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Believing

BELIEVING
by Ruth Minshull

My friends were visiting me at the Gulf front condo in Florida where I was spending my winter vacation.  We were standing on the deck admiring the glittering emerald green sea and the dazzling white sand, when I told them, “Sometimes we see groups of dolphins go by, right out here in front of the place.” “Really?” the husband responded with interest. “Yes.  They come quite close to the shore too.  There might be just a few of them, but occasionally I’ve seen as many as 40 or 50 spread out over a half-mile or so.” “Amazing.  I wish I could see that,” he said. “Maybe I should call them for you.  They might come by.”

They both laughed.  “It would be nice if we could do such things,” his wife said.

“Well, I try it now and then,” I said, “and I’ve had pretty good luck.  They don’t always show up, but they come just often enough to make me wonder if they could be responding to my thoughts.  I believe I heard somewhere that they might be telepathic.”

“Uh huh,” he murmured.  They were both looking at me as if they thought I had a serious gap in my personal ozone layer.  I could almost hear them thinking, We’d better humor her.  She could be dangerous.

I dropped the subject, which seemed to give them a great deal of relief.  We went in and dressed to go out to dinner and no one mentioned it again.

They left the following morning, and an hour later the dolphins came–a group of ten or fifteen.  I stood on the deck and admired them as they  undulated slowly along the shoreline.  As always, I was thrilled to see these delightful aquatic acrobats–although I was sorry my friends had missed the sight.

I started thinking about my visitors.  Quite religious people, they wouldn’t miss a Sunday service.  But faith is a peculiar business, I realized.  It’s quite selective.

My friends have no trouble believing that they can talk with God–and that He listens.  But they can’t conceive of the idea that I might be able to communicate with the dolphins.  I can’t say I blame them.

There are many notions that require our belief, rather than our acceptance of provable facts (math, science, etc.).  The older I get, the less inclined I am to embrace ideas that demand that I believe in them.  In most cases I simply don’t–notions such as angels, flying saucers, channeling,  honest politicians and diets that work.

But if I were going to believe in intangible, unprovable matters, I would embrace every religion, because we need the sense that there is a grand design, that someone is in charge.

I would believe in reincarnation because it comforts me, because it presumes that I am a spirit (not that I have a spirit), that I am immortal and that only this body is temporary.  And death would not be serious, but merely a pause to change costumes before the next scene begins.

And I would believe that dolphins are telepathic and would come because I called them.
* * *
©  Ruth Minshull 2013

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THE BLUE HERON
By Ruth Minshull

Impatiently, I punched the OFF button and turned away from the television. Too much bad news, I thought. There must be some good things happening in the world.

I stepped out on the deck of the Florida condo where I was staying. The sun, low on the horizon, spread its gleaming, image across the surface of the Gulf. I decided to take a short walk on the beach before night moved in. It had been a gorgeous autumn day, with a soft breeze gentling the brilliance of the water. An artistic arrangement of wispy clouds promised a spectacular sunset.

Despite the fact that hundreds of people lived in nearby buildings, I was the only person on the beach. I suppose they’re all preparing for dinner, I concluded. Whatever the reason, I welcomed the uncommon solitude.

I strolled west, hoping to see the blue heron. I had walked the beach many evenings around this time, and had often seen him (or her) standing in the same place. I didn’t know why he was always there, but I always felt a thrill at the sight of this majestic bird.

When I reached the location, I scanned the entire area, but failed to see him. Well, maybe the heron has changed his agenda, I thought. Disappointed, I started to turn back. Then I saw him. He was standing so still in the dusky twilight–his long pale legs blending in perfectly with the background of white sand and sea grass–that he was nearly invisible.

Thrilled at the encounter, I remained motionless as we gazed at each other–I with pleasure, he with guarded tolerance.

Our confrontation was interrupted by the sound of a sliding door. The heron turned expectantly as a man stepped out onto the second-floor deck of a nearby condo. With practiced care the man flung a small fish out over the railing. The heron caught it expertly and flapped off a short distance to gulp it down. Soon the bird returned; the man came out again and threw another fish. This time the heron grabbed it and flew off. The provider went inside and closed the door. Obviously this ended a nightly routine.

