As I write this editorial I find myself weary of words… so much dialogue these days, so many opinions, and yet, ironically, I share mine. As I weigh the values of each- the strength of silence versus the necessity of communication- I wonder how one recognizes when to speak up and when to refrain.
Used in a mindful manner, I believe silence can be a bridge to building a more impactful narrative. When you are silent, you listen more. Those who are comfortable with silence know how to hold the moment in a non-confrontational manner that evokes an honest, emotional connection from another. Practicing the pause increases our own mental clarity and self- awareness. Acclaimed business writer, Steven Covey, outlined a key relational principle as “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” How very true!
If an issue directly involves you, you might take the opportunity to speak your mind. If voicing your opinion adds value or clarity to the conversation, then express it. However unwanted commentary can be a little annoying, especially if it meanders with little purpose or goal. Very often we throw out an opinion to others and watch to see if it is supported and authenticated. Knowing when to stay quiet and when to speak up can be tricky but thinking about the consequences beforehand, whether your words add positive clarification or if they contribute to more confusion and harmful action, helps you to decide which to chose.
Silence can be both ethical and unethical. In some cases it is a legal right. If you are being arrested, you do have “the right to remain silent.” The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution permits you not to answer specific questions when you may, by the answers given, incriminate yourself. However, remaining silent also can be highly unethical, especially when it allows others to believe what we know for certain is not true. When witnessing a wrongdoing, remaining silent equates to acceptance. This is the time to be morally responsible and to speak up. As William Faulkner once said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.”
In our loud and stressful environment, silence can be a soothing balm that eases our mind and releases tension. Yet we yearn for dialog that portrays integrity and humility and inspires through a clear positive vision. I wonder what we would talk about if we were only allowed a certain quota of words?
I recently had to clear my mother’s house from decades of her belongings. So many items had memories attached and a significance that was impossible to quantify in value when we had our garage sale. Quite a few vintage items were sold; a lot was boxed and shipped to my house; much had to be donated. All the things that once defined my mother’s personality had to be objectively categorized- from the broken and outdated to the family heirlooms and whimsical, kitschy souvenirs.
When we moved across the U.S. we were in a similar position: sort, pack, sell, donate, dispose of. Alfred said at the time, “I will think twice before I ever buy anything again.” Yet we find our basement and garage shelves getting crowded once again.
We spend a lot of our lives wanting things, accumulating things, maintaining things, replacing things, but I wonder how much time do we actually cherish them? How much do we actually need or use? New stuff provides instant gratification and this emotional response can be addictive. As soon as we purchase the latest version of this, not long after, a better version of that appears- especially true in electronics. The more you have, the more you crave because a material thing can never fill an emotional void but rather satisfy a psychological need of a different caliber.
If you want to buy something that will lead to happiness, spend money on experiences. The items I treasure the most usually have a memorable participation attached to them, usually in the presence of someone who means/meant a lot to me. Spending money to increase your skills, competence or self-expression connects you to others and satisfies a psychological need of a different caliber. Therein lies the grand a-ha. Less stuff allows us to focus on that which is truly meaningful. Start the day with a mental review of all that you are grateful for. During the day practice random acts of kindness and compassion. And before you slip into sleep, think of the small things that brought you pleasure. You might be surprised just how few material objects make the list. In doing so you will soon be attuned to that which truly brings you happiness.
The idea of freedom must be redefined with each generation. Time changes everything, but most of all, it adjusts our perception of ourselves and of others. Having a sense of the past, we immediately become aware of how history has a way of repeating itself. People who live in freedom often take it for granted and have forgotten the path that was taken to open the opportunities we now treasure. But too much of a good thing can be dangerous as order and independence must be balanced. All freedom requires a compromise between an individual’s rights, the obligations of the state and the wellbeing of the world. In its highest sense, it is a fundamental value that celebrates the diversity of humanity.
On a personal level, freedom allows us to challenge our comfort zone and to determine our course in life. Through independent action, we determine our higher purpose experienced through our principles. With the ability to move freely about, to tap into the resources that come from a peace of mind and to express appreciation and empathy, we are truly empowered. Recognizing complete responsibility for self and the choices made, we put aside, if only temporarily, our fears, worries and doubts. Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning, “the ultimate freedom we have is a choice of attitude.” It helps us deal with tough situations and keeps us on the right path to living a meaningful life. What a supreme freedom- to choose the responses that create our greatest fulfillment.
As I was checking the headlines on my ipad’s news app, the choices on the top tool bar were U.S…. World… Politics... Business… Opinion… Health… GoodNews…… Snickering lightly to myself, “Yeah, they now have a category for that to help us feel better after reading all the others.” When I went to college I eyed a journalism major, thinking my love of writing might be used to keep others informed. I was told journalism is “a utility to empower the individual” through the coverage of background material, a presentation of the facts and a neutral explanation of the issues involved. It was also the time of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon, the Kent state shootings, the oil embargo, to name a few, and that curriculum felt very heavy and serious on my 18 year old shoulders. I did not see myself at that time of my life as “a watchdog of society” and so chose a different course to pursue in life.
