click on any chapter for a short excerpt
Credits and Resources For Further Thinking
Other Books By R. L Wysong
Each of us is born with a blank mental slate. Then parents, educators, and society fill it in before we are old enough to do any critical thinking for ourselves. These givens crystallize into beliefs we then hold as true, often carrying them with us for a lifetime. We become very fond and protective of them, cherishing them as if they were a part of our bodies. Throughout life, contrary information is cast aside and facts and experts are selected that agree with us, giving us comfort that we are right. The strength of the beliefs increases in direct proportion to the degree our sense of belonging, comfort, security, ego, or livelihood depends upon them.
This is a book about starting over and skipping the imposed beliefs part. That means, once we are mentally mature, setting aside all the acculturated norms we are invested in. Some of them may be good, some not. How will we know unless we find out?
The kind of thinking we need is not the sort that settles us into an immutable belief and faith. When locked-in beliefs are examined, they are usually found to be quick fixes, easy solutions to a thinking chore that people wish to set aside. Once a belief is adopted, we tend to retire our minds. But living life as if thinking matters cannot tolerate such mental laziness.
Instead of settling on static beliefs, we must engage in a dynamic inquiry using the best and most reliable mental tools we have. I call these tools the SOLVER principles: Self responsibility, Open mindedness, Long view thinking, Virtuous intent, Evidence first, and Reasoning. Using these principles and a desire to find truth, we have the best opportunity to make our lives the best they can be and to transform the world into the peaceful paradise it could become.
But society would rather that we not think for ourselves. “It” wants us to just fit in. “It” would lead us to believe there is something wrong with us if we are not committed to its popular political, social, health, scientific, and religious beliefs. This, and the companion book, Solving the Big Questions, will demonstrate that common beliefs are not solutions, they are usually the problem. Since beliefs dictate actions, wrong beliefs, no matter how right they are thought to be, create wrong lives and a wrong world.
In a nutshell, unjustified wrong beliefs are the underlying problem facing us. The solution is to unload belief baggage, back up and start fresh with a clean slate. That is perhaps asking the impossible, but it is the only way we can ever hope to arrive at any semblance of truth—and truth, or as near as we can get to it, is the only real solution.
Why is life so difficult? Why are feelings of frustration, desperation, cynicism, and hopelessness so common? Why are people everywhere engaged in self-destructive behavior? Why, with so much technology and medicine, is our health failing? Why is the world teetering on the brink of disaster from environmental ruination and warring factions? Such threats leave us with feelings of uncertainty, powerlessness, and despair.
Fortunately, there are answers and there is hope. Daring to depart from the givens, and living life as if thinking matters can bring health, longer and more pleasant life, transform the Earth, and solve economic, political, religious, ethical, and social problems. The companion book will even show that by using these tools we can gain a high degree of rational confidence about where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going.
Such optimistic goals may sound naïve and overly enthusiastic. We’re used to conceding that complex human problems are to be forever mired in conflicting opinion and disagreement. But before tossing in the towel, consider this: Every person on Earth agrees that 2+2=4, and that heavy things tossed into the air will fall to the ground. So, we must admit, people can agree. We will see that the same thinking process used to conclude the things we can agree on, can apply to all the things we don’t agree on.
Unfortunately, education, in itself, does not put us on the path to good thinking. Although school may tell us about reason, it then denies it in practice by teaching us to rely on experts and be herded into the consensus view. But experts can be found on any side of any given subject, and sophistry can masquerade as reason. Tidbits of fact blended with the venom of unreason may create infinite ‘truths’ that people clutch near to their hearts, but such ‘truths’ have been the undoing of mankind from our beginnings. Truth cannot be so fickle or treacherous.
Although following the crowd seems a safe haven, we will see, for example, that ‘accepted’ modern medicine is ineffective in ridding us of the modern plagues of cancer, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.; ‘accepted’ nutritionist-formulated processed foods are killing us; ‘accepted’ politics can ruin society; ‘accepted’ unbridled freedom and the ‘me generation’ are driving people apart; ‘accepted’ materialism brings no meaning to life and can justify any act; ‘accepted’ science and the thousands of ‘accepted,’ competing, and contradictory religions provide no verifiable certainty as to our origin, purpose, and destiny. Almost no matter which way we turn, when the SOLVER principles are applied, we discover that the majority is usually wrong. That’s the bad news. The good news is that obvious solutions lie before us.
Making the best of life requires us to take responsibility for ourselves, to never stop learning, and to always be open to change. Thinking, the kind that matters and can bring hope, is an exciting journey, not a boring destination.
This book is structured in sections and chapters dealing with specific subjects to demonstrate the usefulness of open thinking. As you move through the topics—many of which may trigger ‘hot buttons’—judge what is said based on the fairness of the reasoning and the evidence, not its consistency with popular beliefs. You will surely find thoughts here that are counter to your present views. I am not asking you to convert to yet another belief, but only to consider where evidence and reason can lead. In so doing, I hope you will be inspired in an extraordinary way.
If you feel it leads elsewhere and wish to express yourself, this special asifthinkingmatters.com website has been created for that purpose. The search for truth and improvement in the human condition is always a work in progress, so questions, comments, agreements, and reasoned, evidence-based disagreements are invited and most welcome.
HOW TO THINK
IN THIS SECTION: Ground rules must be laid before decisions can be made about what is right or wrong, true or untrue. It is not enough to start with a belief and proceed from there. Unjustified belief is in large part the reason the world continues to teeter on the precipice, why so many people suffer as they do, and why we are kept guessing and floundering. If truth matters, thinking must matter. Here are the simple thinking principles anyone can apply to start solving life’s problems.
1. WE CAN AGREE
Reflect for a moment on how everyone on Earth can agree that it is reasonable to come in out of the rain, turn the heat on when it’s cold, and slip into our pants before putting shoes on. How is it that we can have such consensus but can’t seem to come together on other things that have to do with how we get along, or that could potentially ruin health, the Earth, or put us at war?
Television, radio, and Internet blogs teem with animated debate about immigration, taxation, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, racism, social security, healing methods, diet programs, sex offender punishment, socialized medicine, profiling, religion, education, abortion, and free trade. Last evening as I tried to listen through the cacophony of four people on a television panel screaming like a mini version of the chaos on the stock exchange floor, I thought about what a wonder it is that we humans ever agree on anything.
2. POSSIBILITY THINKING
We naturally fear what an honest, open-minded investigation of our ‘sure’ beliefs will reveal. It might mean admitting error or ignorance (a most dreaded thing to have to do), or changing how we behave (even more dreaded). It might mean leaving behind a sense of certainty that made us feel safe and then starting over at the beginning. We would be faced with the vulnerability and powerlessness that attends a new journey of unknown destination.
But such hesitations and fears are of no matter since we all must eventually face truth. The universe is truth, and that truth, not our beliefs, is what we are intrinsically a part of and must eventually be reconciled to.
3. THE SOLVER PRINCIPLES
There is latent within each of us, obscured by day-to-day busyness, consumerism, and titillating distraction, a common gift of reason that longs for and is quenched only by truth. The fact that we do not seek or get that truth can only leave us unfulfilled and empty (at least down deep in our heart of hearts), with no real sense of meaning or purpose beyond the next opportunity for gratification. Rather than seek truth, people either defer to others or throw together comfortable opinions about which they stay politely quiet. We make small talk about effects and symptoms and reserve as private our views on the important issues of causes and true solutions.
If we are ever to advance, we must lay bare the taboo subjects, the personal matters of ideas, beliefs, and faith, and make them fair game for open discussion and critical thought.
IN THIS SECTION: Health is a decision, not something that happens to us by accident. It is also a moral choice and duty, not just to self but also to those who love us and to society at large. Others should not have to mourn our pain nor pay for our care because we decided to live a life of neglect and abuse. To make healthy choices in life requires that we understand what we biologically are and how we fit into our world. Unlike in times gone by when the rigors of the wild mandated the lives we led, today, with so many choices, we must use intelligence and foresight— the SOLVER principles—if we wish to be healthy. There are as many different opinions on health as there are doctors and books to express them. But opinion is not what we are after; truth is our goal. Truth always lies within, and these chapters will help you think your way to being the healthiest you can be.
4. OUR OWNER’S MANUAL
To begin our examination of life, there is no better place to start than with health. With it all things are possible, without it almost nothing is. But achieving health seems increasingly elusive and confusing. There are countless opinions and few if any of them work, as evidenced by perhaps the fastest growing industry in our country, modern medicine. (Don’t get sidetracked here by the propaganda that we are healthier than ever and living longer today due to medical care. As you will see in the next section, those claims are especially rickety.)