On my returning walk. I was bouyed by a sense of well-being. It was gratifying to know that here in this unremarkable place on the coast, an elegant feral creature had worked out an agreeable dinner arrangement with an alien life form.

I thought of my impatience with the newscaster earlier. Such diligent purveyors of bad news seldom tell us that between New York and Hawaii, Miami and Alaska, many millions of ordinary American people go about their lives, sharing smiles, sharing potlucks, trusting each other, lending a hand, kissing away a tear, helping a child launch a kite, giving hugs of comfort, holding doors open, cooking therapeutic chicken soup, loving one another.

Of course, the newscasters can’t tell us about these people because they’re not shocking; bleeding or dying.

But it helps to be reminded, now and then, that there are heartwarming events going on around us–if we look for them in the right places.

One such place is outside a certain condo on the Gulf coast, at dusk.

(c) Ruth Minshull 2013

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BULLIES

BULLIES

By Ruth Minshull

We hear a lot about bullies these days.  But, as near as I can tell, despite all the hand-wringing, the situation isn’t getting any better.

Most of us have been plagued by bullies at one time or another—whether at school, at home, in the neighborhood, on the internet or at the workplace.

There’s no particular profile for the bully.  He or she may be the kid on the playground, the boardroom shark, the ruthless Hitler, the sneaky internet attacker or the quiet librarian (who belittles others with gossip and sly innuendos).  Sometimes we don’t recognize them right away.  But we will know them by how they make us feel—usually disturbed, off-balance or powerless.

What to do about bullies?

LEARN TO RECOGNIZE THEM

In his book, The No Asshole Rule:  Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, Robert Sutton offers two tests for recognition of the “asshole” (his name for the bully):

  1.  After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?
  2.   Does the person target people who are less powerful than themself?

DIFFERENCES

I have noticed an interesting difference in bullies.  Many of them will openly ridicule, tease, insult or otherwise “pick on” their victims.  But the most difficult ones to identify are the honey-dripping, sweet-talkers.  They often slip under the radar because they appear to be “nice”, yet we wonder why we’re so uncomfortable around them.  Instead of attacking directly, they are underhanded.  They will blindside our self-confidence by coating every insult with a compliment.  “Oh, what a cozy little apartment you have.”  (Translation:  “Wow! This really is small!”) “You’ve always looked nice in that dress” (“…even though you’ve been wearing it for the last ten years”).

The sneak attack is often from a woman, but not always.  Consider the young woman who had a movie date with a young male acquaintance.  She appeared in a dress and heels; he was wearing blue jeans and sneakers.  He said, “My you look nice.  I feel so under-dressed.”  (You’re pretty over-dressed for a movie.)

MAIN CHARACTERISTICS

However they deliver their barbs, bullies will try to undermine our morale and self-confidence.  Openly or pussyfooting, they will bulldoze, buffalo, insult, intimidate, belittle or ridicule us.

He or she is often a controlling person, always seeking the upper hand.  He’ll be corrupt.  Perhaps he’s a scurrilous criminal (a street ruffian or the gentle bookkeeper who is embezzling tens of thousands from her employers).  He could also be perfectly “legal” (an attorney, a judge, a politician) while being quite unethical on a higher level (in the sense of doing the right thing by others).  His efforts will be misdirected; he’ll often attack the wrong people.

He supports destructive solutions and attacks constructive ones.  He speaks in generalities.  He is not good at finishing things and he tries to prevent others from finishing; he will complicate, delay and prolong activities in which he’s involved.  If you invite him to a wedding or a party, he may say he’d love to come, but he’s not sure he can make it.  Then he’ll leave you on “hold” until the very end—never calling to confirm or decline.  (Note:  not every person who does this is a bully, some are just immature and inconsiderate.)

HOW THEY MAKE PEOPLE FEEL

An encounter with a bully is never benign.  We feel as if we should be careful around him.  We approach him with a sense of dread.  We end up being annoyed, worried, angered or beset upon.

We never feel better.

Bullies are energy-draining people, causing us to feel exhausted after coping with them.  After encountering one, we may even become cranky and mean to those close to us.  Unfortunately, continued exposure sometimes can turn us into troublesome bully-like people ourselves.

