thinking about how bad I would look in all those flapper clothes. But I do like a sparkle, a silk, a faux fur.  And, lo and behold, things worked out for Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden, and the bad gal gets her comeuppance. She’s not a classy dame, and she gets hers. 

Yeah, that’s a feel-good film.  

A last update: I read Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo. I won’t spoil it for you by saying that there are a lot of underachievers in the book. If you know Russo, you know he specializes in the second rate denizens of second rate towns. In this book, a sequel to Nobody’s Fool, which came out in the 1990s, both of the main characters spend a lot of time thinking about how their 8th grade English teacher nagged at them. Since they’re from a small town, they interact with her throughout their lives.  Or throughout hers. She's dead when Everybody's Fool opens. She, Miss Beryl, nagged Raymer by asking him who he really was. She nagged Sully by asking if he didn’t ever feel bad that he hadn’t done more with his life. Despite the double negative, the message is clear. She saw potential in him and felt frustrated that he didn’t seem to want to fulfill it. And he, now 70, thinks about that. He realizes that yes, sometimes, he does feel bad about it. But most of the time he doesn’t. That may not be all right with Miss Beryl, but ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Sully accepts himself. Unlike Raymer, he has some idea of who he is. He may not think much of himself, or ask much of himself, but he’s all right. I’m not like Sully, but perhaps I’d be better off if I were. 

Well, Readers, that’s all the news for now. I wish you a happy week. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Spanx, Stoicism, and Success

Today, Readers, I would like to discuss Spanx. Spanx, in case you don’t know it, are modern girdles. Sure, they call them something different, something a little more euphemistic than “girdles.” Girdles got a bad rap and “went out” with Women’s Lib. Feminists don’t wear girdles. They wear Spanx, a.k.a. body shapers and smoothers. Although, come to think of it, “girdle” originally was something Athena might have worn around her hips to hold her tools or her keys. Girdle didn’t imply constriction originally; eventually, however, by the mid Twentieth Century, the term meant gut holding thing made of elastic. Today’s girdles, called Spanx, lack the erotic allure of the girdle and stockings, but they do suggest sadomasochism. Which is a fitting implication. Whatever they imply, they sure are efficacious. If by efficacious you mean they work well. And if by work well you mean push your loose flesh up and into various positions of smoothness. And if by “you” I mean “I” or “me.” Which I do. 

Now Spanx have been around for a good decade or longer by now. I think perhaps they date back to Girl Power. Or is that Grrrrl Power? Ironic tone intended. In any case, I have purchased the Spanx brief or two over the years, mostly when I was at a time of life - or let’s be honest, of body shape - that didn’t really require them. They worked well. But, Readers, I recently purchased a new pair of Spanx pantyhose, and I think they have “improved” them even more. Now, there is a bewildering array available to encase every body part and even to enhance some. And they come in different strengths, too. 

Well, I was going to an event - a wedding - to which I was planning on wearing a clingy jersey dress. Artfully ruched, of course, since I am probably now “a woman of a certain age” - although I’m not certain, since no one has actually defined that age for me. Which would, of course, defeat the point of the phrase, no doubt. But still. So, when I asked at one of my favorite boutiques for advice about the best color of pantyhose I should wear and learned I didn’t possess it, I headed for the Spanx hose and bought myself a pair. 

People, have you recently tried to put on a pair of Spanx pantyhose? It seemed like a good idea. After all, if I bought pantyhose, I would still need a pair of Spanx briefs, so I figured I’d get all in one. Let me just say, I could barely get both feet in them at once they were so strong. I couldn’t easily separate my ankles once I did get both feet in. Then it was like rolling copper pipes up my body. By the time I got them unbunched and over my hips, I was dismayed to discover they kept going up my torso. I realized that I would never be able to get them off to pee. That’s when I discovered that they were made so I wouldn’t have to. Ahem. Unfortunately, I had unwisely worn a pair of underpants under them, so I had to take them off again (sweating profusely) and then go through the whole pipe thing again. Exhausting. 

Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. It has nothing to do with success. But then again, my life lately hasn’t. The editor passed on my book proposal. This got me down, way, way down. But I am up again, thanks to my scaffolding of success. And that does have to do with success. After the devastating news, I spoke to my loving mirrors and my agent. I’m back at the writing. I’m going to write the book now, instead of waiting until we sell the proposal. I’m going to stop waiting for instructions from others and write what I want to write. I still have an agent who believes in my book. I still have my like-minded others urging me on. So I will go on. I’m taking a page from Epictetus, thanks to the MIL, who pointed me to a short piece on the Stoic philosopher in The New Yorker*
Milo is definitely a Stoic
Epictetus said, “Of things some are in our power, and others are not.” You should only focus on the things you can control, namely your “opinions” and “acts”. This is sage advice for our times. Did I mention Epictetus lived during the first century C.E? He was a Greek speaking Turkish man who was for a time a Roman slave. Yes, I did pause to consider that this philosophy of self-knowledge and self-restraint was developed by a slave, who definitely, as a slave, had pretty much no control over anything except what was in his head and heart. Yet, Epictetus was eventually freed and still (or finally, after being freed, when he had the time) he developed this philosophy. It made sense in his time and no doubt his advice makes sense now. It’s really, for any time. Timeless advice. Indeed, it sounds like the advice my father, who has been studying Greek for thirty years, has been dispensing of late. It’s root advice. Kind of Buddhist. Kind of Christian. Kind of modern psychological, too. It put me in mind of a psychotherapist I know from NIA class who said, in relation to current events, “We have to start by looking inward and changing ourselves.”

It also put me in mind of Stephen Covey’s Habit # 1: Be Proactive and his discussion of the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. I've written about this here. The circle of concern is larger and contains the circle of influence. However, the only area an individual has any control over is the circle of influence. As you focus on that circle, the circle under your control, you affect the outer circle, too. But you have to return to what you yourself can control. This applies not only to the political situation, but also to so many situations. I can’t control an editor’s response to my book proposal, but I can control my book. 

So, in the New Year, I will try to be more Stoic. I started with Spanx. But I’m moving on to my writing. I will write the best book I can. And I am going back to my teaching and am planning to tutor disadvantaged kids in hands on mathematics to help them in school and to develop critical thinking skills. These things are within my control. They are in my circle of influence. The effects will, I trust, spread my circle of influence out towards the boundaries of my circle of concern. The only thing that will not be spreading out is my midsection, which will be girdled by self-knowledge, and (only when necessary) Spanx. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Power, Money, and Prestige

Readers, I want to be clear about something. I have nothing against power, money, and prestige (PM&P). To be honest, I admit that I feel around exemplars of PM&P similar to the way I feel around celebrities. That is, I don’t want to show that I’m super excited to see them. I don’t want to show anyone around me, nor do I want to show myself, either. 

That had to be said. I mean, really. Who can resist PM&P completely? And why should they be resisted? We all probably agree that some combination of PM&P, if not all three, is a recognizable type of success. However, here’s the thing. PM&P is not to be courted directly. Not for real, lasting success. PM&P are all very well, but not as ends in themselves. They’re okay as offshoots. Like ATP in the Krebs Cycle. Or happiness. Happiness is another thing you can’t really seek directly. It’s a byproduct of worthwhile activity and general life choices and mindset. Same with PM&P. Don’t take it from me, though. Take it from people with PM&P. To a one they’ll tell ya they weren’t gunning for that stuff. They were pursuing their interests, interests that also aligned with benefiting others, usually, and weren’t at all hung up on success, or PM&P. 

I realize you are actually “taking it from me” even though I say not to. Because you are reading my words. But presumably you get my drift. I could name a couple people I know who have PM&P and tell you what they’ve made or done and why. And it wasn’t simply because they wanted to win, or to have everyone think they are the greatest, or to have enough money to smother Kellyann Conway. They earned it by being invested in work that was meaningful to them, and by excelling at that work. Adam Grant talks about this in Give and Take, which is still on my mind. While both givers and takers can amass PM&P, the takers often go down in a tremendous fall. Grant talks about Enron Corporation and its disgraced head Jeffrey Skilling being a big taker. He certainly amassed PM&P, but then it all fell apart and he was left with notoriety. Food for thought these days, no?

Related to this, although at this moment I can’t remember why, is my conversation with my friend A. It was all so clear while I was walking the dog. Then I lived out the rest of my day, with shopping and driving people places and an a senseless political argument on Facebook with an obdurate and rude person who I unfriended, and now I’ve lost the sense of what I wanted to say. Anyway, A and I were talking about dealing with competitive feelings. It’s easy to get into a state, when comparing yourself with others, by assuming their lives are much better than yours and that somehow they have some secret to handling life that you are desperate to get in on - and at the same time are desperate to avoid letting them know you feel desperate about that. However, A said, that moment you allow yourself to talk openly to a friend and you learn that she is just as concerned about her child’s strange behavior as you are about yours, you realize you are not the only one with those uncomfortable feelings. You realize we are all just trying to make it through, and we all have our challenges.  

