Archive for November, 2016

Abundance = an extremely plentiful supply; overflowing fullness

Scarcity = an inadequate supply; not enough

How many of us have been taught the following: ‘The more you have, the less I have; if I give you something, it costs me what I gave you; the more I share the more depleted I am.’  These ideas feed the tap root called ‘Scarcity.’  Another way we feed the tap root that nurtures the scarcity mentality is through the concept of ‘competition’: ‘There can only be one winner; nobody plays for second place; winning is the only thing.’  By the by, the root of ‘competition’ is competere which means ‘to come together.’

Some of us have been taught the following: ‘The more you give of yourself the more you will have; when you give of yourself both you and the recipient will benefit; the more you use your gifts to meet the needs that exist the more everyone benefits.’  These ideas feed the tap root called ‘Abundance.’  Another way we feed the tap root that nurtures the abundance mentality is through the concept of ‘high achievement’: ‘If I help you do your best then I can do my best; if I share my best thinking with you then my thinking will only become better; if I support your development then I will be able to enhance my own development.’

In our country we love our professional athletes.  Research shows that the ‘true professional superstar’ is rooted in ‘high achievement’ – he or she is rooted in an ‘Abundance Mentality.’  The ‘want-to-be superstar’ is, more often than not, rooted in ‘competition’ – he or she is rooted in a ‘Scarcity Mentality.’  The superstar believes that it is important for his or her opponent to play their best for then the superstar can rise to an even higher level of performance.

The superstar believes this so much that he or she will seek to help their competitors improve.  Here’s one story: During the NBA finals one year, Larry Bird helped Magic Johnson find his ‘shot.’  When asked why he did this the ‘Bird’ stated that it was important for Magic to play his best for only then could he – the ‘Bird’ – play at an even higher level.  That night Magic ‘lit it up’ and the Lakers defeated the Celtics.

Here’s another from the business world.  Walt Disney was rooted in an abundance mentality and in high achievement.  He would give his ideas away because he said that this allowed him to generate more ideas.  He directly helped the Marriott brothers develop their concept of the ‘Six Flag’ parks by sending his best design team to work with them for two years.  He did this because he believed that if ‘Six Flags’ was successful then he could develop more fully his big dream (which he was able to do because ‘Six Flags’ was successful).

Developing an abundance mentality and committing one’s self to being high achieving are not easy challenges to embrace.  Developing both require for some a shift, for others a change, and for others a transformation.  We have choice.  What we choose – abundance or scarcity, high achievement or competition – is truly up to us.

Walt Disney left us a legacy and some words to reflect upon; here are a few of Walt’s words:

Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.

I do not like to repeat successes, I like to go on to other things.

If you can dream it, you can do it.




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I’m great at a deathbed. I’ve never given tranquillisers or psychiatric medicine. I’ve given love and fun and creativity and passion and hope, and these things ease suffering. –Patch Adams

Passion = a powerful, compelling emotion. 

Patch Adams reminds me that ‘Passion’ involves action and desire.  It is a desire, a willingness – perhaps an insistence – to give a gift.  The passionate gift-giver is relentless.  Like Patch Adams, the passionate gift-giver does not feel complete until the gift is given.  This desire – this passion, this fire-in-the-belly – moves one from mediocrity to significance.  For example, one insists on doing important work – the type of work that Patch Adams describes.

This relentless passion supports one’s persistence and resilience in the face of life’s normal and abnormal challenges.  It supports healers like Patch Adams to continue to give his gift even when the recipient is not open to accepting it.  The passionate person – healer, artist, parent, educator, leader, follower, etc. – is tenaciously gift-focused.  For this person the gift has nothing to do with income or job security or status or power.  Rather it is about finding a way to provide the other with a ‘change-opportunity’ and to do this via the gift-given.

The passionate gift-giver is rooted in integrity.  He or she doesn’t sell out, because selling out destroys one’s core – one’s heart and soul.  Selling out destroys the better angels of one’s nature and unleashes upon the world the darker angels of one’s nature.