Don’t try to be “understanding” about the bully.  Recognize him.  He may look and walk and talk like a regular human being, but he isn’t one.  He or she is a monster—trying to do you in.  Consider the bully an alien in a human body.  (Think of “Men in Black”.)  He doesn’t have the same feelings that you and I have.  While you may try to negotiate with him, to placate him, he will continue to bedevil you relentlessly.

One eleven-year-old boy was so tormented by a bully in school that he took his father’s car and drove away.   He managed to get 200 miles from home before he ran out of gas and had to ask for help.  Although his escape was amazing, his motivation was not unusual.

Young people have committed suicide after being harassed by bullies.  Cyberbullying has become so bad that some states have passed laws making it a crime.  Of course, cyberbullying is usually easier to identify than playground, workplace, neighborhood or family bullying

Whether we’re seven or seventy, most of us have difficulty if we are being picked on by a bully.  Sometimes it seems that there is no way for us to deal with him (or her) and no way to avoid him.

Bullying causes an assortment of side effects:  we may have trouble sleeping, become forgetful, suffer headaches, misplace things, make mistakes, experience difficulty concentrating.  We may even become ill.

What is the defense against these low-down polecats?  Well, the biggest problem in dealing with skunks is that some of their stink could rub off on us.  Naturally we don’t want that; we don’t want to become like them.  So we need to take measures to avoid that.

COMPLAIN

Kids may complain to their parents or teachers about harassment, employees may speak to their bosses, but generally nothing much changes.  Too often everyone tiptoes around the subject of bullies, making ineffectual gestures and hoping the problem will go away by itself.

On a job, you may decide to lodge a complaint about the bully.  This could be risky, as you could come off looking like a weakling and a complainer who can’t get along with your fellow workers.  If you decide to complain, be sure to have several examples to mention, deliver your report without emotion, exaggeration or generalities.  Give only the exact facts, without embellishment.  If you are accompanied by a fellow employee with the same complaints, this will strengthen your position.

CONFRONT 

If you can detach yourself from the bully, by all means, do so.  I know, sometimes it isn’t possible (or advisable) to break off with the bully.  In such a case, for your own survival, you will need to have a face-to-face showdown.

When I was young, I knew a neighbor boy named Melvin.  He was about 12 years old, strong and good-natured.  Another neighbor boy, Richie, was a bully.  He was taller and meaner.  One summer he started picking on Mel relentlessly, teasing him, taunting him, hitting him and running away.  One day Mel came home crying because his tormentor had hit him on his head.  Mel’s mother (normally a peace-loving person) was tired of seeing her son pushed around.  Shaking a finger at him, she said, “I want you to go back over there and beat that kid up, or else I’ll beat you up.”

Armed with such an unusual threat from his own mother, Mel marched across the street to Richie who started jeering, “Hey, Mel, coming back for more?”

Without saying a word, Mel walked up to him and started pummeling him on the head, the neck, the chest.  Shocked and helpless at Mel’s uncharacteristic attack, Richie backed away, trying to cover himself against the blows.  Finally, he turned and fled, Mel chasing him, until he reached home and ran inside.

There were several witnesses to this confrontation, and word of the ferocity of Mel’s attack spread around.  As a result, no one ever leaned on Mel again.  And a much subdued Richie left Mel and the other kids alone.

This approach probably wouldn’t work today.  Richie’s parents would file a law suit against Mel’s parents and the good guys would all get punished.

A few states have passed laws making cyberbullying a crime, but as far as I know, there is no legal recourse against the personal intimidator—whether direct or sneaky.

But there are other ways to “beat up” on the bullies.

With words.

Most decent people prefer to avoid argumentative encounters.  This, of course, leaves an open field in which the intimidating person can operate.  But a strong, direct verbal confrontation is the best method I know to handle them.

I knew a young man, just a few months out of high school, who had taken a job with a small business.  One day his boss said something belittling to him.  The boy turned, looked the man straight in the eye and said very slowly, very deliberately, “Don’t you ever speak to me like that again.”