Usually there is no easy answer to terribly important and complex subjects. Although health is most certainly such a subject, the answers to its dilemmas are remarkably simple—if we apply the SOLVER principles and are willing to step apart from the crowd.
5. WE LIVE IN A UNIQUE TIME
The degree to which we have veered from our genetic design is both remarkable and alarming. We are witness to an unprecedented acceleration of change. It is so exciting and seems so promising that potential consequences are overlooked or ignored. However, as explained in the previous chapter, our genes are not turning a blind eye.
It is essential to keep in mind that our material culture is transmitted and transformed separately from our genes. Our DNA hums along as if we are living in the bush.
6. BEING HEALTH SMART
Our great intellect is in large part necessary because of the quest for food. A cow is as smart as it needs to be to figure out how to eat what is always underfoot. The apex predator—clawless, fangless man—needs great cunning, memory, logic, and analytical thought. The spear and arrow have now been replaced with the grocery cart, but even more cunning is necessary in order to survive well and remain healthy in our confusing modern world.
We can no longer rely on instinct, senses, and trust. The healthy choices that were before us in the wild have now been replaced.
7. THE ILLUSION OF YOUTH HEALTH
The young begin with robust vitality and resiliency and ride high on the torrent of growth and sex hormones coursing through their vessels. Their digestive capacity rivals a garbage disposal, the immune system is well armed and alert, and any injury is repaired with remarkable speed. This trove of healing riches invites a lot of squandering.
However, youth health is a dangerous illusion. A young body is incredibly adaptable, but wrong living is like writing checks against a health account. Health potential is deposited at conception and is never added to. Every violation of healthy living draws down on the balance.
8. THE GOOD OLD DAYS
It might appear from the arguments in the preceding chapters that if we want to be healthy, we should abandon our soft lives and go rough it in the wild. Here’s a little perspective on that idea.
The primitive foraging tribe, usually limited to about forty people by the carrying capacity of the land, had an average lifespan of around 22 years. Humans were excellent prey. Not having strength, size, or speed to match the great predators, just trying to stay out of the jaws of the food chain would have been a full time preoccupation.
9. TIMING LIFE
We are not only genetically tuned to the natural world, we are inextricably linked to its rhythms in ways that are only now beginning to be discovered. The companion book on Solving The Big Questions will explain the science of this truth and its deeper philosophical meaning. But for now, just consider its physical and health implications.
The Earth, moon, and sun embrace one another so intimately that they are best understood as one giant living organism.
The benefits of exercise are myriad. It makes us feel good, burns excess body fat, grows and maintains muscle, strengthens bones and joints, helps flexibility, deepens sleep, improves appearance, creates a high, provides goals to achieve, lifts depression, relieves stress, increases self esteem, reverses and prevents disease, and helps us feel alive and youthful. There is virtually no measure of well being that cannot be improved by exercise.
In the wild, exercise would be as normal as breathing. If we were not industriously finding food, building shelters, and fighting off predators, we would not survive. In natural circumstances, eating is the reward for exercise.
11. HORMONES AND STEROIDS —A TWO-EDGED SWORD
When I was a young boy, seeing muscles bulge here and there was really cool. If a vein popped out a little that was even more awesome. There were no fitness centers or gyms to amount to anything back then. About the only option was to order Charles Atlas paraphernalia from comic book ads, or get muscles the ‘legitimate’ way by hard work.
I did lots of farm work and construction, but leaving nothing to chance, I built my own weight set with a pipe that I would insert into the holes of cement blocks. I loved the sense of strength that exercise brought and reveled in the pumped muscles that followed a workout.
12. THE FEMALE HORMONE PROBLEM
With increasing population pressure, modern independent lifestyles, and economic limitations, interest in child bearing is waning. However, nature does not change just because we exert our right to make a choice. What seems perfectly ‘right,’ turns out to be ‘wrong’ from a biological perspective. Women are designed to have children. Additionally, if children are conceived, opting for synthetic milk formulas also disengages women from the natural biological function of nursing. Not having children, as well as having them and not nursing, have profound hormonal effects and potential health consequences.
Contraceptive hormones, hormone replacement therapy, an increasing load of estrogenic pollutants in the environment and food, and a diet that has veered significantly from its natural design all set the stage for hormonal pandemonium, metabolic dysfunction, and disease.
13. GROWING OLDER
When we are young we assume that being old won’t happen to us. Old age is so far away we think it doesn’t matter, or maybe the event will forget us when we get there. Getting old happens to us in spite of ignoring it. It’s not an easy process, either, and is not usually done gracefully. To compound the biological problems, there is the pervasive and ignored ‘ism’ of our day, ageism, where the elderly are essentially ostracized. (More on this later.) It’s a tough row all of us must hoe one day. The actress Bette Davis summed it up like this: “Growing old is not for sissies.”
Not only do physical capabilities ebb with the years, but mental skills do as well. The elderly can cycle back to the physical and mental incapacities of being an infant.
14. SQUARING THE CURVE
It is a misconception that medical technology is increasing the potential life span of humans. In fact, it has done nothing to alter our genetic limits. No, medicine will not save us from ourselves by giving us immortality with an injection or pill.
This misplaced hope derives from the insidious and erroneous philosophy of materialism. The body is seen as a mere machine, and as such, perpetually salvageable. Although it may be true that parts may be repaired and replaced, life is not reducible to matter (see the companion volume), nor can the decline of any organism be circumvented. The Second Law of Thermodynamics demands that all physical things move toward ever increasing entropy, that is, toward ever increasing decay and disorganization.
15. HEALTHY DOS AND DON’TS
The previous chapters provide the philosophic basis for making healthy decisions. The purpose of this chapter is to show several specific ways that philosophy can be implemented. Here goes, one idea for each week in the year:
1. Responsibility —Take responsibility for yourself. You alone are the master of your own health destiny.
2. Philosophy —Without the correct roadmap to health, how can that destination ever be reached? Evaluate all life choices with the knowledge that you are a natural creature, designed to live in nature. Veer from this roadmap the least to have the most health.
16. THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
People go into the healing professions with high ideals. Most certainly, nothing could be much nobler than relieving pain and suffering.
But there is a slip between the cup and the lips. Medical schools (human and veterinary) inadvertently teach compassion and creativity right out of students by indoctrination in reductive materialistic science and the allopathic (symptom-based) version of medicine. Students are subjected to an antiquated lecture–note-take–regurgitate pedantry that overwhelms them with minutia, much of which they will never retain nor need. Upon graduation they are institutionalized, licensed, and regulated like cogs in a machine. Then the long hours and demands of internship, residency, and practice never leave room for reflection or altering thought patterns. Even the obvious is ignored: standard care often fails, and does harm far too often.
IN THIS SECTION: The modern commercial world would lead us to believe that experts, technology, and industry can fill our every need. All that is required of us is money. This mindset dangerously pervades healthcare, partly because medicine is a profitable business, but also because consumers are lazy and want others to take care of them. Yet health is not something somebody else does to us. It comes from within and cannot be purchased. It is a garden we individually sow and nurture. Letting our health go to weed and wither and then expecting medicine to fix it is unrealistic. Even if free insurance, drugs, and medical services were in limitless supply, the idea that humans are a mere assemblage of material parts and pieces, and that broken health can be serviced like a washing machine, remains dead wrong—and deadly.
17. THE GREATEST THREAT TO HEALTH
There is a prevailing belief that modernity translates into better health. A corollary of this logic is that we can live our lives pretty much as we want because we can always buy a repair. You know, the car won’t start, the TV is broken, and the telephone is dead, no problem. Just call in an expert, spend some money and all is well. So then, if our ticker falters, joints creak, or an unwanted growth pops up, no problem. Buy some modern medical care. If that doesn’t work, then the problem will surely be fixed with more money, better insurance, increased hospital funding, more research, more doctors, and better equipment and technology. Wrong.
18. DON’T SURRENDER TO MEDICAL CARE
Consider the case of the infant who was to have a routine circumcision (“so he will look like all the other boys”). The surgeon used an electrocautery that was set too high and burned the infant’s penis completely away. The medical staff then recommended to the young parents that the boy be surgically converted to a girl. The parents were assured that all would be fine so long as they reared him as a girl. What the heck, the only difference between a girl and a boy is the presence or absence of a penis and a few hormones, right?