Consider Ed Sutt, a preventative-healer of another sort.  Ed was the son of a contractor.  He grew up helping his dad build houses.  He became a student at Clemson University’s Wind Load Test Facility.  There he studied the science of building and the effect of wind on wood frame houses.  He viewed first-hand the devastation that Hurricane Marilyn had on wood-frame houses.  The experience transformed Ed and changed his life’s focus.

Popular Science noted: “The destruction was so complete in places it was almost surreal,” Sutt recalled.  Sutt sensed that much of the destruction could have been avoided.  “In house after house,” he said, “I noticed that it wasn’t the wood that had failed – it was the nails that held the wood together.”

Ed Sutt was passionate and he wanted to give us a gift.  So he spent the next eleven years (that’s right, gentle reader – ELEVEN YEARS) creating a nail that would eventually alter the fate of millions of people.  Sutt realized that it was a nail, not the rest of the house that mattered.  ‘It is not about the wood!’

Ed Sutt’s passion was not in making money – it was in making a difference.  It was a passion devoted to healing; a healing that was as powerful as the healing that Patch Adams gifted so many with.  Like Patch Adams, Ed Sutt chose to make a difference rather than follow the manual.  The gifts they gave were truly transformative gifts.  Their passion drove them and supported them.  How many of us have such passion?  How many are willing to pay the price for having such passion?  When have we chosen to be passion-filled-gift-givers?

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If I tell someone to ‘stand by’ he or she might take me literally and truly just stand.  One can stand on a street corner in New York; frozen in place by the anxiety of stepping into New York Traffic.  One can stand by his or her desk; fearful of sitting down and getting to work.  It seems that all ‘standing by’ requires a certain posture – this posture allows one to ‘stand by’ for some time.

On the other hand, if I ask someone to help me dislodge a stuck door or move a heavy object or to simply cause change to occur in one’s physical environment then one won’t do it from a ‘stand by’ posture.  One will choose to lean into it – if you don’t (think: transfer your weight for example) you have no chance of succeeding; you won’t move anything.

The life-invested person understands that the choice (‘choice’ is important) of posture is the critical ingredient.  Consider the Starbucks barista who steps into any situation and makes it better.  Her posture is forward, she is looking for opportunities to serve.  She looks for trouble for trouble provides her an opportunity to serve.

I have spent countless hours in a variety of classrooms in seven different countries.  From elementary school through graduate school there always seems to be the ‘reluctant student.’  You know him or her well: the reluctant student is sitting – head leaning to one side, resting on a shoulder, slumped at the desk, chewing on a pencil.  This is student as prisoner.

The chances of great work or great learning occurring is close to, if not less than, zero.  In addition there is no transfer of positive emotion, no energy going back to the teacher or being spread to other students.  My heart aches when I visualize and remember these students.  1n 1967 my experience of reluctant 9th graders transformed how I approached teaching and learning (that’s another story for another time).

This ‘reluctant student’ posture, attitude and lack of energy afflicts many folks – ranging from the ‘fast-food worker’ to the overworked ‘multi-millionaire’ and almost all folks in between.  It is a dis-ease that runs amok in our world.

Now, gentle reader, imagine with me the person as ‘artist’ and put him or her in the same situations.  The ‘artist’ is barely restrained, straining at the bit to get moving, to become engaged.  The ‘artist’ leans into the challenge or the situation.  I can see the ‘artist’ literally leaning in just as the horse leans in as it waits impatiently to be released so it can run.  The ‘artist’s’ energy creates energy and this energy moves into and around all others; the energy is a positive virus running amok.

The ‘artist’s’ posture changes the ‘artist’ and also changes those ‘standing by.’  When are you, gentle reader, and when am I, the ‘artist’ – when do we just choose to ‘stand by?’

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Recently I engaged in two conversations where one of the topics was ‘Old Age.’  As all of us – every one of us – is aging.  I have lived longer than many folks I know and I have not lived as long as some others I know.  My mother’s father died when he was 52; my mother died when she was 89.  My father’s father died when he was 72 and my father died when he was 91.  I never looked upon my parents or my mother’s mother (who also lived into her 80s) as ‘old’ or as ‘growing old.’  I viewed them as folks who were aging.