The boss never did.  They developed a workable relationship that lasted for many years after that.  I found it interesting that such a young boy had the courage to stand up to his first boss.  And it seemed even more amazing that the bullying boss backed off.

The best way to handle the bully is to state exactly what he is doing and tell him you will not tolerate it.  Don’t add an “or else….”  (That becomes a threat.)  In any case, it is better to let the threat be implied, to let the other person fill in the blank.  (He very likely will imagine worse consequences than you could ever dream of!)  Also, bear in mind that you are not firing the opening salvo in an argument; you are not initiating a negotiation.  You are making a final statement.  Make it and walk away.  Ignore any rejoinders he tries to interject.

You may be surprised at how easy it is to make the bully back off and leave you alone.  The reason is this:  beneath the swagger and bluff, the bully is a frightened weakling who gets a sense of power by feeding on the fear he can generate in others.

It isn’t always easy to stand up to a person who intimidates us—and if you don’t feel tough enough to do it, pretend you do.

To prepare yourself for the encounter you should first, be willing to experience any possible outcome.  Make a list of the worst things that could happen.  Now, go through them one by one.  In each case, ask yourself:  “If this happens, will I die?”  “Will anybody else die?”  “Will I be able to get through it?”  Could there be some conceivable way I might benefit from the encounter?”

The main purpose of this exercise is to discover that the outcome (although not welcome) would at least be endurable.

The next step before dealing with the bully is to look at our own destructive actions, past and present, and tell someone about them.  (Don’t forget the good acts we should have done, but failed to do.)  This step is extremely important.  Decent people feel remorseful after they have committed harmful acts against others (whether intentional or not).  Deep down they believe that they deserve to be punished for such behavior.  If we have no undisclosed harmful acts, we will have no need for self-punishment.  When we “need” punishment (in our own minds), every experience hurts more than the same incident would if we were “clean”.

Clearing up our own past actions won’t make us indifferent or joyful about the conduct of the bully, but it will make his behavior hurt a great deal less.  We’ll be able to confront the offensive person with less fear.  The experience will be more endurable, and we’ll get through it with less damage to ourselves.

Another way to strengthen your own responses is to take a karate class.  I’m not recommending that you beat up on anybody, but it will make you feel dangerous, less vulnerable.  Mentally, at least, you’ll walk taller, with a swagger, and you won’t take abuse from anybody.  This is an especially effective way to toughen up a child who is being physically intimidated by a bully.  I’ve seen it work very well.

If you go for the showdown, you will find that when you meet up with another bully (and eventually you will) you will feel much less intimidated.  In fact, very likely you will simply swat him down (with words or even a shrug) as you would an annoying mosquito.

Remember, bad guys don’t obey rules.  So don’t worry about hurting their feelings, interrupting them, ignoring them or walking away from them.  The bully is not really the big scary ogre we knew from children’s stories.  He’s just an annoying mosquito.

FLEE

If you simply can’t stand up to the bully in your life, do your best to get away from him or her.  If you are married to a bully, leave.  Get a divorce.  Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you.

If the bully is your boss, get another job.  This may seem drastic, but your job could be killing you.  Nothing is worth that risk.

If the bully is a “friend”, he is not a true friend.  He or she is a “toxic” acquaintance.  You need to rid your life of this venomous influence, just as you would rid your body of a poison.

The solution is more difficult if the bully is a child’s parent.  Sometimes the child must simply endure the situation until it’s possible to get away.  Make plans for your independence.  Get a job, earn money and put it in the bank.  Prepare to leave the house and don’t look back—ever.

If you are being physically abused in any way, you must leave sooner.  There are agencies that can help you get a legal separation and arrange foster care until you are of age.  Talk to a counselor at school

Any destructive, dysfunctional relationship will never get better by itself.  Quit the job, move out, sever your connection.  Do whatever it takes.

You have to fix it or escape it.  This takes courage.

But, always remember:  You are stronger than the bully.  He’s just a scared weakling.

* * *

©2013 by Ruth Minshull

 

 

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THE COLONEL

THE COLONEL

By Ruth Minshull

We were well into World War II when I started high school.  As a result, my experiences were quite different than those of teenagers before and after that time.