In the end, the young boy never thought of himself as a girl and never behaved like a girl in spite of intense and devoted nurturing to the contrary. (Another nail in the coffin of nurture over nature.) It is hard to even imagine the physical and psychological stress this poor youngster and his parents went through.
19. “BUT WE LIVE LONGER TODAY”
The media, medical community, academia, drug companies, schools, parents, and friends all chime in with the same mantra about how blessed we are that medicine extends our lives. People are as confident that medicine increases life span as they would be if they had a fistful of aces. But when everyone smiles and agrees, they are usually wrong and progress weeps. The force field of “truth” surrounding this popularly held “but we live longer today” meme exempts the foundations of modern medicine from criticism regardless of their shortcomings. After all, if everyone gets to live into their seventies, on average, as opposed to dying in their twenties as a result of medical progress, what’s a few shortcomings?
20. DOLLARS DON’T MAKE HEALTH
Americans now spend over 2 trillion dollars annually on medical care. There is no end in sight to rising costs. From the medical community’s vantage point, they would hope not. If you have a cash cow you milk it for all it’s worth. Since expansion is the goal of free enterprise— and medicine is free enterprise—what else could be expected?
The only protestations there seem to occur when there isn’t enough money to feed the monster. The question is not about the rationality of drugs, vaccines, diagnostic machines, lab tests, surgeries, and hospital facilities, but rather, how will they be paid for?
21. DISEASE DOES NOT STRIKE US
Notice how the change of seasons seems to trigger illness. Traveling across time zones can do the same. We are like finely tuned machines and even small stresses can increase our vulnerability. Disease results from an imbalance with our physical and social environment.
We become vulnerable to organ failure, mental dysfunction, loss of vitality, cancer, infection, and even death when stressed. Cattle that are gathered into feed lots or shipped often succumb to shipping fever, a deadly viral and bacterial infection. Baby elephants offered the best of food and conditions will die without social contact.
22. GERMS DON’T CAUSE DISEASE, WE DO
At one time at our office we had a day care. It was complete with a classroom, an area sectioned off for indoor play, kitchen, and outside playground. There was a full-time monitor/teacher and lots of little munchkins around the office interrupting us during the course of the day.
It was great for moms and dads to be able to interact with their children during the day. If you own a business, think about doing this. If you are an employee, get together with coworkers to see what you can do to help the business you work for get one established. We operated ours for almost a decade, until most of the youngsters grew up. Several of them have even come back to work with us as young adults. We became like a home away from home.
23. FROM WHERE DOES HEALING COME?
The premise of this book is that the difficult issues facing humans can be solved. Surely you must have wondered at my optimism. But reflect on these two health and medicine sections and notice that problems arise simply because the correct method of thinking has not been employed. First off, human welfare is not given priority, and secondly, every one of the SOLVER principles is violated: Self-responsibility is not fostered; Open-mindedness is not encouraged; Long term consequences are not measured; Virtue is not the objective; Evidence of failure and of better systems of healing are ignored, and Reason is put aside for the sake of profits and protecting old ideas.
As will be repeatedly shown in this and my book on Solving the Big Questions, we get into trouble again and again when we marry ourselves to unproven beliefs and retire our minds.
THE BEST FOOD
IN THIS SECTION: Although there exists every imaginable diet, and everyone has advice about what to eat, there is only one healthy option. It is neither a mystery nor is it a problem for technology and commerce to solve. We are finely tuned, genetically programmed creatures that have specific requirements. All we need to do is open our eyes to let nature teach us. It is a matter of becoming reacquainted with what we already intuitively know but have been distracted from by the modern world. Armed with correct thinking we become our own best nutritionists without ever having to count calories, think about cholesterol, fiber, protein, or carbs, and without being misled by any other fad that comes along.
24. THE BEST FOOD
Most people believe the average diet based upon the official food pyramid is just fine. Some eat predominantly fast food. Others advocate veganism (eating only plant foods), or lacto-ovo vegetarianism (plants plus dairy and eggs). Others set their eating practices by the standards of holy writ that proscribe or sanctify foods. Others just eat what tastes good and that’s logic enough.
People in general feel guarded and pretty jealous about their food choices and don’t like others meddling. But eating is not recreation. Food choices are health choices. By and large, however, diet is a topic essentially ignored by the medical profession other than just to parrot what the public already hears on the television set. This includes marketing sound bites about cholesterol, calories, fat, fiber, or whatever else is making money for an industry at the moment.
25. FOOD ETHICS
The thought of a creature, any creature, dying in order for people to eat is very unsettling for many. It is also puzzling that humans seem to be the only ones who make a fuss about it. Other creatures just eat what they are designed to eat and apparently never give it a second thought.
Vegetarianism is a choice many make because they feel that taking animal life is wrong. But how is it logically valid to assume that the life of a plant is of less merit than that of an animal? Plant and animal are mere words humans have devised. There is no such labeling in nature.
26. HEALTHY WEIGHT
Food is fuel and materials. It provides the building blocks for organic structure and the energy input for the dynamics of life itself. Interestingly, the sun is the ultimate source of the energy we derive from food. Through photosynthesis the sun’s energy makes the bonds between atoms in food plant molecules. In turn, food animals consume plant molecules. When we digest and metabolize plant or animal tissue we break the carbon-to-carbon bonds in the molecules, releasing the sun’s energy for our own use in building tissue, fighting disease, keeping warm, and moving about.
That’s all kind of peripheral to the point of this chapter but it is quite fascinating that the source of the energy keeping us at 98.6 degrees and for every move we make is the sun. We, and all life, are solar powered. It is yet another fact demonstrating our inextricable link to the natural world.
27. HEALTHY EATING IDEAS
Modern living, individual circumstances, and tastes that have been formed over a lifetime may not permit us to eat perfectly. That’s okay. If we keep our sight on the goal of matching food to our genetic design, we can slip here and there. The body is forgiving and health does not require that we follow a precise eating formula.
Nevertheless, since the type of diet explained in the previous chapters (undereating with overnutrition) is a dramatic departure from common fare and style (being overfed and undernourished), you may wonder what to do next. This chapter will provide some specific daily eating ideas on returning to nature.
IN THIS SECTION: The health of the mind is directly linked to physical health, which in turn is determined by lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition. On the other hand, the mind can influence the health of the physical body. Mood, hope, happiness, and fulfillment affect our lives and at the same time are products of how we live them. Modern life has made us increasingly dependent for even our basic needs. When things go wrong, such dependency makes it easy to blame others and feel victimized. But we are never really pawns, nor is life a guarantee. Seeing life as an opportunity over which we have control is the key to mental health.
28. FIRST THINGS FIRST
The medical view of the mind is that it is just a product of the electrical currents flowing across neurons. This hamstrings approaches to mental health. Effects are focused upon, diseases named, symptoms treated, but cures are elusive.
Contrary to popular belief, although the mind is related to the brain, it is not a mere product of neurons (much more on this in Solving the Big Questions), nor is the mind disjointed from bodily function. Depression and psychological stress can sap the will for a productive life, suppress the immune system, and open the door for infectious and degenerative diseases.
People often perceive hopelessness as an effect rather than a cause of mental and physical disease. Hopelessness creates a despair that descends upon us when we sense that there is no apparent way out of a situation and we fear an outcome over which there seems to be no control. Not only can depression set in, but physical illness almost always follows the stress of hopelessness.
Seemingly hopeless situations could be things like the death of a loved one, being sued, receiving news of a serious illness, losing a job, a marriage that seems unworkable, a child going astray, discrimination, or conflict with friends, relatives, or coworkers. Looking backward can also affect us negatively because it is hopeless to try to change the past or bring it back.
Depression sends approximately 25 million people to the doctor each year. Some 90% of these visits result in medications with usually little or no attendant advice on lifestyle or nutrition. Prescriptions for depression have doubled in less than a decade even though studies have shown that most such medications are no more effective than placebo (sugar pills). Even children have become a growth market for such medications.
It is estimated that fifty million Americans are on SSRI antidepressant drugs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac. Research has shown that 40% derive no benefit, 30% have diminishing effects after initial benefits, and almost 90% will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Recently I bought a bluegrass CD because I find some of this music very enjoyable and uplifting. I usually don’t pay much attention to lyrics, but one of the songs was so enjoyable I found myself trying to sing it. To do that, I had to pay attention to the words. This is what I ended up with:
“The wind is blowing around the cabin. I hate to hear that lonesome sound. I’m all alone and so downhearted since my true love has up and gone. I hate to see the sun a sinkin’. Another night to toss and turn. Another night to be without her, another night for her and him. She had no cause to go and leave me, for I had never done her wrong. She left our home and little children and with another man she is gone. The children they are sound asleeping, for they don’t know their mother’s gone. What will I do when they awaken? Can I tell them their mother’s gone?”