In many ways one grows old as a result of a mental process called ‘premature cognitive commitments.’  I have been reading about the research done that supports the hypothesis that as young children we make a decision about ‘old age’ and like a photograph our decision is captured and becomes frozen in time.  At some point as we age we then decide that ‘we’ and ‘others’ are now growing old – or, to up the ante – we deem them to ‘be old.’  Thus far, research has confirmed that few of us question this ‘photograph.’  We accept it as ‘reality.’

This photograph becomes the bedrock for everything we learn about growing old and it determines the age that we deem ourselves or others ‘to now be old.’  It appears that it is nearly impossible to alter this photograph.

Research also continues to confirm that young children (2-5 years old) who spend significant time with a vibrant grandparent and who are ‘exposed’ to other vibrant elders develop a photograph that does not lock them into a set concept about growing old and about old age.   Children who do not have this experience, those who have an experience of an elder as weak, dis-eased, or who has been labeled by the child’s parents as being ‘old’ (as in ‘Grandpa is old, don’t bother him’) tend to develop a photograph that captures ‘old age’ and ‘growing old’ in more negative ways.

What happens when the child ages?  The child brings out the photograph and the photograph now determines when and whether the child (now an elder) is growing old or has, indeed, moved into ‘old age.’  This is a type of Pygmalion Effect.

My mother’s mother was the matriarch of her family.  She out lived two husbands.  She was full of life (‘spit and vinegar’ was one description applied to her).  Even a week before she died – her body ravaged by cancer – she took a trip and came for a visit.  When I saw her I did not see an old person; I saw an elder person full of ‘spit and vinegar.’  My parents never acted ‘old’ nor did they ever refer to themselves as ‘old’ – they did talk about aging.  My grandmother and my parents gave me a gift, for today I do not think of growing old or of becoming old or of ever being an old man.  I am, as each of us is, aging.  I know that the day I announce that ‘I am old’ is the day I will cease to be fully alive.

Often poets, playwrights, and authors capture for us what researchers strive to describe via their jargon (think: premature cognitive commitments – a great piece of jargon).  One of the most disturbing photographs ever captured in print when it comes to the costs of single-minded, stunted existence is Miss Havisham, in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations.  For her, ever since the moment she was abandoned on the day of her wedding, mind and time had stopped.  We see her life-photograph through the lens of the boy Pip, who does not know her story – yet, he captures her photograph perfectly.  His is Pip’s word-photograph:

In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.

 She was dressed in rich material – satins, and lace, and silks – all of white.  Her shoes were white.  And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white.  Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table…

But I saw that everything within my reach. . .had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow.  I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes….

 …I should have cried out, if I could. 

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Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius (‘Meditations’)

I have never met a person who was, at some time in his or her life, ‘obsessed’ – for example: ‘I want’ transforms in to ‘I must have it.’  Some obsessions become so intense and focused that we label them as ‘Blind Obsessions.’

What is ‘Blind Obsession?’  Here is an example that for me clearly describes this type of obsession.  On 24 June, 1812, the Napoleon’s armies invaded Russia.  Napoleon was deemed to be the most brilliant strategist who had ever walked the earth.  To his followers he was a conquering hero.  His egoism was at its height; if you could look into his eyes you would see the gleam in his ‘I.’ Russia had gone from being an ally to being his enemy.

Napoleon’s armies had defeated all and now it was time to conquer Russia.  Napoleon’s armies marched forth carrying their great banners and gold eagle standards.  Napoleon marched forth carrying a dangerous mindset.  He had become obsessed (he called it determination) to have Russia – to have Russia no matter the cost in money or in human life.  As Tolstoy describes Napoleon in War and Peace, Napoleon had no use for ‘other’ alternatives – as he stated: ‘My determination is absolute.’  He moved from ‘I want to conquer Russia’ to ‘I must capture Moscow’ (he thinking was delusional – ‘If I capture Moscow then Russian will be mine.’

The Russian Tsar, Alexander I, reluctantly called upon an aged – and aging – bear of a general, Mikhail Kutuzov.  Kutuzov was not seen as the great general – not only was he old, he was fat, he loved his vodka, and he had a habit of falling asleep when he was bored (which was not infrequent).  Few believed in him and yet he was Russia’s only hope (a paradox to be sure).  As we like to say, ‘On paper Kutuzov was no match for Napoleon.’