For one thing, we had no dances or proms, the boys were recruited into the service as soon as they were of age and our school hours were shortened.  We attended only half a day and were expected to get a job to fill the other half.

Many of the students went into factories where they filled the vacancies made by men who had gone into service.  Working in a manufacturing plant was not high on my list of desirable occupations (in fact, it wasn’t on any list of mine), but I wasn’t sure what I should do.

While I was still considering the problem, our drama group went to the small local radio station to put on a skit.  This would be an interesting place to work, I thought.  So, on a whim, I went back a few days later and asked the station manager if he had any openings.  He sent me to the chief engineer who, it turned out, had an opening for a “restricted radio operator.”

The war had taken their licensed engineers.  To replace them, the station was allowed  to hire a person who (after some training) could obtain a “Restricted Operator’s License” and work in the control room—as long as a licensed engineer was on call at all times.

I learned the necessary material, passed the exam, obtained my license and went to work.  My duties were simple.  Every half hour I would read some meters and record the answers.  I did mike setups for live studio broadcasts and regulated the volume on all transmissions.  My major function was to listen for silence.  This would mean that we had lost our network feed or we were off the air.  In any case, I would then have to call the chief engineer.

It was a dream job.  Much more fun, I presumed, than the factory work done by most of my fellow students.

Eventually one of the engineers returned from the army and I was no longer needed in the control room.  The war was still going on, however, and I was frozen on the job.  So I was moved over to the “other side” where I helped to make up the daily program logs, filled in on the air for station breaks when needed and finally got a program of my own playing recorded music.

I loved my job and the easy camaraderie with all the others who helped keep our small station running.

And then one day the former program manager returned from his stint in the army.  He had been a colonel—a gruff, pompous, overweight martinet who was accustomed to obsequious obedience to his every command.  Almost immediately he growled his first directive:  “There will be no women on the air at this station!”  He cancelled my music program and forbade me to do station breaks or any other on-air activities.  When an announcer was needed to fill in, he would do it himself.

One of the announcer’s duties was covering the evening news that came from the network.  Since we had a local sponsor for the program, the announcer had to give a brief introduction, then go to the network.  In the middle break, the network gave public service announcements, which we covered with our local commercial.  This was a tricky job.  The announcer had to wear earphones and listen to the network announcer while, at the same time, reading the sponsor’s copy.  The commercial was written with several stopping points, so the announcer could stretch or shorten as needed to finish in time to cut back to the network.  It was a little like rubbing your tummy while patting your head.  As it happens, some people could do this job effortlessly; others simply couldn’t.  I was in the former category; the colonel was in the latter.

One evening I was working a little later than usual in order to finish up typing some copy for the sales manager.  The colonel and I were the only people left in the place.  One announcer was out on a remote job, another was out of town on vacation, a third one was due to come in for the evening shift.  Meanwhile the colonel was handling the job.

Then the evening shift announcer called in sick.  There was no one left to do the news program—except the colonel, whom I knew was afraid to take the risk.  If he bungled the job, the sponsor couldn’t be charged for the spot, in fact, they might even cancel.

The only possibility left was me—little insignificant second-class citizen me.  A woman, no less.

I could see the impending crisis before the colonel was fully aware of it himself because I knew where everyone was (or wasn’t in this case).  But what would he do?  Would he actually take a chance on doing the broadcast himself, and risk losing the sponsor (and making a fool of himself in the process) or would he humble himself and ask me to do it?

I contemplated both possibilities with relish as I waited.

As I typed my copy, I could hear him calling people—desperately trying to solve his dilemma.

Finally I heard him approaching.  I pretended to be totally absorbed and unaware of the problem.  He leaned over the railing that divided our work area from the hallway.  Then this blustery, commanding misogynist said, sweetly, “Ruthie…”

I looked up (Ruthie?  Could this coy gentle voice be coming from our taskmaster, the hard-core male chauvinist pig himself?)  “Yes?”  I replied with a mild show of interest.

“I’m…ah…that is, I’m in a bit of a bind here.  There’s no one to do the evening news.  Would you do it?”

“Oh, I plan to leave as soon as I finish this copy.  I probably won’t be here.”