There is wide consensus that addicting drugs are a bad idea. They can obviously suck the life right out of a person. But what is not generally recognized is that there are many other ruinous addictions, many of which are not even recognized as such because of their social acceptance.
Actually, life is filled with addictions. We are addicted to eating and sleep, for example. Also, to lesser degrees, we can be addicted to exercise, sex, work, and interpersonal relations. The body and mind are designed to feel comfortable if we do these things. Pleasure chemicals are released to the brain by doing them, and discomfort results when we don’t. Addiction to the things that keep us alive and healthy is a survival mechanism.
33. BLAMING THE PARENTS
Having children brings responsibility. That responsibility is to provide for their needs until they are capable of taking care of themselves. If your parents did this for you, they did their job. If they did not and you are now an adult, then what does it matter?
But no, therapists’ offices are filled not only with young adults, but people in their 50’s and beyond moaning about how they were potty trained too early, once got a spanking, lived through a divorce, or weren’t loved as much as siblings. Rodney Dangerfield lamented, “When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.”
34. SURVIVING TRAGEDY
The loss of loved ones is inevitable. The tragedy is not so much for the one who has passed as it is for those who remain and suffer guilt, regrets, and loneliness.
There is no way to escape tragedy other than to die before anyone else does, be a recluse, or not permit close relationships. However, close loving relationships are a wonderful and even necessary part of a full life. Perhaps the pain we feel from the loss of a loved one is to teach us the very meaning of life, love, and the importance of respecting relationships when we have them.
One of the most generous, meaningful, and memorable gifts we can give to another person is to kindly touch them. There is an unidentified energy conveyed to another when they are touched in a caring and loving way. It symbolizes the unity, oneness, and belonging we all seek deep down.
Booths set up at fairs that offer hugs can have the longest lines. Teachers who move about the classroom, touching, adjusting collars, patting, and holding the hands of students, create a learning experience unexcelled by any other method.
36. MUSIC AS HEALER
Appreciation for and creation of music (beyond the few programmed notes of songbirds) appears to be a unique human quality. Nobody knows why or how it has come into being. My theory is that it has to do with the fact that we are not really substance—as quantum physics has proven—but rather, at the fundamental level, waves and vibrations. The unseen reality is one all-encompassing harmonic symphony. (I develop this more fully in Solving the Big Questions.) Our bodies naturally seek balance, a form of harmony. Music can help us achieve that.
Music has a powerful and very real effect beyond just giving pleasure or causing a toe to tap. Universities now offer classes on music as therapy. Researchers also report breakthroughs on difficult mental conditions through the use of music.
Why we laugh at the things we do is not well understood. It must have something to do with advanced intelligence. The more intelligent we are, the more we understand relationships and anomalies and this is what humor is about. This wonderful gift can both expand the mind and relax the brain. It should be used as much as possible.
Don’t let life hammer you into a corner. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Always be willing to laugh at yourself. Humor helps us keep things in perspective. It elevates mood, relieves stress, improves optimism and just plain makes life more enjoyable.
IN THIS SECTION: Pets are wonderful reminders of our origins. They tell us that although we may have conquered nature in many respects, we are still a part of it. Without speaking a word, they can also teach us about love, devotion, kindness, compassion, and responsibility. Pets are also mentally and physically therapeutic. But with the decision to, in effect, take pets from nature and remove their options, comes the serious responsibility of providing for their mental and physical well being. To do that requires more than packages of food and shelter. We must do for them what we must do for ourselves in order to achieve health: return to nature.
38. PETS AS LIFE SAVERS
As our modern world becomes more urbanized, populated, and technologically dependent, we can feel lost in the crowd and isolated. Our electronic era makes personal contact less and less essential in day-to-day life. Telephones, faxes, and computers have replaced handshakes, hugs, and face-to-face friendships. The Internet Age is exponentially speeding this fundamental change in interpersonal relations.
When we separate from one another by wires and antennas we leave something behind. There is an inherent need in each of us to experience social and physical contact. Warm, personal friendships and loving and caring touch create feelings of worth and security not replaced by e-mail or soap operas.
39. PET KEEPING - A SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITY
Pets are remarkable creatures. They are:
• Masters of life in the moment and in the art of simplicity
• Reflections of a world forgotten, presynthetic, more complete
• Reminders of the quiet strength and dignity of creation not tinkered with
• Keepers of gifts we have lost or never had
• Ambassadors of loyalty, love, forgiveness, acceptance, fun, and truth that are neither measured nor withheld
• Recipients of our wonder, respect, love—and needful of the care that will bring them the fullness of health that comes only from nature obeyed.
40. THE MYTH OF 100% COMPLETE PET FOODS
The pet food industry has been running in place and causing immeasurable harm to pets for at least 75 years. It presents an egregious example of scientific hubris and commercial irresponsibility. Whether you have pets or not, what follows will underscore and substantiate everything the book has said thus far regarding how wrong society can be. Only in this case, our wrongness falls upon innocent pet victims.
Companion animals were once fed table scraps and also ate whatever they could find or catch in the barn or fields. This was fine until leash laws were enacted and pets became more urbanized and house bound.
41. FEEDING PETS AS NATURE INTENDED
This chapter will reveal what nutritionists, veterinarians, and regulators are not taught, and what pet food manufacturers would prefer you didn’t know. Unlike the standard information about animal nutrition, I will not talk about percentages of nutrients. You know, the tired old stories about how calcium is good for teeth and bones, vitamin A is good for vision, essential fatty acids make a smooth and glossy coat, and so on. After all, why pretend as if the road to health is a matter of playing the nutrition percentages game? It hasn’t worked to prevent all the degenerative diseases plaguing animals (or humans), so why give it credence as though it did? Instead, let’s look at pet feeding as if thinking matters.
Most premium pet foods appear polished, official, safe, and regulated in their enticing packages. It would appear there must be good science and know-how behind them. Although the previous chapter should have put that belief to rest, consider this little tightly held pet industry secret: Anybody off the street (even you) with some money and ambition can go to any of dozens of manufacturers across the country and have them make a “new improved” pet food in short order. No special license or credentials are needed.
IN THIS SECTION: We once thought that we were separate from our environment, from the trees, sun, animals, and air. We once threw garbage out our car windows without a care. The world was so vast it could absorb anything we did and not be phased. As population swells, Earth’s resources bottom out, refuse piles up, and we choke on our own exhaust, we begin to see that the environment and we are one and the same. Harm to one brings harm to the other. Expansive thinking, foresight, compassion, selflessness, and love are the tools we need to sharpen if we are to survive on planet Earth.
42 . INDUSTRY VS EARTH
The industrial revolution began at a time when the Earth was not yet fully explored. It still seemed limitless with an absorbing capacity far beyond human reach. Waste was simply dumped on the ground, in water, or billowed into the air. The enthusiasm for the wonders that the industrial/technical era could bring caused everyone to think as far as the goodies and no further.
We now know civilization’s capacity to disrupt environmental balances cannot be ignored. On the other hand, neither can we stop industrial/technical advance. It’s a heck of a pickle. Industry wants to proceed as if there are no environmental consequences, and others, not wanting to gag on exhaust, want to put the brakes on.
We live on one finite world with finite resources. Population growth, potentially, is infinite. Is that not a problem? This Malthusian dilemma has been debated in the closets for over a century, but almost nobody seems to want to talk about it openly other than to insist everyone has the right to reproduce endlessly. Imagine the fate of a politician who told us we needed to curtail reproduction, even if it might be the bold-faced truth?
Aside from the ability of humans to accelerate technological development and the exploitation of Earth’s resources, consider the sheer magnitude of the human population explosion. It supposedly took 2 million years for the Earth to reach its first billion in population. It will now take only about 11 years to add another billion.
44. MODERNITY’S DECEPTION
Although it is characteristic of every generation to think of itself as unique, ours truly appears to be so. As explained in the section on health, the speed of change since the Industrial Revolution is unprecedented. Time itself seems to be compressing.
We must keep in mind, however, that material culture is transmitted and transformed separate from our genes. The technological and artificial trappings with which we surround ourselves are all a gigantic experiment in which we are the subjects.