Napoleon’s Grand Armeé advanced.  Kutuzov’s decimated army retreated.  Advance-Retreat…again and again and again.  Napoleon’s armies marched deeper and deeper into Russia.  Napoleon focused on his obsession:  Capture Moscow.  His goal was not to defeat and destroy Kutuzov’s rag-tag army (with all of his retreating Kutuzov never provided Napoleon an opportunity to directly engage his army).

Napoleon arrived in Moscow only to find that almost everyone had left and that the city had been set afire.  Now Russia’s two great allies stepped forth: The Russian Winter and the Russian People.  Sitting in the fire-gutted and winter-decimated Moscow Napoleon had no option but to retreat.  As Napoleon retreated Kutuzov attacked – the Russian people answered Kutuzov’s call to ‘Save Mother Russia.’  The two allies, the Russian Winter and the Russian People destroyed the great conqueror’s army.

In his ‘Blind Obsession’ the great strategist, the grand conqueror had become mindless.  Kutuzov had always remained mindful.  As one who was mindful, Kutuzov was constantly ‘creating’ – scenarios, possibilities, and options.  Kutuzov was awake and aware to new information – he reflected in the moment and he learned as a result.  Kutuzov was also open to more than one perspective – he openly sought them out.

Napoleon’s ‘Blind Obsession’ provides us a clear image of mindlessness.  Where Napoleon was rigidly focused – ‘I must capture Moscow!’ – Kutuzov was flexible – ‘I will withdraw and scorch the land in order to save the country; I will also wait for my opportunity to attack.’  Kutuzov sought out and was responsive to new information and he adjusted on the run (he was, mostly, always on the run).  Because of his ‘Blind Obsession,’ Napoleon was unable to take in any information that would shift or change his thinking.

How often do we become obsessed – perhaps blindly obsessed?  How often do we miss or ignore input that will help us learn or adjust or shift or change because we are focused or obsessed or perhaps even blindly obsessed?  Napoleon and Kutuzov continue to provide us with opportunities to learn.  Are we open to learning from their stories?


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A ‘Moral Climate’ is not the same as a ‘moralistic’ one.  Consider that one of the indicators of a moral climate is that it is not accepting of – it does not embrace – ‘moralizing.’  The first moral climate is the one that resides within each of us.  Those who wrote the Upanishads, or Confucius, or Plato, or the ‘founders’ of many faith-traditions were/are concerned with the state of one’s ‘inner life’ (think: soul if you will).  Is our inner life rooted in love, compassion, justice, harmony, mercy, forgiveness and healing?

A ‘Moral Climate’ also permeates a nation.  A ‘nation’ is simply a collection of individuals and relationships writ large.  Plato noted that there could be no just political order except one populated by just citizens and in order for just citizens to thrive the nation must also be just – a ‘both-and’ paradoxical scenario.

Today, it seems, we think that modern constitutional democracies are fine regardless of the private vices of those who are chosen to lead.  To talk about the inner moral life of our leaders is at least elitist and at worst undemocratic.  Is this ‘denial’ or ‘protection’ or an ‘indicator’?  Our leaders’ private lives are none of our business – we think.  We seem to deny that who a person is and who a person is choosing to become will directly impact his or her behavior – will directly impact what he or she chooses; how he or she chooses to lead.  We support our elected officials when it comes to hiding their inner moral environment; or we say, via our votes, that one’s inner moral environment does not matter.  We live in denial and history reminds us over and over that a nation that does so will pay ‘the piper.’

Once in a while, however, we – the ‘nation’ – will be jolted awake and the better angels of our natures (individual and collective) will emerge and respond.  For example, a single photograph may have done more to halt the Vietnam War than all of the writings and speeches and marches of the moralists.  My heart still aches when I look at the photo and ‘see.’  As a reminder: Here is Hung Cong Ut’s 1972 photo:


Individually and collectively, we do not like being told what to do.  We want to enjoy our lives and we want to enjoy them with an undisturbed conscience.  Those folks who disturb us are not welcomed – they are uninvited guests to the feast.  We have developed a multitude of defenses in order to fend them off (ignoring, intimidating, attacking, blaming them, etc.).