“Please, just this once…”

“Well, I don’t know….”

“I’m begging you.  You can take tomorrow morning off.”

“Well, I guess I can do it.”

Later I wondered if I should have extorted more from him:  the whole day off?  my music show back?  a raise?

No, I decided, nothing could trump the thrill of seeing the proud Colonel squirming and groveling before my feigned indifference.  The memory has given me a tiny spark of pure pleasure countless times over the years.

# # #

© 2013 by Ruth Minshull

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Being Human

BEING HUMAN

by Ruth Minshull

 

Many philosophers, statesmen and various pundits have spent lifetimes trying to devise the perfect form of government.

So far no one has succeeded.

The Communists thought they had it.  In fact, the concept of communism makes it seem all right.  Everyone shares.  No one starves.  But the trouble is, people are human, and the haves are not willing to work hard for the benefit of the have-nots (many of whom are not willing to work at all).

So, in retrospect, we can see why the system crumbled.

Now, the former communist countries want democracy and capitalism.

Ironically, as they move closer to capitalism, our country seems to move closer to socialism, with more and more people dependent on the government for benefits.  I’m not sure what this means–except that people never seem to be contented, on any level, with themselves, their love life, their groups, their governments.

Anyway, democracy leaves much to be desired.

The concept is marvelous, the foundation worthy, and the Supreme Court justices, as guardians and interpreters of our Constitution, are supposed to protect our rights.  But one thing about this has always bothered me.  The justices are selected by presidents because they are expected to vote in a certain way.  If we can predict how they will respond, there is no impartiality in their rulings and our wonderful Constitution is in constant jeopardy.  Like a slowly melting snowman, it could someday be unrecognizable by our Founding Fathers.  The problem, as I see it, is that the justices are human.

Another major problem in our county is that the people who run for office are smarmy windbags who would sell their mothers for a vote.

I’m convinced that few of them care about the welfare of our people.  They want the power and the glory (and the money and all the freebees) that go with the political office.

We elect them, not because they are brilliant statesmen who will do what’s best for the country but because they have hired the best campaign managers–clever fellows who groom the candidate to look like a movie star, talk like an orator (as well as “the common man”), and present a stellar image—that of an all-American family man who goes to church every Sunday, cares about baseball, and is faithful to his wife (or, at least, is discreet enough to fool the public and the media).

In other words–a mythical person.  His ideas are equally phony.  He wraps his tongue around a cluster of generalities and glibly promises a free ride and better times.

As voters we’re no more honest.  We vote for the person who lies most convincingly, who promises to make us all prosper, and never raise our taxes.

We know this can’t be done, but we fall for the same fairy tale over and over.

The trouble with politicians is that they are human–and they will never care more for the people than they do about themselves.

And the trouble with the people is that they are human too and they will never support the greatest good for the greatest number over their own personal interests.

So that’s the trouble with all of us:  we’re human.

And there’s no remedy for that.

 

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© 2012 by Ruth Minshull

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INTELLIGENCE VS WISDOM

By Ruth Minshull

         I’ve often been curious about the disparity between one intelligent person and another.  Even people with the same IQ may differ greatly in their perceptions, abilities and, most certainly, in their social skills.  Furthermore, some smart people actually seem to be brighter, sharper, with more savvy than others.  Are they smarter?

How can there be such a vast inconsistency between one bright person and another?  Some of the dissimilarities may be due to individual personalities, backgrounds, interests, professions and general attitude about life.  Still, it seems as if some intelligent people are simply more intelligent than others.

After exploring definitions, comments, quotes and general thoughts on the subject, I learned that I had been confusing knowledge and wisdom.  It seems they are two different capabilities.

While most dictionaries are a little fuzzy on the subjects, casually using the words interchangeably at times, philosophers and various notable thinkers consider them to be vastly different.  Countless quotations begin with:  “The wise man….”

According to these authorities, intelligence is knowledge, while wisdom, it seems, is the appreciation of what one can do with one’s knowledge.

Wisdom includes the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.  It is insight.  Also, wisdom requires control of one’s emotional reactions (the “passions“) so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail in determining one’s actions.