Which reminds me of a conversation with the college student about the book The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas. This book is about the pressure everyone, especially teenagers, feels to present a happy, polished self on social media. Then, because they all read everyone else’s social media feeds, they feel bad because their lives don’t feel as happy as their friends’ curated online lives make them out to be. 

I pointed out that this is an old problem - or a natural tendency - the tendency to show different selves to different people and in different situations. The difference now is that those things are made concrete on social media. 

The cure is honesty. Focusing on meaning and purpose. Forgetting about PM&P. Anne Lamott might call it “radical honesty.” I'm not that touchy-feely, though. That phrase - blech. However, the point is, recognizing that we don’t have to go around bleeding on just everyone, but that we do need a few close friends and family members who we feel comfortable dripping on every now and then. When we let them bleed on us, too, then we can face those things that make us insecure, the things that make us long for PM&P. Because let's be real. That hankering after those things is about insecurity. Even though we can all look around and see a shining example of a person with PM&P who, nevertheless, needs to trash the people around him, we still too easily delude ourselves into thinking if we had just a bit more, we wouldn't worry so much. For most of us, that's just not true. 

In closing, I would like to offer the following ideas about success, courtesy of a young person. Then I will dismount my high horse. 

  • Success is about achieving goals. But it is also about more than that. 
  • Success is about being happy. But maybe that’s not exactly true.
  • Success is filling the void with friends. 

Add to those my maxim, “It is almost always better to exercise.” 
Eat in moderation. 

You (and by you I mean me) are now well set up to enjoy the holidays. See you in 2017. May it be a better year than 2016.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

It Takes More Than a Dollar to Save a Dollar

So. I bought these new boots a couple of months ago. Just this week, I finally got around to buying some of that waterproofing spray for them. At the shoe establishment - a national chain - DSW - I found not one but two kinds of waterproofing spray. One can was large and fat and cost $5.99. One can was slender and shorter and cost $12.99.

 “What’s the difference?” I asked the cashier, who was both tall and slender, and he said, “That one’s better. It lasts longer.” 

Which one do you think he pointed out?  That’s right, the more expensive one. So I picked it up. Yes, I was about to buy it. But then something broke through in my brain. A little voice inside me doubted. A little voice inside me said, Hope, don't fall for the fake news. So I picked up the cheaper spray and read the label. No warning about reapplying frequently or anything like that. Just a cocktail of noxious chemicals. Just like the ones the more expensive bottle promised to spray into the air. 

Reader, I bought it. I bought the cheaper spray. There's lesson in there for all of us. Something along the lines of how much harder it is to save a dollar than to spend one. That’s because it takes more than a dollar to save a dollar. Unless you’re a kid who gets an allowance. But to earn enough money to save a dollar can take a lot of money. So don’t waste it. Something like that. 

In other news -
It’s hard, but I’m breaking my social media habit. Things got a bit too compulsive with me and Twitter over the last couple of weeks. I got into a thing with a couple of trolls. This led to a long conversation with a conservative man that caused me to spend a lot of time researching facts to combat his fake news take on things. In the end, the conversation was overtaking my brain, and while the arguing and the research were helpful to me because they forced me to express myself clearly - not to mention to read the news closely - ultimately, it was a waste of time. He went his way, I went mine. Nobody changes anybody's mind unless they're ready to change. And I decided I need to get off Twitter. 

One of things this guy said was that he read a couple of my blog pieces. After he read a couple of my blog posts, he said he recommended I call what I’m defining something other than success. According to him, I’m not talking about success as much as I’m talking about love or something else. He pointed me to some guy with some theory about levels of love. I ignored it, because he was being very unloving about immigrants and I was busy sending him links to Pew Research articles. 

I suppose this guy was trying to be helpful. I suppose he meant it as a nice gesture, but I couldn’t help thinking that this guy totally missed the point. If I call what I’m defining something other than success then I’m no longer redefining success. Now, he was a commercial real estate developer, which means - and I here stereotype freely - that he has that traditional, old-school, money+ power +prestige definition of success. You know, the one that was crushing me until I figured out a way to feel successful without those things. At least some of the time. But I do see what he means. 