45. ANIMAL RIGHTS
From a purely biological perspective, no creature inherently has rights beyond that which it has the power to impose. What is able to survive does, what cannot does not. But our world is not just biology. It is ethics as well. “Might makes right” cannot be the operating paradigm in a world where freedom, compassion, humanity, and love are desired. Nor are we removed from consideration of the rights of other creatures just because we are paying somebody else to create drugs, scent a deodorant, or raise our food.
Humans with the ability to use their technology to affect and control the world so widely and deeply are constantly faced with ethical choices. Modern life is not a matter of mere survival as it was when we were in the wild. It is an opportunity to develop and grow as introspective, sensitive, and ethical people.
What is it that causes that warm glow inside, the sense of peace and exhilaration when walking through the woods or sitting by the ocean and watching the sunset? Why are we spellbound by the beauty of a fresh snowfall clinging to trees, the smell and feel of the first warm day in spring, and the vistas of unspoiled prairies or mountain ranges?
Watching animals in the wild or even the behavior and antics of our pets can affect us similarly. Virtually everyone is touched by such experiences, even though we seem to be increasingly alienating and isolating ourselves from nature.
47. RESPECT FOR ALL LIFE
Labels exist nowhere in nature, and nowhere in nature can we find rules about how things should behave toward one another. But that reality is just too unsettling and untidy for us. So we create words that artificially frame reality and provide markers for behavior. Even living, dead, plant, and animal are concepts that exist as clean categories only in the heads of word makers. Nevertheless, once labeled as living, dead, plant, or animal, we then behave toward the thing defined in a certain way. We treat dead things differently than living things, and animals differently than plants. The problem with this categorization is that nature is homogeneous and continuous. Naming things does not change that.
For example, we tend to think of plants as dumb, insensitive, photosynthetic food producers. Yet, researchers have electrically monitored plants and discovered a sort of nervous system that is sensitive to and responds to its environment. Studies also show that tenderness in the care of plants—singing and talking to them, touching them fondly—results in the plant’s enhanced growth and better health.
IN THIS SECTION: Business, money, and jobs are the lifeblood of modern society. Although economics occupies so much of life, little thought is given to its methods and impact. By going with the flow and racing for dollars we too easily lose sight of the ethics that must be employed in their accumulation and use. Economics is not a neutral human activity. It has limitless potential for both good and bad.
48. DOING GOOD WITH BUSINESS
The prevailing opinion is that business cannot succeed without a cold, dollars-first, impersonal approach. But a profitable end cannot justify any and all means. The power to affect the world that comes along with business transactions can result in a tyranny that can ruin health and the planet.
Modern business attitudes can mimic addictive behavior. Addicts first lie to themselves, then they lie to their families or their organizations, then they lie to the world. The lie to self is that amassing fortune will bring meaning or purpose to life. The lie to family and organization is that money should be life’s only duty. The lie to the world, through advertising and marketing, is that business endeavors that create worthless and harmful products should be supported.
49. THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
Every so often there is a global economic shift. When it happens, it unfolds quickly and lives are changed dramatically. For example, in Thomas Jefferson’s time 83% of the people in America lived on farms, whereas by the mid twentieth century only 3% did. Today we are in the midst of a similar transition that will put us in a new, almost unrecognizable world. Just a few decades ago America was the manufacturing capital of the world. Even workers of low skill could get good jobs and support their families with only one parent working. But manufacturing is not only being increasingly automated, it is being moved elsewhere in the world. As a result, notice how few one-working-parent families there now are.
50. THE POWER OF MONEY
Everyone thinks about money. Few, however, stop to think about how money originated and then evolved into a mechanism of power that institutions and any common person can wield to exert great good or bad.
Money’s original purpose was to serve as a convenient medium to replace barter. It represented hard work on a one-to-one basis. The blacksmith toiled for a day shoeing horses and got five dollars. The farmer harvested for a day and got five dollars. Each of them could then take their five dollars and go buy whatever they needed, understanding that what they bought would represent fairly the fruit of their day’s labor. Back when money was only hard currency that could be held in hand, it was an accurate reflection of the useful work that had been performed. But money could only accrue in a very limited way since a person could only work so much.
51. FINANCIAL AFFAIRS
It is everyone’ s personal responsibility to save sufficient money for future security. Nobody should place the burden of their care on government, family, or children. But, contrary to popular belief, getting to that point is not a matter of loaning and borrowing. Shakespeare wrote: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”
Nevertheless, borrowing has become standard practice. Note how many advertisements there are from banks, loan agencies, debt consolidation companies, credit score services, and attorneys who will help you declare personal bankruptcy (legally renege on all your debts) or help you get out of an IRS obligation for pennies on the dollar. All of this economic mismanagement subculture is spawned by people who insist on living beyond their means. Now about 50% of all earnings goes to service debt. As a result, the majority of people will end up outliving their assets.
52. WORK AS FRIEND
Business, work, and the flow of money they create are the lifeblood of society. A person in the wild must work hard constantly in order to survive. There is no choice. Although modern economics permits some to do no work and yet bathe in the lap of luxury, we cannot forget our roots and the fact that it is not natural to get something for nothing. Society can remain viable only if honest work and pay are exchanged. Unfortunately, it is a common inclination to be lazy, to want to return to the nest where moms and dads provide our every need and our most important responsibility is to have fun.
Socialism feeds these desires, leading people to believe they have every right to expect to have a mommy and daddy forever. That leads to feeling entitled to government, wage, and benefit handouts. A handout is something for nothing. That may be fine in philanthropy, but business and work are hard reality, not philanthropy. Reality is cause and effect. It is a false reality when an effect, money, comes without its proper antecedent cause, productive work.
IN THIS SECTION: Although freedom is everyone’s desire, once we left the woods and decided to pack together into society, imposed order became necessary. Order requires rules, and rules infringe on freedoms. The only way to strike the fine balance between freedom and the necessary limitations upon it is to apply thinking and the long view. If we do that, the world can come to unity, there will be no unfair discrimination, no despotic governmental oppression, decency, safety, and justice will prevail, and all people will be free to achieve their potential.
Before people gathered into complex societies, government was very simple. The might of the patriarch, matriarch, or the strongest member of the group maintained order. Those who disagreed were clubbed into submission or could move on into the vast untamed wilderness. As agriculture developed and food could be stored, people transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farm-based communities. Numbers swelled and leisure permitted more time for amour. Thus was born civilization.
Rubbing shoulders with increasing numbers of neighbors brings problems that need an arbiter, a central authority. Unfortunately, rather than people getting together and rationally devising a social order, rule by bully continued. Aristocracies were formed and obedience to their edicts was assured through brute force and fear. A few public beheadings, burnings at the stake, a disemboweling in the central square, and corpses skewered on stakes around the city went a long way in making citizens compliant no matter how malign the dictatorship.
54. THE END OF CIVILIZATION
Civilizations come and go. As things are going, ours is probably no exception and will go as others before it did. But it does not have to be that way. Barring a natural cataclysm that could send us the way of the dinosaurs, there is no reason our society could not continue on indefinitely. Even improve.
That would, however, mean applying the SOLVER principles with a particular emphasis on the long-view. All actions and policies now must be measured in terms of their effects into perpetuity. Our problem, and that of every civilization that has preceded us, is that humans tend to behave as all other animals do: We want all we can get right now, with little regard for what we leave for our children and theirs.
55. FREEDOM IS NOT EQUALITY
Freedom is a great idea and most societies have come a long way in advancing it. Unfortunately, it seems that all good ideas with a good start in principle and intention veer off once people lock on to them and they pick up steam. Once any idea is applied apart from reason, all bets are off.
For example, there are movements afoot to make schools multicultural in the name of freedom and equality. It’s difficult enough to accommodate just Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Ebonics. What happens when the Bantus immigrate here with their 500 languages? No society can hold together if its population balkanizes into factions that cannot communicate with one another. At an airport a 90-year old white female American citizen in a walker is practically strip searched to prevent a terrorist attack, while a young Arab man carrying a Koran is allowed to pass so as not to profile.
IN THIS SECTION: Each of us comes from a family, we are part of a family, and we can create a family. It is the foundation of life and the cornerstone of society. Marriage, sex, and children are not rights to do with as we please, mere entertainment, or things to serve only selfish purposes. A more sober and rational view grounds us in realistic expectations, reveals the ethical responsibilities family implies, and brings us the sense of belonging, security, love, and happiness we all yearn for.