Furthermore, wisdom is common sense and good judgment.

We acquire knowledge from others—from teachers, parents, books, coaches.  Wisdom, however, is self-created.  It comes from living, making mistakes, observing, arriving at our own understanding.  It is constantly evolving as we gain more experience.

Wisdom allows us to extrapolate, to predict the results of certain actions—thus avoiding impulsive, emotion-driven decisions.

You can also define wisdom as intelligence that is applied.  It is a data bank with depth and usefulness.  If intelligence is not properly put to use, then the person is not considered wise.  A computer, for example, is an immense resource for knowledge on almost any known subject.  It cannot, however, tell you whether or not you should get married, get a divorce, change jobs, ask for a raise, buy a new car, date your boss or take up spelunking as a hobby.

A young person may do well in school, scoring high on tests, getting good grades, but still make wrong choices and get into trouble.  He has not yet had enough experience to help him make wise decisions.  Whether or not he will become wise depends on his ability to learn from his mistakes and observations.

Mistakes, apparently, are a necessary part of becoming wise.  Will Rogers put it this way:  “Good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

There are no tests to measure wisdom.  It is important to note that while intelligence is gained when something is taught, wisdom cannot be taught.

“We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom.”  –Michel de Montaigne

One strong deterrent to wisdom is irrational beliefs and convictions.  Even the most learned person can draw an emotionally charged conclusion that will cloud his judgment in the future, unless he is capable of continually re-examining and upgrading his convictions.

Let’s say a man is betrayed by the woman he loves and trusts.  He may be able to see the specific truth of the situation and move on with his life.  Another man, in the midst of his heartache, may draw the conclusion that “No woman can be trusted.” or “It doesn’t pay to fall in love; you only get hurt.” or possibly this granddaddy of a generality:  “You can’t trust anybody.”  These are all understandable reactions to deep disappointment.  But the question is, will he be able to re-examine those beliefs after his emotional wounds heal?  If he can, he will possibly develop judgment that will help him avoid a similar situation, but not shut out all experiences in the future.  This would be applying wisdom.  Most of us have known people who keep choosing the same kind of (wrong) mate, and experiencing the same heartbreak—never seeming to learn from repeated disappointments.

A woman’s pet cat dies.  In the midst of her inconsolable grief she vows:  “I’m never going to get another pet.  You grow to love them, and then they’re gone.”  If she sticks to this decision, she will be depriving herself of years of potential joy and heartwarming, furry, cuddly companionship.

“Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.”  — Thomas H. Huxley

The wise person gradually adopts certain rules and guidelines for living.  However, he is constantly re-evaluating them, willing to upgrade his thinking as he gains new experiences and fresh insights.

I once worked for a man who considered himself to be a profound thinker.  While I was on duty, we often sat and talked about some of the “large” issues of life.  I soon realized that we were not having discussions.  I was listening to monologues.

He had examined many major subjects, made up his mind about them and was not open to any new ideas or different opinions.  He was not actually a wise person because he had put a governor on his mental development.  He had spent a certain amount of time on each subject, reached a conclusion, then filed it away under “case closed.”  Although I have lost track of him, I’m guessing that he would still have all the same opinions some sixty years later.  I must have had a little wisdom at the time, despite my youth, because I never disagreed with him.

“Intelligence is when you spot a flaw in your boss’s reasoning. Wisdom is when you refrain from pointing it out.”  —James Dent

Among other abilities, wisdom includes the ability to estimate and predict.  How big of a box do I need?  How far is it from here to there?  How long will it take to do this?  To get there?  To make this?  These are all judgments based on experience.  The wise person is punctual, fairly accurate in estimates and consistently reliable.

Can we become wiser by wanting to—intending to?

I don’t know, but here’s my thinking at the moment:  First, we may have to do a little house cleaning.

We might want to re-examine most of our ideas.  We should ask ourselves:  do we make decisions, evaluations or choices emotionally or rationally?  (Equally important:  are we able to differentiate between the two?)  Have we already made up our minds on major issues or are we open to new concepts?