News that is open to someone’s interpretation coupled with our love of freedom of expression necessitates one to sift between fact and fancy. Furthermore, disturbing news causes pessimism, stress, anxiety and depression. Research has proven that more positive news is needed to outweigh the violence and destruction that we’re exposed to every day. Happily there is a news movement called constructive journalism. It involves presenting stories that are more solution oriented. Different from “feel good stories”, like a fireman rescuing a cat, this form of writing looks to increase understanding, not drama. Not only better for our health, it increases our attention span by keeping us from turning off and turning away. Even though journalism will always have to report on negative issues, presenting situations in a more sensitive, positive way will inspire people to take action and help. Human interest stories increase trust and hope. Together we can look for unsung heroes that inspire us and ideas that work or might work.
I got into conversation with a recent visitor to the gallery who was a teacher of statistics. He explained that statistics gather, assess and use data to provide strong evidence to calculate risk and therefore support decision making. Yet invalid assumptions or a poor application of statistical methods can lead to incorrect conclusions. I found it interesting to hear that logic and rationale, therefore, were not totally reliable.
Intuition is the other side of analytics. It is the way the brain processes, stores and then retrieves information on a subconscious level. Sometimes it is ridiculed as a pseudo science but it has been a guiding force all of our lives, revealed in our dreams, hunches and inspirational thoughts...that gut feeling.
So I decided to try my own experiment. Using a nickel, I chose heads, flipping it mindlessly four times to test statistics and probability. My assumption that there was a 50/50 chance of getting heads was proven correct as the coin landed with two heads up and two tails. Then I flipped the coin four times to test the 50/50 statistic, but this time did not flip until I was intuitively guided to the image. Two times I thought it would be heads and it was. Two times I thought it was tails and it was. My intuition in this test was not guided by the 50/50 statistic but rather a "knowingness" that popped into my mind.
Definitely not the most sophisticated test but nonetheless, I concluded we need both conscious and unconscious thought processes to help us survive in an ever-changing, uncertain environment. Logic and intuition stand at opposite sides of the crossroad. Facts found in research and combined with intuition and experience produce the most effective result. I found it comforting to know/feel there is a system available to make good choices that positively affect our lives.
I recently immersed myself in the task of making our gallery website a user-friendly site that is quickly and easily accessible to anyone searching for thought-provoking, symbolic artwork. I had put this task off for some time as the whole topic of search engine optimization (SEO) struck me as quite technical and therefore scarily complicated and daunting. I checked out “Search Engine Optimization All in One for Dummies” from the library with the notion the nuts and bolts of website maintenance would be presented in a language that could be easily grasped by a beginner (hence, my attraction to the title). When I picked up the book, it was actually 9 books in one- 737 pages. My heart skipped a beat. I had a feeling I would be renewing the checkout a couple of times unless I threw in the towel after the first week! Having made it to page 106, I skipped some topics and studied others and am pleased to see marginal improvements. Each problem I resolved, each obstacle I overcame filled me with a sense of accomplishment and a greater insight of keywords and meta descriptions.
Our world is changing so fast. It feels as if each day presents another opportunity to learn something new- through the people we encounter, through the situations that challenge us to rise to the occasion. Perhaps on some primordial level, we learn out of the necessity to adapt and prevail in order to survive. More often we are drawn to subjects that inspire us. In my case, I was perhaps less stimulated about the subject of SEO and more motivated by the websites of successful visionary artists whose popularity had been greatly enhanced through their knowledgeable use of the internet.
“We learn so that we can connect with one another’s humanity and with one another’s ideas”, said Sydney Chaffee, a humanities teacher at Codman Academy in Dorchcester, Massachusetts. “We learn so that we can grow together and become smarter as a collective. We learn so we can make the world smaller.” Thus, we are all microcosms in our personal laboratories taking courses in the grand university of life on this planet. Through trial and error, we acquire knowledge. The process of assimilating and distributing enables us share our experiences, hopefully with good judgment, to enhance other people’s life journey. Just as the material sparked our interest, perhaps it will similarly ignite a curiosity slumbering in another’s mind. Important to remember, however, is Kahlil Gibran’s statement on self-knowledge: “Say not, I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
About this time of year I used to ask myself, “what do you want?” Now the more pertinent question I pose is, “why do I want what I want?” Am I looking at my current state of existence from a feeling of lack based on the envy of the perceived golden life of others? Or is the question posed from the standpoint of that which I seek is a logical stepping stone in the creation of more who I sense I can become. Maybe it is a combination of both. I have come to understand it is this tension in my emotional frequencies that causes the static, a tug of war between the higher self that watches, quietly aware and fulfilled and the everyday self, constantly in motion that sifts and sorts and analyzes. Isn’t that what life is about…choosing which emotion you are going to wear today based on your current life situation? Reality can be both confusing and deceptive – a sea of nothingness or a vast ocean teeming with yet to be seen potentiality.
