Did That Help?

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” — Edward Everett Hale

A similar sentiment was expressed by William Penn “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” Your best strategy over the long-haul is to understand where people want to go and help them get there. You do this by talking with them about what aid and support they need from you and being sure they get it. It may seem more expedient to charge full-speed-ahead and others be damned; but being too self-serving ends up, in the long run, serving no one. Your success is best served by helping others succeed.

The glitch is that, no matter how well-intentioned, your offer to help is usually turned down or the response is, “I will let you know.” If you sincerely want to help, do not ask what you can do to help or wait to be asked. Think about what the person’s problem is or what they want to accomplish and then do something helpful. Proactively helping is most always much more helpful than help that is merely offered though it does take a little more time, a little more thought, and a little more effort. “Did that help?” is often the best question you can ask. As Sunshine Magazine pointed out, “He who gives when he is asked has waited too long.”

The famous Anon. had a particularly pithy way of emphasizing the importance of being proactive with others, “Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.” Albert Schweitzer and William James respectively joined the help when you can, wherever you can chorus. “Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him;” and “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” Perhaps the last word on it should go to George Bernard Shaw who said, “This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Now you know so there you go.

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Never a Good Excuse for Bad Manners

“It may be years before anyone knows if what you are doing is right. But if what you are doing is nice, it will be immediately evident.” — P.J. O’Rourke

The idea seems to be that good manners can and often do cover up the proverbial multitude of sins. As Arthur Schopenhauer put it, “Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.” It may quickly distort or otherwise transform reality. What seems sincere may merely be the latest example of Abel Stevens’ observation, “Politeness is the art of choosing among one’s real thoughts.” The point is that in an effort to “be nice,” candor can easily take a backseat to what Emily Post described as “a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” The desire not to upset or offend takes priority over the responsibility to be honest and straightforward.

Of course, W. Somerset Maugham did say, “I don’t think you want too much sincerity in society. It would be like an iron girder in a house of cards.” And Lord Halifax said, “A man that should call everything by its right name would hardly pass the streets without being knocked down as a common enemy.” The conclusion follows that there is an appropriate, middle ground between total honesty and bad manners. One should find that balance between excessive rudeness and being unnecessarily impolite on the one hand and knavery or excessive dishonesty on the other.

Are you tempted to agree with this argument? If so, you are probably aligning with the polite majority of people who behave as if the choice is between candor and insensitive rudeness. When it comes time to choose, they generally lean toward avoiding being seen as rude or as having bad manners. The result is that they are often dishonest, at least somewhat. Personal integrity is partially sacrificed to the god of good manners. When you are thus tempted, Cesare Pavese’s observation is worth considering, “Perfect behavior is born of complete indifference.”

Perhaps the real issue isn’t your honesty, your integrity, or your manners. Rather, it is your discomfort with how you fear others will react to you if you actually say what you think, accurately express your feelings, and practice the candor you profess to value so highly. Often the issue is dealing with the bad manners of other people. As Gabirol put it, “The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.” the famous Anon. expressed the idea this way, “Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are;” and F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “It’s not a slam at you when people are rude – it’s a slam at the people they’ve met before.” The best conclusion is that there is never a good excuse for bad manners and that “situational integrity” isn’t integrity at all. Calmly and respectfully stand up, speak up, shut up, and sit down and then politely listen, making it immediately evident that you indeed are nice.

Now you know so there you go.

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The Match Game

Here’s how to play the Match Game. Hold the match, ready to strike. Whether you burn that bridge is now in your control.

“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” — Jonathan Kozol

In the realm of life’s little lessons, this seems axiomatic. The problem is that many of the battles that are big enough to matter aren’t small enough to win; and those that are small enough to win tend not to matter. The challenge is in knowing when to fight and when to walk away. Kozol’s advice is to fight if the outcome matters and you can win, otherwise walk away. Although this is certainly a practical approach to self-preservation, it’s also a clear cop out. There are battles that matter way too much to avoid, even though winning is far from certain.

The more important lesson may be in David Russell’s observation, “The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” Life is full of conflicts and tensions, battles large and small, bridges to cross and bridges to burn. Life is a journey; and usually, when it isn’t working out, you can change direction, back up and start again, and generally change your plans. Now and then, though, the bridge has burned and there is no turning back, nothing to do but live with the choices you have made.

No, there isn’t an easy way to know when to cross that bridge and when to let it burn, when to be decisive and when to equivocate, when to hold back and when to make an irreversible choice. However, there are questions that you can ask and answer before choosing.

1. “Am I burning any bridges by making this choice?”

2. “Are the bridges being burned ones over which I may want to cross again?”

3. “If I cannot cross a bridge again, what will I do instead, if the time comes when doing something else is necessary?”

4. “If I cross this bridge, how will I handle it, if things don’t work out as I hope they will?”