Sex is a many-faceted thing. It has its utilitarian aspect— procreation—but it is also enjoyable and important for ego, bonding, social interaction, and health.
From a biological perspective, we can be thought of as little more than disposable packages of immortal genes: we carry the genes of our parents, we die, and our genes continue on through our children. We are in the grip of powers serving ends beyond our own.
In the beginning, prior to civilization, a few people in the wild with the urge in their loins to go forth and fill the Earth could have at it with little consequence. Life could be a concupiscent breeding frenzy. But with billions of people on one finite planet, thinking must now intercede. Although popular culture would have everyone believe they should have at it with gusto, sex has serious ramifications.
57. BEING IN LOVE
As children we are weaned on Cinderella and acculturated by an endless parade of romantic fantasies in novels, television and movies. It would be easy to assume that if we are not madly in love there is something wrong with us.
The euphoria of being in love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties. The object of our affection is perfect; any problems we see in them will disappear because of love; we feel more alive than ever; our sense of self worth is at its peak; we don’t get sick (immunity is actually strengthened during the phase); and we even look better. It is indeed one of life’s pure joys.
But the dizziness ends—for everyone. That’s why the stories about the spoony prince and princess never go on to talk about what happens next.
58. MARRIAGE—THE UNION OF OPPOSITES
Before a man and woman decide on the commitment of marriage, they must face certain facts. Topping the list is differences. Not just between two people, but between the sexes themselves. In the early going of a relationship when romantic love and sexual desire are blinding, contrasts seem unimportant. But after the euphoria ebbs, unless the couple have common interests on which to focus, such as children, differences can drive wedges into a relationship—and they do. Three fourths of all divorces occur after the first three years of marriage.
When two lives intimately intertwine in marriage and invest so much emotionally, separation is traumatic at best. If children are involved it is often a disaster. What follows is not so much a how to, or how not to, but a heads up about the realities of divorce.
The mate with whom the past is shared is a connection to personal history, giving a sense of grounding, belonging, and purpose. When there is a separation, connections are severed not only to the mate but also to the shared history. It is like tearing off one’s skin. Since marriage is in large part an effort to not be lonely, divorce represents a failed attempt that then amplifies the sense of loneliness.
60. THE FAMILY NEST
The breakdown of the traditional family structure is one of the most difficult and important problems society faces. If families do not take responsibility for themselves, society must step in. Although that may sound okay in theory—and is in fact what socialism/ communism is ostensibly about—it does not work in practice. Society is nothing more than a gigantic family and if people cannot shoulder the responsibility for smaller families in specific, they certainly won’t be able to take care of the bigger society family in general. Trying to make a healthy society family while ignoring the responsibilities of individual family units is like trying to eat soup with a fork.
61. HAVING BABIES
When first out of college I interned in Boulder, Colorado during the height of the hippie era. The establishment was increasingly being viewed with cynicism and the back-to-nature theme was coming of age. While there, friends of mine wanted to have their second baby at home because of a bad experience in the hospital with their first child. They were worried about the dangers and asked if I would help. I agreed.
It turned out to be an uneventful and beautiful experience for them and a remarkable and moving one for me as well. I was hesitant at first, nervous about all of the possible things that could go wrong, and aware of my potential liability. But after everything worked out, and considering the sheer wonder and beauty of the event, it seemed like the right thing to have done.
In the beginning, having children was just a byproduct of sexual instinct. Later it was a means to increase manpower for survival (hunting the mastodon, tilling the fields). Having children was an important part of life, even what one aspired to. Children were potential workers. A strapping daughter was great, a strong son perhaps even better.
Having children is also an expression of love between mates. How more intimate can two people be than to literally mix their biological (genetic) essence into a tangible package that both can love with equal enthusiasm? Children also help cement the marital bond through the shared common interest in their rearing.
63. THE EMPTY NEST
Here’s the problem. You have a baby. It’s cute and cuddly beyond your wildest dreams. It’s the apple of your eye and you’re completely sure there has never been another quite like it. You feel protective to the degree that you’d give your life for this little creature you’ve created.
At the same time, this genetic miracle you’ve created adores you. It’s a real love-fest. As your little miracle grows you get to relive childhood and innocence through its experiences. Watching it learn and develop makes you bubble with pride. Its first smile, steps, words (or facsimile thereof), and first potty alone are marvels. Each advance further convinces you that what you’ve created is one-of-a-kind. You see the opportunity to shape and mold a being into perfection, just like you, or how you wish you could be.
IN THIS SECTION: Life presents many surprises. Some are pleasant, even wonderful. Some are painful and tragic. We can learn from these events, even learn from the experiences of others to try to carve out a better life and avoid the bad parts. As we look back we will often think, “If I only knew then what I know now.” This Section gives a heads up on what life brings. You can learn from this or repeat it all for yourself and then say one day, “If I had only listened to what I read in that (this) book!”
No matter how reasonable the counsel or compelling the argument, we too often must live the experience and feel the pain before we really apply wisdom in our lives. For example, there is nothing like saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and feeling the embarrassment, or the empathy for the pain we have caused another, to teach the wisdom of zipping it or putting things another way the next time.
The value of experience was brought so vividly to mind for me when I experienced a car accident. A lady ran a red light and I broadsided her in the middle of the intersection. Decades later I can still see her car rolling up on its side exposing the undercarriage. I remember how fast it happened and how helpless I was at that moment. I was only going about 40 mph but the sick crushing pain from the impact of my body on the dashboard and windshield stays with me to this day. Hobbling around on crutches for weeks nursing a knee injury is not something I wish to repeat, either.
Education is a lifelong duty and adventure. It means learning, growing, and applying knowledge. Certain fundamentals must be gained, but education is not about settling in on a list of beliefs, closing the book, taking a test, and getting a degree. An open mind is forever essential or we make ourselves vulnerable to errors that could jeopardize the planet and ourselves.
Mental growth is an ongoing endeavor and a basic human requirement for happiness. Continuous intellectual development is necessary to be interesting to others, properly function in society, and to contribute to improving the world.
66. LIFE IS UNCERTAIN
Expectations in our early years go a long way in determining our happiness. Certainly setting lofty goals and working hard to achieve them is important. But that is not the ethic promoted in the modern world. We are led to believe that things come easily, we can avoid unpleasantness, we are entitled, immediate gratification is only a few dollars away and—perhaps most delightful of all—we are the focus of other peoples’ attention and interest. Moreover, when young, we assume that if we jump through the hoops of going to school, landing a job, getting married, having children, and making big bucks we will live happily ever after. Life can seem so certain when we are young and look forward.
Entertainment presents a Pollyanna ideal in which people are physically perfect, apparently don’t worry, are certain of their life’s course, always have fulfilling love and companionship, are secure in themselves, and seem to have abolished all negative aspects of life.
67. THINGS MOUND UP
People spend much of life busily moving toward goals of less work, less burden, fewer problems, and more peace, happiness, and freedom. We assume that school, raising a family, and succeeding in a career will bring the reward of leisure, fun, and a more carefree life.
What we do not take into account in this appraisal is that nothing goes away completely. Everything we do in life, every contact we make, every choice, mounds up. The junk in the garage and closets starts to take on a life of its own like some alien creature pupating and swelling uncontrollably. These bulging incubators in our homes are a metaphor for what is happening on a grander scale in the rest of our lives.
68. MURPHY’S LAW
Murphy’s law is: If anything can go wrong, it will. Then there is Otoole’s Commentary on Murphy’s Law: Murphy was an optimist. A related law is the Law of Selective Gravity: An object will fall so as to do the most damage. Corollaries to these laws are:
• The chance of the bread falling with the jammed side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
• If there are only two programs worth watching, they will both be on at the same time.
69. LIFE’S PREDICTABILITY
It is a well-known fact that young children go through predictable stages. The times at which they potty train, walk, cut teeth, speak words, smile, read, write and then get pubescently cocky are all pretty precisely worked out. Parents need only pick up a book and all this development is laid right out in chart form.
But it is not generally understood that such predictability continues through adulthood. It’s easy to assume that once we’re in control as adults we can bend life in any direction and stop or start any stage we like. Not so. How we think and behave as adults and seniors, and the challenges we face, are predictable.
70. FINDING HOME
It is common for young adults to look for greener pastures. They think that surely they can do better than their parents. I was no exception. After graduating from college, I gathered my little family and went west. Colorado seemed like a beautiful place to live. There were mountains, milder winters, wilderness, and lots of perfect skiing. It would be all I imagined and more.