When we have an unpleasant experience are we able to look at it honestly and determine what responsibility we can take for the occurrence?  How often are we blaming others for our misfortunes?  Naturally, we all want to be right.  That’s a fundamental part of our nature.  This need can turn against us, however, if we can never admit to a mistake or a failing.

Wisdom requires observing events or behavior in a cool and honest manner, without pre-conceived opinions.

The more we can look at our own part in a given incident, the closer we can get to an impartial evaluation.

Do we hang on to old grievances or accept life as it comes and move along?

 “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age.  Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.”  –Tom Wilson

So, if we wish to grow wiser as we grow older, we must be able to examine every experience, good or bad, and learn something from it.  The prerequisites to wisdom might be: honesty (most importantly self-honesty), humility, flexibility and an insatiable curiosity about the “why” of things.

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© 2012 by Ruth Minshull

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“YOU MAY FIRE WHEN YOU ARE READY, GRIDLEY”

by Ruth Minshull

              I’ve always been fascinated by the way certain words and phrases suddenly gain popularity–for no apparent reason.

George Bush, for example, probably regrets that he ever said, “Read my lips…” before he promised “no new taxes.”  Politicians have been breaking campaign promises since they crawled out from the swamps.  People growl a bit, then forget them and carry on.  But “Read my lips” was a little too catchy, too trendy, to be easily forgotten.

Later the phrase “but I didn’t inhale,” became an instant cliché.

And there’s the unforgettable:  “That depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Patrick Henry’s timeless declaration, “Give me liberty or give me death” was destined for immortality as soon he uttered it.

Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man.  One giant leap for mankind” marked a historical moment.

“Let them eat cake,” was actually from Rousseau’s Confessions.  No one seems to mind that it has always been falsely attributed to Marie Antionette.  Maybe that’s because she had an attitude problem–something like that of Leona Helmsley.  Leona’s offhand remark that only “little people pay taxes” came back to bite her.  I’ve always been certain that it was her arrogant words that did her in.  I doubt if most people (outside of the IRS) cared that much about her taxes, but, by golly, they didn’t like being referred to as “little people.”  Those words will be remembered when her bones are dust.

During World War II the words “Kilroy was here” appeared as graffiti wherever American GIs went.  Its origin is uncertain, but some think that it first appeared on a new ship–put there by a worker in the shipyard.  (Mr. Kilroy, I presume.)  Anyway, the GIs took to it, and wrote it everywhere they went.

This leads us to the famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” uttered by Sir Stanley.  Those words, spoken on November 10, 1871, have survived for over 140 years, though I’m not sure just why

Sometimes a line out of a commercial will develop a life of its own.  “Where’s the beef?” or “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

More recently we have the memorable “yabba-dabba-doo” from the Flintstones--which defies translation.  The Sopranos immortalized “forgeddaboutit”.  Then there’s the catchall “yatta yatta” from Seinfield.

In fact, Seinfield fans will recognize a number of words and phrases the series brought into the language:  “low talker,” “re-gifting,” “not that there’s anything wrong with that” or “master of one’s own domain”

Recently I ran across the phrase, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”  This was the command, given by Admiral George Dewey that began the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War.  The line was recorded, and thus preserved, in history books.  However, even though it is about 20 years younger than Stanley’s greeting, it seems to have been forgotten.

I think that’s too bad.  I like the phrase.  Such a polite understated way to start a battle.  And, of course, the name Gridley glides off the tongue in a most satisfying manner.

I don’t think there’s much hope of getting today’s generals or admirals to adopt this genteel command.  More likely they say something like, “OK girls, let’s kick butt!” or perhaps something a bit raunchier.

Nevertheless, I’d like to revive the line–although I’m having trouble figuring out how I can drop it into conversation.  I’ve never really had to start battles, (in fact, having raised two boys, I have much more experience in trying to end them)—and perhaps it’s a little late to expect such an opportunity to come along.

I’ll probably need to create my own opening for it.  The next time I’m with a group of people and one of those awkward lulls settles on the conversation, I could liven things up by firmly commanding, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”

I guess the only question here is:  will they laugh, look around apprehensively (for an gun-toting “Gridley”)–or just carefully back away?

 

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© 2012 by Ruth Minshull

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