5. “How will I be worse off if I neither cross the bridge ahead of me nor burn the one behind me, including the lost opportunity cost?”

So, you have asked the questions. You have answered the questions. What next? Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and deal with that bridge. Cross it; burn it; take a different road; but whatever you choose, don’t forget the old Chinese proverb, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”

Now you know so there you go.

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You Can’t Just Stay On The Fence

“When your intelligence don’t tell you something ain’t right, your conscience gives you a tap on the shoulder and says ‘Hold on.’ If it don’t, you’re a snake.” As one might expect, Carl Jung expressed Presley’s folk wisdom in somewhat more formal language; but the idea is the same, “Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, ‘Something is out of tune.'” Christopher Reeve also heard that inner voice, “I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.”

The recurring belief is that the voice of conscience is ever-present and far less fallible than the voice of reason. For example, Josh Billings asserted, “Reason often makes mistakes but conscience never does.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau made the same point this way, “Reason deceives us often; conscience never.” Although stated less dogmatically, Joseph Cook agreed with Billings and Rousseau, “Conscience is our magnetic compass; reason our chart.”

Unfortunately, that little voice may not be quite the totally reliable key to recognizing the good and right some say it is. Samuel Butler pointed out, “Conscience is thoroughly well-bred and soon leaves off talking to those who do not wish to hear it.” As it turns out, conscience has an attitude. If you don’t pay attention to it, it may just stop paying attention to you. Were that not problem enough, what conscience is saying isn’t always clear. You can listen and still struggle to understand. As William Dean Howells pointed out, “The difficulty is to know conscience from self-interest.”

Conscience and reason are having a fight. They go back and forth all through the night. It’s a right to the nose and a left to the chin. When morning comes, they start over again.

Reason says that it makes perfect sense. It’s trying to nudge you off of the fence. The tug of conscience is hard to abide. It’s pulling you hard to the other side.

You sway back and forth, first left and then right. Do you do what makes sense or do what seems right? Conscience gives you a pull, then reason a push. If this isn’t resolved, you’ll be dumped on your tush.

Does reason prevail or does the little voice win? Do you take one on the nose or one on the chin? Either way you go, it doesn’t feel good. Do you do what makes sense or do what you should?

Calm yourself and try to unwind. Take a deep breath and make up your mind. Do you go with what you think or with that little voice? It’s up to you; and you live with your choice.

Now you know so there you go.

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Covering Up Mistakes

“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional, and are the portals of discovery.” — James Joyce

This certainly puts a different twist on the concept. The only requirement is that one is “A man of genius.” If so, you don’t make mistakes, you merely commit errors, on purpose. Try that one the next time you screw up, “It’s no big deal. I just decided to make this mistake in order to open the portal for discovery.” You can also note that on your resume where you explain why you left your last job.

Niels Bohr said, “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” Of course, Bohr does qualify as a man of genius; but to assume that he too is suggesting that those mistakes are the portals for discovery is likely not correct. A little folk wisdom may be more to the point. “Why are things always in the last place you look?” “It’s because, once you find it, you quit looking.”

Confucius has a better perspective, “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.” George Washington also joins in on the same side of the matter, “To err is nature, to rectify error is glory.” As you hustle to rectify those errors, it will help to allay your anxiety if you remember Robert Henry’s advice, “Don’t ever be afraid to admit you were wrong. It’s like saying you’re wiser today than you were yesterday.” While you’re at it, though, don’t overlook Frank Lloyd Wright’s insight, “A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” Since you are the architect of your success, you would do well to minimize the number and size of the vines required to cover up your mistakes.

Now you know so there you go.

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Survival Is Not Mandatory

“Since changes are going on anyway, the great thing is to learn enough about them so that we will be able to lay hold of them and turn them in the direction of our desires. Conditions and events are neither to be fled from nor passively acquiesced in; they are to be utilized and directed.” It’s not surprising that Dewey bases his approach to change management on active learning. Since change is a fact of life, you might as well make the best of it. Learn as much as you can about the changes in your life and then use them, as much as possible, to your advantage. William O. Douglas suggested that success in using change in your best interest depends, in large measure, on adjusting your thinking to conform to today’s reality. “Security can only be achieved through constant change, through discarding old ideas that have outlived their usefulness and adapting others to current facts.” Francis Bacon also agreed that you need to take charge of change and mold it to your purposes. “Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.”

However, there are cautionary voices as you slide into the driver’s seat of your life. For example, Ellen Glasgow said, “All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” Distinguishing good change from the not so good is an important aspect of the learning Dewey recommended. Arnold Bennett also raised the voice of caution, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” Nonetheless, G. C. Lichtenberg submitted what is likely the take home point here, “I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.”

The substance of your life is in continuous change. The elements form and then rearrange. Some of those elements you can move and shift. Change can be slow or unusually swift.