But it was not long after I arrived that the giddiness subsided as I became swallowed up in the day-to-day activities of work and life. There was not much room to enjoy the romantic reasons for the move. To find a job in Colorado, I found myself in Denver, a city about fifty times bigger than my hometown. In three years in Colorado, I skied twice.
71. LEARN FROM HISTORY
History tells us the results of putting theory into practice. It cuts to the chase. Looking back on our own individual history—called experience—gives us better savvy to face what lies ahead. Experience helps us to know in a very personal and definitive way what works and what does not. No one would say that if they could take their history with them and live life over that they would not be able to do a better job of it.
We can’t do that, but we could listen to those who have lived more life than us and then use their life wisdom to guide our own. But no, we think we know better so we don’t listen. We insist on making our own mistakes, suffering our own bruises, and then complain that life is not fair.
72. SHAPING THE FUTURE
The future is unknown but is shaped by the actions of humans each day. However, the complexity of our modern world makes it seem as though our individual concerns and voices are too puny to make a difference. So we tend to live for the moment carpe diem, dream about what might be, and assume somebody else, somewhere else, pulls all the strings.
Yes there are movers and shakers but they are flesh and blood like everyone else. All they did was decide to make a difference and then act.
Each of us can, too.
73. THE OTHER LINE ALWAYS MOVES FASTER
Our fast-paced world can give us the feeling that everything is a race and that winning and losing defines every moment of the day. In the important matters of life, winning is a proper goal. The key word there is important. The problem is that most things in life, particularly the ones we stress about day-to-day, are not really important in the larger scheme of things.
We tend to take meaningless events as personally as if our value is diminished if others get ahead of us once in a while. For example, being in the slow line is frustrating. But that is the way things are; some must always be last. Who says we get to always be ahead? If we always get to be the first, then others always have to be last. Where is that written?
74. LITTLE THINGS ADD UP
Great wonders of the world—such as the pyramids, the space shuttle, utility grids, dams, waterways, skyscrapers, and computers— come to be one little bit at a time. Moreover, flesh and blood people just like you and me created such apparent impossibilities. They were just patient and persistent enough to make them piece-by-piece.
Look at the great castles, cathedrals, and other monuments of days gone by that were built before there were even light bulbs, electricity, bulldozers, cranes, power drills, or jackhammers. The intricate detail of these structures is astonishing and their scale overwhelming. Yet they were apparently done with little more than primitive hammers and chisels, one chip at a time.
75. GROWING UP
When we are young children our parents fulfill every need and define our world in what seems to us as absolutes. We never again have it so simple, easy, or well packaged. Growing up and away from that secure nest is no small task. Some fight it to their dying breath.
As a child we feel we are the center of other people’s universes. Parents, relatives, teachers, and other adults create that self-centeredmess (spelled correctly) with their love and nurturing. Although that is important to our early development, we can’t let it go to our heads. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get comfortable with the notion that everything is about us. Growing up means coming to understand that it is not.
Perhaps the most difficult of all life lessons is to come to the realization that each of us is ultimately alone. To ever truly grow up, every person must face this reality.
But it’s hard, having been reared as we were. We start as the apple of our parents’ eyes, have doting relatives and teachers who make us feel special, and are taught that God is personally watching over us. A secure job, social aid programs, and a mate and children of our own continue the feeling of being cared for and important.
Environmental destruction, billions of people starving or living hand-to-mouth, natural disasters, insane dictators, terrorism, corporate greed, urban violence, unprincipled politicians, and unreasoned governmental policies can make the world seem hopeless. But there are lilies among the debris and pond scum. You and I are those beautiful flowers waiting to blossom.
We can go about our business keeping our nose out of trouble only to have catastrophe befall us because the big players—business, institutions, and government—are not playing fair.
IN THIS SECTION: To not explore the fullness of the gift of life by improving oneself is a waste and a tragedy. Here are ideas and motivation to become the best you can be.
78. PAYING THE SUCCESS PRICE
Thomas Edison performed thousands of experiments to get to a desired end point. He would say, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He also said, “The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls and looking like hard work.” One artist credited his success with his determination to do 10 more drawings each time his art instructor would assign the class a certain number of sketches. One football great came 15 minutes early to practice and stayed 15 minutes late. The result? Thirty minutes a day made the difference between ho-hum and greatness.
It’s easy to assume that the success of those who rise to the top is due to some kind of special gift, or that they were just lucky.
79. CHANGE— A WONDERFUL THING
We can safely wager that just about everything we hold to be true at this point in time is wrong or incomplete. That is what history teaches. Since we are likely wrong on most things, why would we not be open to change, even seeking it? A sixth century Chinese proverb says, “We will end up where we are going if we don’t change direction.” Why not be willing to give up at any moment who we are in order to become all that we can be?
By tenaciously holding to present beliefs, progress weeps. Society owes its advance to those who have dared to differ, not to conformists. But “psychosclerosis” (hardening of the intellect) and “neophobia” (fear of new ideas) are at epidemic levels and always have been. Nobody is immune regardless of their station or credentials.
80. BEING THE BEST YOU CAN BE
Most people do not grow in the mental department much beyond the 13-year-old stage. What they learn by this age is sufficient to get them by, so that’s where they remain. Also, in our modern age, people have changed from being something, to having things. Instead of inventing, they buy inventions. Instead of playing the sport, they watch pay-per-view. Instead of being healthy, they get a pill. The result is a neutral gear where a person becomes a mere repository of goods and services. But life is funny that way. There is no such thing as status quo or neutral. Either we advance or we fall behind. This applies to business, relationships, society, employment, and physical and mental health. Use it (and grow it), or lose it. It’s not the easy road, but what worthwhile in life is?
The body and mind are designed for growth. We can always learn a new physical skill. Strength, coordination, and speed can all be increased. It takes work, but it can be done. The body thrives on signals telling it that it is alive, needed, and must improve because of the demands placed upon it.
81. DO SOMETHING, SOMETHING HAPPENS
The laws of motion in physics dictate that all things in the universe move toward a state of rest. Once at rest they stay there unless acted upon. A ball rolls along the ground and finally stops. It stays there unless some force again acts upon it. Creatures are alive and dynamic but inevitably move toward a state of rest (death). All molecular motion in the universe is inexorably moving toward the same state of stillness.
This principle of motion also applies to living. If we want something to happen in our lives—have more friends, excel in a sport, make more money, be healthier—we must take the bull by the horns. Good things do not spontaneously generate; they happen because we take action.
82. CHANGE THE WORLD
The world can change because single individuals like you and me decide to do it. It doesn’t have to mean running for office or organizing protests. Just doing whatever small thing you can in your own life can make a difference. If it is a good idea, it may catch on without even telling a soul.
In biology there is a recently discovered phenomenon called morphic resonance. It is the instantaneous transmission of ideas, beliefs, skills, and even physical characteristics to others far distant and not connected in any material way. For example, after monkeys on one island decided to wash their food, monkeys on other distant islands began doing the same.
83. GROWING GOOD PEOPLE
If society is ever to advance, people must be nurtured properly, taught correctly, and then stand on their own two feet to take responsibility for their own actions. What can be done to grow such people?
Let’s start at the beginning. At age seven months in the womb, humans begin language coordination in response to what they hear through the mother’s belly wall. Some 52 muscles learn to respond to the various phonemes (a phoneme is a basic language sound like ‘b’ in boy and ‘m’ in man) of the language surrounding the mother. The emotional state of the parent imprints itself on the baby growing in the womb, as do things like music and other environmental conditions. Poor nutrition, drugs, and even topical lotions and pollution spill right through directly to the fetus via the placenta. Parenting and nurturing better people obviously begins way before the bassinet.
If the only tool possessed is a hammer, there is only so much one can do. Add a saw and the possibilities dramatically increase. Add some nails, screws, screwdriver, wrenches, crowbar, level, router, jigsaw, and drill with bits, and now we’re talking serious possibilities.
Words are the tools of thinking. The more we have, the more things we can do with our mind. Why do large vocabularies characterize outstanding men and women? The best answer seems to be that words are the instruments by which people grasp the thoughts of others and with which they do their own communication. Small vocabulary means small mental input and output; large vocabulary means large input and output.
Most of us think genius is unachievable. We perceive it as a gift we are either born with or not. If not, then we are supposed to be content to look with awe upon those who have the gift, as if they were from some other planet.