I’ve certainly thought about the issue. Am I actually really talking about success, or am I talking about improving quality of life, or creating meaning or happiness? Well, I’m talking about all of those things. But I am also talking about success. As in, a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of purposefulness, a methodology for pursuing goals and a system of living that contributes to all of those things. And here’s the thing. Even if I’m a canary in the coal mine of the dark and murky future, I know it’s more important than ever to sing my little song. 

So. Let’s tawk, Readers, about the key to success of having like-minded others who act as loving mirrors for you. I mentioned this in passing last week, when talking about Adam Grant and how he focuses on collaboration and other skills that lead to the greatest success. Collaboration is actually different than having loving mirrors. Collaboration means working together towards a common goal. Cultivating like-minded others means accepting help from others to help you reach your goal, and doing that for others in return. 

One thing that works quite often is establishing a regular gathering of these like-minded others. Entrepreneurs do this. Benjamin Franklin did this. Napoleon Hill recommended (men) start Mastermind groups. As I’ve mentioned, I have a monthly conference call with a couple of like-minded women. We have been meeting over the fiber optic cables for over five years now. Each of us has her individual goals, and we report on them to one another, offer each other support, suggestions, pep-talks, or ideas as needed. As you know, I’ve been through ups and downs. Well, we all have. 

Today, our conversation started out down. We were all down. But by the end, we were all up and inspired. My friend C (as in, Met Her in College), said, after a few minutes of rumination on current events, that we have to make sure we take care of ourselves and continue to work towards our goals. We cannot allow ourselves to become demoralized and immobilized. We have to strengthen ourselves so that we can come back strong. This was heartening and inspirational. 

But we are more than inspired. We are successful! Take E. She started out with an idea she wasn’t sure how she wanted to develop. Over the past five years, she tried writing a book, had an agent, lost the agent, gave up on the book, considered a podcast, felt discouraged, started a website, hosted a gathering based on her project, and from that gathering got the idea of a new way to work with her material. She’s turning it into a stage production with help from people she met at the gathering she hosted because of the idea she had five years ago. In between, there were times when she wanted to give up her project entirely, but we, her loving mirrors, convinced her it was important and worthwhile to pursue. And now she feels she has the right format for her idea, and she has a director and an actor and writer to help her bring it into production. 

That is the value of meeting with a group of like-minded others. They act as loving mirrors who reflect your possibilities back at you, give you courage when you lack it, and show you a better you. 

I call that inspiring. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Give and Take by Adam Grant

Readers, the husband thought my last post was super-depressing. That came as a shock. I had thought I had managed to convey something positive by taking us back to classical values. Well. I am moving on. I don’t want to depress the husband. Also my father told me to. Specifically, he said, you are not alone in being upset, but we all have to move on. After he said that, he also said, “It’s a little bit like building a bridge over the river while the banks are eroding.” This might not sound like the most positive statement. It might actually sound like a pretty depressing assessment of the current situation. But then I took a broader view of things. That’s life, after all, isn’t it? Building a bridge over the river while the banks erode? I mean that’s just life. Or exercise and the race against decrepitude. 

Oy, that’s depressing, too. Hell. I was trying to be funny. 

Anyway, I am not going political this week at all. Instead, I am relating the following items.

Item: This text message exchange happened (during the middle of a school day)
9th Grader: What’s Nai-Nai’s number? Everyone’s texting their grandparents.
Me (after sending the number): Why are they?
9th Grader: We’re talking about Confucianism. 

Which I found very sweet, very funny, and a possibly appropriate use of technology during Global History Class.

Item: After talking to my dad, I picked up a book about success and managed to get engrossed in it. I moved on. So that’s what I’m writing about today. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant. 

Adam Grant, who should not be confused with Adam Ant, the New Romantic musician of the 1980s with a flair for a ruffled shirt and a flowered lappet, is a professor of Organizational Psychology at Wharton School of Business. He has some interesting things to say about success.
First of all, he says there are three kinds of people. Now, a lot of people say there are two kinds of people, and then they tell you what kinds. They are the kind of people who do something, and the kind of people who do not do it. Well, Adam Grant not Ant says there are three kinds of people - and then he tells you what kinds. Which means he is not one of those kinds of people who say there are two kinds of people. He's the other kind. 