It’s an ongoing saga through each twist and turn. You refuse to change. It’s not your concern. W. Edwards Deming discovered the conclusion to the story. “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

Now you know so there you go.

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Someone Still Has To Crack The Eggs and Grease The Skillet

“No man ever wetted clay and then left it, as if there would be bricks by chance and fortune.” One may assume that Plutarch intended this rhetorically, since it definitely isn’t literally true. It’s hard to say about wetting clay specifically; but starting a job and not finishing it is certainly not uncommon. The fact of the case is that it’s business as usual for far too many folks. They probably don’t think what they start will be finished by chance and fortune; but they do figure that they won’t be the ones who have to complete it. It’s likely justifiable to conclude that they see this as good fortune, whether anyone else does or not.

Why do people do this? Why do they stop before the job is done? The famous Anon. has been sitting on the answer, “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.” That’s it. They start with the best of intentions but soon discover that intentions are to accomplishments as a hardy appetite is to breakfast. However you like your omelet, someone still has to crack the eggs and grease the skillet.

Newt Gingrich figured out the “why” of it. He said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” On the road to success, people get as far as “Perseverance” and then pull over and park. Perhaps they are too tired to continue, too bored to stay focused, or maybe just too trifling to take their responsibilities seriously. Whatever their excuse, they obdurately resist any suggestion that they should buckle down and take care of business. As Henry Ward Beecher expressed the principle, “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t;” and some people just won’t.

Sure, sometimes you come up against can’t and won’t and can’t wins. You don’t have the knowledge, skills, or resources it takes to do what you want to do. At other times, though, won’t is clearly in the driver’s seat. When you reach that fork in the road, Josh Billings has a little advice for you, “Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.”

It’s a postage stamp moment. When it’s time to do it, don’t hesitate getting around to it. Remember that you are up to it, so get down to it, and jump into it; and if you think others are blocking your way, Gen. Joseph (Vinegar Joe) Stilwell’s motto is worth adopting as your own. “Illegitimis non carborundum.” (Don’t let the bastards grind you down.)

Now you know so there you go.

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Are The Rats Winning The Race?

“Be not simply good; be good for something.” — Henry David Thoreau

This is great advice; but try not to be too much of a good for something. There is a Greek Proverb that says, “The excess of virtue is a vice.” Overdoing what you do is likely an example of such a vice. You just don’t know when to quit. Sure, it makes you feel a bit superior; but as Ts’ai Ken T’an advised, “Water which is too pure has no fish;” and that isn’t a good thing. Even Abraham Lincoln said, “It has ever been my experience that folks who have no vices, have very few virtues.” As you see, overdoing it definitely has the potential for getting really unacceptable. Fortunately, George Orwell understood the root of the matter, “On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time;” so it’s OK to have one of those to do lists so long as you don’t overdo it. Here’s how to manage the whole thing.

Is work piling up and there’s just too much to do? Are you getting frustrated with things backing up on you? Does your to-do list keep getting longer with no end in sight? Would you stop and relax if you weren’t so up-tight?

Does the daily rat race leave your head spinning? Is it depressing to see that the damn rats are winning? Are you holding up the world but feeling it slip? Is the balance in your life beginning to tip?

Did your future just flash before your eyes? Was it what you expected or a total surprise? Either way you don’t need to see it twice. Put on the brakes and consider this advice.

Grab that to-do list and a ballpoint with ink. Shortening the list isn’t as hard as you think. Put a checkmark beside jobs actually belonging to you. All other jobs can wait ‘til you’re through.

Look at your checkmarks and handle it this way. Put a + beside tasks you can finish today. Rank the + items from more urgent to less. If it’s hard to decide, quick take a guess.

Take your + list and cut it in half. Cut it in the middle and don’t stop to laugh. What you have left is urgent so approach it this way. Just buckle down and do today’s work today.

Now you know so there you go.

Categories: Audio Tidbit


First Rate Version of Yourself

You have a job only you can do. The job you have is being you. At the end of each day you must take a test. Did you give being you your very best?

e. e. Cummings had some words that will take you pretty far. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” The challenge is never giving your courage a rest. That’s how you give being you your best.

Raymond Hull also had something important to say. “He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.” What that means you’ve already guessed. You have to be just you to give being you your best.

You can’t be who other people want you to be. You can’t be a spider or a bird in a tree. The spider has its web and the bird has its nest; but you have something special when you give being you your best.

Judy Garland didn’t find her advice on a shelf. “Always be a first-rate version of yourself…;” and Johann von Goethe’s message wasn’t a surprise, “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.”

Confucius was a philosopher who knew how to depart, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

Go north or south or go east or west. Wherever you go, give being you your best.

Now you know so there you go.

Categories: Audio Tidbit