Most certainly there are those who are born with special talents. Some, from infancy, have remarkable skills in language, math, music, and memory. The source of these precocious skills is a mystery. It is difficult to believe that it is the result of some random mutation, recombination of genetic material, or atavistic quirk. Evidence shows that it is something else entirely, but I will leave that to discuss in Solving The Big Questions.
86. LISTEN AND LEARN
No matter where we go, there are too many wide-open spaces... surrounded by teeth.
Listening, not thinking about what we will say, is a lost art. Talking, on the other hand, too commonly reveals a mind that has not had sufficient input. Abraham Lincoln once remarked, “He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.” Socrates, wise to the waste of time the mouth causes in the learning process, would make students wait three years before they could even ask a question.
There is no learning when the mouth is engaged. “Listen, or your tongue will make you deaf.” (Cherokee proverb.) Learning by listening provides the necessary fuel for good colloquy. Unfortunately, people are like barrels in that the less they have in them the more noise they make.
87. MIND OVER MATTER
Negative expectations yield negative results. Positive expectations yield positive results. This is most remarkably evident in sports. If you throw an object, shoot a basketball, or hit a tennis ball it will go where you want if you are absolutely focused and sure of the outcome. You, in effect, can will the object to its destination. This can be tested just around the home by throwing things in the basket. If you miss, note that you were unsure before and while you were throwing. If you score, you were sure, focused, and confident before and during the toss. Visualizing the outcome makes it happen (“Be the ball”).
The power of the mind is the reason some athletes excel while others do not. Once the basic skills are in place and the neuromuscular coordination embedded into memory as a result of determined practice, the only thing remaining is will and focus.
88. LOOKING GOOD
According to television commercials, a man is supposed to have a wooly pate, six-pack abdomen, and Adonis features. A woman should be buxom, svelte, made-up, in the latest fashion, and puffy-lipped.
Let’s put looks in perspective. Do people really care that much about how we look? Are other people thinking about us, or really only thinking about how they compare to us? Does our appearance preoccupy the minds of others? Do we spend time thinking about how others look?
89. PROTECTING YOURSELF
There are tens of thousands of murders each year in America, about one every twenty-one minutes. Homicide is the second leading cause of death in the general population aged fifteen to twenty-four years, and the first cause of death for black males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. More teenagers and young adults die from gunshots than from all natural causes combined.
It is reported that five percent or more of all high school students carry guns to classes. One million semi-automatic guns are made in the U.S. each year and are replacing the handgun as the preferred weapon. Millions of AK-47 rifles are imported from China… and they don’t go to the military.
As our world becomes more complex and we are distanced from nature and the sources of life, we become more vulnerable. Reflect for a moment on how dependent we are on electricity, heat, gasoline, water faucets, and stores stocked with food. If any of these things were interrupted, our very survival would be at risk.
In the not-too-distant past, just 50 years ago or so, a large percentage of the population occupied family farms. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of spending time at my grandparents’ farm where cows were milked, eggs gathered, a garden tended, and wood cooked food and heated the home. Garbage was thrown to the pigs and chickens, water was hand-pumped, and an outhouse with catalog pages for toilet paper was quite an adventure.
IN THIS SECTION: Before one can begin the journey to a successful life, a road map and ground rules are necessary. Most fundamentally, human life and health must take priority. If we begin with that premise, ethics can make sense and not be subject to the vicissitudes of libertine relativism. Commonly recognized, but rarely admitted, the universe not only has inherent laws that define and govern the physical world, but the world of choice as well. The ethical/moral laws embedded in the universe cannot be altered, and consequences from violating them are certain. To understand what these ethical standards are does not require consulting with others. They are indelibly written within each of us like involuntary heart rhythm and respiration. Unlike those physiological processes, however, the laws of ethics are there for us to either heed or ignore. Life is about choices, and they are all ultimately ethical and moral choices. Nothing is truly neutral since all
things are interconnected, if even by a very thin and long thread. How we spend our time and energy either contributes to the improvement of the human condition, or subtracts from it. There are always good things that can be done and if we are not doing them, that is also a choice. Listening to the voice within, being true to it, facing reality, and keeping long-term consequences always in mind provides the best direction for a life well lived.
91. LIFE IS MATH
2+2=4. The purity of this simple equation reflects the order, rationality, and beauty inherent in nature. The formula never changes, is absolutely reliable, and crosses all language, age, gender, political, and historical boundaries. Unlike our endlessly conflicting ideological ideas, it is something all people can agree on. Wars are not fought over whether 2+2=4. That’s because the equation is clear, unequivocal, and backed by evidence, not an abstract idea backed by belief and faith. Math is a model for addressing life as if thinking matters.
Math allows us to do the seemingly impossible like invent computers and put men on the moon.
Laws and enforcement exist in every culture. However, such culturally relative artifacts are not what holds societies together. Without the inner sense of right and wrong (ethics) and the personal suffering people experience from not obeying it, all would be lost. If everyone thought might makes right and the trick in life was getting away with whatever we could, a brutal pandemonium would reign. The British philosopher, Clifford, concluded: “What hurts society is not that it should lose its property, but that it should become a den of thieves.”
We normally look to books, institutions, prominent luminaries, and tradition for moral rules. But when the huff and puff is sifted away, all such rules turn out to be the creations of humans. The natural question should then be: Who are other people to tell us what to do? There is no law written across the sky demanding that some people be rule makers and everyone else rule followers. Yes, rules laid down in society in order to maintain order are necessary. But those rules may or may not be ethical.
When we were children our parents told us what was right and wrong, school had its rules, and church had its sins. To be good, all we needed to do was obey all the dos and don’ts. If we did this, we were led to believe we were following conscience.
This view of conscience can carry into and through adult life so that one’s perception of right and wrong is shaped primarily by the dictates of others. Is conscience just a product of nurture? Are we mere blank moral slates at birth to be written on by others, or do we have an inherent sense of ethics from the get-go?
94. THE LONG VIEW
The ability to see long-term consequences and then act with wisdom early is in short supply. We are just not very good at doing the difficult and painful things that make sense for the long haul. We would rather have our rewards now and hope there is no price later.
People eat every manner of processed synthetic junk because it’s easy, quick, and gives the taste buds a thrill. We live sedentary lives that are comfortable, easy, and bring the most immediate pleasure. Riches are feverishly pursued without regard for what gets in the way. The feelings and lives of others are callously used as stepping-stones for personal gain and ego satisfaction. A 2-trillion dollar medical system focuses on health crises and symptom relief without addressing fundamental causes.
95. BEING REAL
All evil—that which works against a good world and good us—can be thought of as nothing but a kind of lie. Falsehood is discord with the underlying truth of the universe.
Reflect back through the many topics in this book. We find again and again in our society that the most popular views are usually wrong. Trying not to get faked out is like a full time job.
IN THIS SECTION: To become better people and to make a better world requires setting aside cherished beliefs, facing reality, and, a most difficult task, change. By using the SOLVER principles, not only do our underlying problems become manifest, but truth has a chance of being brought into focus, and with that, hope for a better and brighter future.
One of the most frustrating things we can experience as we open our minds and grow is the world’s resistance to change. Democrats, Republicans, atheists, Catholics, Baptists, humanists, polygamists, sloppy people, lazy people, capitalists, socialists, racists, overeaters, undereaters, junk food eaters, video addicts, sugar and starch addicts, rude people... and on we could go, just want to stay where they are. They are addicted to their mindsets. If you speak to anyone and ask why they think and behave as they do, they will give various justifications, including dogmatic assertions about how they believe they are right. If you try to suggest that they may be wrong and should change, they will bristle, like any addict who has their supply threatened.
Everyone seems to be stuck in ruts. We all see this failing in others, but tend to be blind when looking in the mirror. We want to continue on our merry way, expect others to change, and demand that ‘somebody’ needs to fix problems that occur in the world that interfere with our comfort zones.
97. END AND BEGINNING
Imagine driving on a mountain road, cruising right along enjoying the scenery. As you break over the crest of a hill the road takes a hairpin turn. Unable to react in time, you go tumbling down the mountainside. When you awaken, you find yourself in a hospital at the foot of the mountain. You’re in the intensive care unit plugged into IV bags and monitors alongside other wreck victims. How relieved you are that medical technology is there to put you back together.
When your wits return you look out the window and see heavy equipment shoring up the hillside that you and others have excavated rolling down the slope. Looking down the street you can see numerous wrecked vehicles behind tow trucks all lined up waiting for repair. It’s amazing what mechanics are capable of these days.