As individuals we are quite adept at this.  For example, the owner can live upwind of his chemical factory, and the logger may know that the trees will not give out until after he is dead.  Each of us can seek to insulate ourselves from a depleting moral environment – or profit from it.  Just as some trees flourish by depriving others of their due.  How often has the American white male (and I am one of these folks) flourished because of the inferior economic or social status of people who are not ‘white males’?  To the extent that I am one of ‘these folks’ – to the extent that another is one of ‘these folks’ – I/We do not want to be exposed.  Some are responsible – ALL are accountable.

We ‘justify’ the ‘market’ and the ‘high prices’ and ‘low wages’ as ‘this is the way the real world works.’  ‘Racists’ and ‘Sexists’ tell themselves a story that justifies who they are – that justifies their system.  We end up equating ‘ethics’ with ‘morality’ (think: ‘It’s legal so it’s ethical and hence it is ‘moral’).

An individual and collective morality that has gone wrong is, history again informs us, an essential preliminary to the concentration camp, the death march, or, today, to the ‘wall’ (symbolic and real).  Are we human beings good students of history?  Have we learned?  As I type these questions it seems as if the answer is ‘NO.’

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It appears as if most of us have become aware of and sensitive to the Physical Environment.  The physical environment begins with our own physical dimension and ends with the cosmos (which appears to be infinite).  We seem to know that we depend upon this environment, that it is fragile, and that we have the power to harm it – to destroy it.  We also have the power to hold it in trust; to sustain it in healthy ways.  When we harm our physical environment we not only harm it for ourselves, we harm it for those who follow – future generations.

There is another environment that exists – the Moral Environment.  It seems that not as many of us are sensitive to this environment.  The moral environment is composed of the surrounding culture, sub-cultures, and climate of ideas about how to live.  The moral environment determines a number of things: it determines what we deem to be acceptable or unacceptable, admirable or contemptible.  It determines our conception of when things are going well (they are healthy, they are nurtured, they are sustained) and when things are going poorly (they are dis-eased, they are depleted, they are deprived).

The moral environment also determines our conception of what is due to us, and what is due from us, as we relate to others.  It shapes our emotional responses, determining what is a cause of pride or shame, or anger or gratitude, or what can be forgiven and what cannot (think: Our recent Presidential Election and the results and how it revealed just how culturally polarized we are).

The moral environment provides us our standards – our standards of behavior — and it gives us permission to act in accord with our standards (e.g. after our election at a gas station four white supremacists can openly intimidate a young black mother and her two young children and no one intervenes).  The moral environment actually shapes our very identities (or affirms them or questions them).

What is the moral environment that permits white supremacy to return to center stage?  History provides us an example: Consider Hitler.  Hitler remarked: ‘How lucky it is for rulers that men cannot think.’  In saying this Hitler himself was blind to the moral climate that enabled his own ideas, and hence his power, to flourish.

Germany’s moral environment/climate included images of the primordial purity of a particular race and people.  It was permeated by fear for the fragile nature of this purity.  Like the United States in the post-war McCarthy era, it feared pollution from ‘degenerates’ from outside or from within.  It included visions of national and racial destiny.  It included ideas of apocalyptic transformation (the Jews, the Catholics, the Homosexuals, the Liberals, the Moderates and the Communists would continue to take over).  Germany was hospitable to the idea of the strong-man leader.  Many of these ideas had roots in the misunderstanding of and misapplication of Judaism and Christianity.

In short, Hitler could come to power only because people DID think – but their thinking was poisoned by an enveloping climate of ideas, many of which may not even have been conscious – they were rooted in deep tacit assumptions.  As was demonstrated in Germany, folks might not be awake to and aware of the ideas and deep tacit assumptions that motivate them.

To what extent are we truly awake to and aware of our personal and national Moral Environment?  What is our current Moral Environment engendering and supporting and calling forth?  Would Lincoln affirm that our current Moral Environment is calling forth the ‘better angels of our nature?’  I am a follower of Jesus-the-Christ.  Would Jesus affirm that our Moral Environment is rooted in love, compassion, forgiveness and healing?  Would Jesus affirm that we are living into and out of his Commandment ‘to love one another as I have loved you?’

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