Through contrast, we acknowledge a state of being strikingly different from something else. Knowing what we don’t want helps us to identify what we do want. When we become a gardener of our thoughts, nurturing those of joy and gratitude and plucking those of regret and resentment, we cultivate wellness and prosperity. However, being composed of a myriad of socially imposed experiences, this is a skill that is not acquired overnight.
We make the most of ourselves first for ourselves and then for others because that is how we can give and receive the most. Possessing an indefatigable spirit, we are all heroes in the making.
I have become increasingly aware of the quality of my thoughts- overall not too bad, but still a work in progress to become more accepting, less judgmental. According to the law of attraction (which I wholeheartedly accept), each of us can create whatever we choose through our thoughts and emotions. It’s all about the attention you devote to frequency of vibration you emit.
I look at those who appear to live a life of ease, enjoying abundance with apparently minimum effort of their own. Things just appear to fall into place and even more embellishes their life. They appear to be relaxed and completely confident that everything is taken care of and will always work out for their benefit. So if this works for them, then why not for me…why not for anyone who recognizes that they too can be prosperous? For me this is the strongest proof for the law of attraction and Alfred’s favorite saying, “the more you complain, the more it will gain; the more you praise the more you will raise.” Still there is a part of me that stubbornly insists, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Why does this doubter hide in the crevasses of my brain? Acknowledging that I, as well as Alfred and many others are in and out of enlightenment, I surround myself with the wisdom of many great minds- Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Esther Hicks- who all professed the opposite, “You’ll see it when you believe it.”
Today, in the midst of sorting through my thoughts, embracing the positive and disarming the negative, I went into a 7/11 convenience store. Behind the counter a tall, slim, dreadlocked young man with a Jamaican accent greeted me with a brilliant smile that lit up the store. After only a few short exchanged pleasantries about the fortunes of life, he said, “My grandmother always told me whatever you put out in the universe is what you get. And I believe her.” Beautifully and simply said. So I continue to structure my thoughts, actions and emotions to acknowledge that the glass is half full and getting fuller every day in every way. It’s an ongoing process just as growth, just as life. But after all is said and done, it feels good to feel good and that alone is a blessing.
Part of the responsibility of being human is to examine the circumstances of our life. Our destiny is not easily revealed, because it is too hard to comprehend, too frightening. Thus the search for enlightenment proceeds, one step at a time, revealing things that are at times unpleasant, but must be unveiled in order for us to learn and grow. Adversity provides us with opportunities to learn some tough lessons that help us to improve our life situation and to move forward.
No matter how well we plan ahead, things will not always go as planned. There will always be unexpected obstacles and setbacks along our path that appear to completely derail our efforts. However, self-awareness can be a valuable tool for guidance. When we focus on what is happening right in this very moment we can actually do something. As things happen only in the current moment, we can apply the lessons we have learned in the past without dwelling in the blame and the pain. We can strive toward our goals (our dreams) without shackling ourselves with doubts of “what if”.
An old Chinese proverb states, “the gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” Each situation we master gives us the strength to face the next one. Even though life seems to be a continual struggle, if we take a moment, we can also remember the beautiful events. If we are able to keep our energy focused on the seed of benefit which may be found in every adversity, we will be able to appreciate the uniqueness of who we are.
* Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor for lack of ideas. Disney also went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland.
* When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it did not ring off the hook with calls from potential backers. After making a demonstration call, President Rutherford Hayes said, “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”
* Wilma Rudolph was the 20th of 22 children. She was born prematurely and her survival was doubtful. When she was four years old, she contracted double pneumonia and scarlet fever which left her with a paralyzed left leg. At age nine, she removed the metal leg brace she had been dependent on and began to walk without it. By 13, she had developed a rhythmic walk, which doctors said was a miracle. That same year she decided to become a runner. She entered a race and came in last. For the next few years every race she entered she came in last. Everyone told her to quit, but she kept on running. One day she actually won a race. And then another. From then on she won every race she entered. Eventually this little girl, who was told she would never walk again, went on to win three Olympic gold medals.
Our troubles don’t define us...how we handle them does.
Given the wide array of subject matter in Alfred’s paintings, it is interesting to listen to viewers’ comments and questions and equally interesting to listen to our responses. Like a dance, we flow between offering our opinions when the need arises to speak up and remaining silent when we recognize it is more productive to shut up. Either way we impact our collective destinies realizing what is said can do significant harm or positively change someone’s world.
Communication forms a daily part of our lives. Yet constantly talking is not necessarily communicating, especially when it involves interrupting or redirecting the conversation to one’s own concerns. Stephen Covey once said, “listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.” Then when we do reply, we put your words in the context of adding value and purpose to the conversation. We march to the beat of our own music without steamrolling others who are doing the same. When we discover a personal truth—whether concerning an issue in science, history, spirituality or any other subject matter—we should maintain a conviction about it, all the while recognizing our own intellectual fallibility. The pursuit of knowledge requires an open-mindedness for the world is a university and everyone is a teacher. It is not important to be right or wrong; important is how we handle ourselves in either case.
Alfred A. Dolezal
Eagle Crest Resort
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