Anyhoo, those three kinds are these:

  • Givers- give more than take
  • Takers- bend reciprocity in their favor (take more than give)
  • Matchers - operate on principle of fairness and try to preserve equal balance of giving and getting.

Okay, if you're at all like me, already you want to know which type is the best type to be. You want to quiz yourself and skew the answers so that you'll come out as that type. Well, I'll get there in a sec. (Think Polonius - "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Then remember that Polonius is a fool.) Now, Grant’s talking about the business realm, as are so many writers about success. In the personal realm, he says most people are givers. But the business realm is where many people look when they think about success. So I ran with it. These three types are styles of interaction in the work world. All three types can succeed, says Grant. However, givers are special. They tend to be at both the very bottom and the very top of the “success ladder.” Matchers and takers tend to “land in the middle.”  He then goes on to explain his theory, with lots of anecdotes about famous givers and takers. For example, Kenneth Lay of Enron. Big taker. Frank Lloyd Wright? Also a taker. Famous givers? Jack Welch of General Electric. Abraham Lincoln. But a lot of very successful givers remain in the shadows, not known outside their fields, because of their natural style - to give freely of their time, of their help, of their ideas, and to not worry about repayment. Eventually they do get repaid, big time, but they tend to be a little more shadowed. He mentions George Meyer, who was a major shaper of “The Simpsons” television show, and several others with very interesting careers as engineers, venture capitalists, and researchers. 

Key to success for givers? Knowing when to receive help and always being open to repaying it later. Not keeping score when helping someone, because you never know when they might help you out later. And - networking really, really well, so when they do need help, they can attract the most talented helpers, who come willingly to their teams. 

Speaking of teams, these givers are universally team players. They are not concerned with being the one who gets all the credit. They put the good of the project above all else. By behaving in this way, others who work with them don’t feel competitive with them. They gain “idiosyncrasy credits,” which apparently is a real term - positive impressions generated in a person by the generous behavior of an individual towards a team. The giver exhibits “expedition behavior,” a term coined by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to define the best mountaineering practices: “putting the group’s goals and mission first, and showing the same amount of concern for others as you do for yourself.” 

Underlying givers’ success, says Grant, is a fact about success that gets overlooked. That fact is that success always involves team effort. Even though the public tends to look at achievement as a solo act, all achievement comes from group effort. That's what made Grant choose relational style as a defining characteristic of success. So, people who can motivate a team to put the mission ahead of themselves are bound to do better work than people who are either concerned with making themselves appear to be the best, or with keeping everything even-Steven. Grant goes into the ways in which teams help one another succeed. It sounds a lot like my success scaffolding plank of like-minded others. Givers tend to recognize and expect high potential and achievement from others - and they get it. This is acting like a loving mirror, reflecting at their team members what they believe they can achieve and by doing so, empowering them to achieve it. 

So. Be a giver. But - there's always a but - there are two kinds of givers. Selfless and otherish. There are the successful givers, who are mega-successful. And there are the unsuccessful givers, who are failures.

Here's the good news. The givers who fail, fail because they are too selfless and burn out. Sadly for them, because they're just trying to be really nice. And nice guys apparently do finish last. Luckily, they also finish first. And they get to enjoy themselves. That's because the givers who succeed are self-interested as well as giving. They are called otherish. They're motived by two engines, the engine of self-concern and the engine of advancing others' goals. That's the kind you want to be. 

Food for thought. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Aristotle, Buddha, Success

Confession: I saw “Hamilton” after Thanksgiving. Like everyone else, I was blown away by it. Of course, I’ve been steeped in the soundtrack for a year, thanks to my kids, so I was able to follow the lyrics  - and they are terrific lyrics. Ahead of time, I was worried that the show might be an anticlimax, but I have to say, it was better than expected. It was great. But I’m not here to add yet another rave review to the pile. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius, no doubt - and like the most successful geniuses, he has a team of like-minded others, also known as collaborators, to work with and to egg him on to success. But I don’t really want to talk about that right now, either. 

Here’s the thing I want to say. Before I saw“Hamilton,” just the soundtrack made me cry a little - his life cut short by that duel with Aaron Burr, his potential wasted - but watching it in our current political climate, I cried a lot. Of course a show about the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution and ideals and sacrifice is bound to stir up patriotism. Well, mine was stirred. It may have fallen out of fashion, patriotism, but I have a deep well of it. So comparing the heroism and bravado of what went into founding a country with the country we have today led me to some sorry, sad tears. What we have now, Trump and his merry band of bankrupters, is an embarrassment. I’m pretty sure the country will survive; but it will take a lot of time and collective recalibrating of ideals to make it flourish. 

Speaking of ideals brings me to the magazine I bought recently, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. I bought it because I was waiting in line at the Honest Weight Food Coop and it was that or a homeopathic tablet for relieving anxiety. Anxiety? Who’s feeling anxious? 

Anyway, the cover article was about living an authentic life, which reminds me of another plank in my scaffolding of success: live according to what you value. But the article that most interested me was about the intermingling of Buddhist and Western ethics in our culture. Ethics, if I recall correctly, being a code of behavior. "Principles of right conduct," says my American Heritage Dictionary. Heady stuff, I know, but bear with me. Western ethics equals Aristotelian, according to the author of this article. Let’s not debate the guy (and yes, the author is a guy, bien sur, c’mom, womens, let’s get heard more MORE more. But I digress) let’s grant him that, even if it's reductionist. He’s talking about Aristotle’s eudaimonia, or human flourishing, the principle of living so that one expresses and develops oneself to the fullest potential. This is apparently Aristotle’s Good. Kind of like a Martha Stewart Good Thing, in the ethical realm as opposed to in the household management realm. I’m up for it. Or down for it. Yes, more down. I’ve been feeling kind of down. Which is repetitive, but it does tie into my theme.

As I was saying, the article says “the general Aristotelian notion that a life dedicated to the cultivation of virtue and the contemplation of wisdom is the best and happiest kind of human life is one that has been readily transplanted into Buddhism.” Western ethics have infused into Buddhist ethics so that we have replaced the ideal of living in a manner that will lead to “surcease” of suffering and the end of reincarnation with the ideal of eudaimonia, or human flourishing. In other words, the Aristotelian idea of human flourishing is an idea “so pervasive in Western culture that Westerners are often unaware of its source.” 

Indeed. I thought it was Buddhist. But it was Aristotle, brought to me by a bunch of Jewish seekers who went to India in the late 1960s to study Buddhism and returned to awaken the masses in America. Everything old is new again and old again and circuitous again. But never mind. One thing I definitely value is eudaimonia. 

Another point of the article is that for Westerners - and for many, if not most, Easterners - the Buddhist ideal of attaining nirvana and ending the cycle of rebirth and suffering doesn’t stand up to modern science and other influences. This essential of the Eastern strand of Buddhism just doesn’t work for we cynics. We are not used to living in a caste society where our roles are defined for life. We are not accustomed to resignation about this life and to therefore work on our selves to prepare to come back in the next life as something a little more evolved on the spectrum of life. We are not into delayed gratification if the delay is of multiple lifetimes. Nope, that is definitely not Western. We are focused on this life. And many of us, whether we practice Buddhism or another kind of self-improvement, hope to achieve a quintessential Western ideal. Human flourishing. And we all assume that we all agree that the flourishing of all humans is the goal. 

Or at least we did, until we realized the Conservative movement has steadily, over the last thirty years, while we were improving ourselves, swept us all up into a giant burlap bag, and with this election, pulled tight and knotted the drawstring over our heads. We are now like a bunch of kittens stuck in a sack about to be heaved over the railing and drowned in the river of life by a bunch of white dudes who have apparently didn't agree with us that human flourishing is the greatest good. 

So maybe we need  to start believing in rebirth and so on. Because maybe there’s not much we can fix about this life. 

Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. Did that last paragraph skew too bleak? I’m trying to move away from politics. Politics, after all, is the rearranging of the deck chairs on the ship of state. It’s the trajectory of the ship we need to think about most. 

So what constitutes human flourishing? This is the big question. We keep thinking flourishing depends on ever-increasing piles of money. Yet we are proved wrong about that again and again. We do need enough money to feel like we’re flourishing, but it’s not as much as we think, and there are other things we need to flourish. We need to feel like we are helping others. We need to feel part of a community. We need to have ways to center ourselves. We need to have purpose. We need external supports, which is where government and community come in handy. We also, as a psychologist I recently spoke to said, need to do the inner work to improve our lives. 

And also, we need to call our elected representatives and let them know what we think about those deck chairs, and we need to try to arrange them so that everyone can have a good seat.