Archives for December 2009

How are You Spending Your Marbles?


[My friends Glenn and Kris don’t know the origin of this story called 1000 Marbles, but they just shared it on a message board. I thought you would enjoy it too.]

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it’s the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it’s the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable. A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the basement shack with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning, turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time.

Let me tell you about it.

I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know the kind, he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whoever he was talking with something about “a thousand marbles”.

I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say. “Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you’re busy with your job. I’m sure they pay you well but it’s a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too bad you missed your daughter’s dance recital.”

He continued, “let me tell you something Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities.”

And that’s when he began to explain his theory of a “thousand marbles.”

“You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years.”

“Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900 which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now stick with me Tom, I’m getting to the important part.”

“It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail”, he went on, “and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy.”

“So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round-up 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear.”

“Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away.”

“I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight.”

“Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time.”

“It was nice to meet you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again here on the band. 73 Old Man, this is K9NZQ, clear and going QRT, good morning!”

You could have heard a pin drop on the band when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about.

I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter.

Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. “C’mon honey, I’m taking you and the kids to breakfast.”

“What brought this on?” she asked with a smile.

“Oh, nothing special, it’s just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we’re out? I need to buy some marbles.”

Did You Know Metaphor Influences Your Decisions?

James Geary has a rare profession indeed. He’s one of only a few professional aphorists and enjoys revealing how metaphors influence our thinking and decision-making.

Watch the following fascinating video, then if so inclined check out his books below the screen as well.

Christmas Greeting is More than Child's Play

momMy mother often greeted her same-age holiday guests by quickly saying “Christmas gift” before they could say it. Then they would giggle. My childhood mind couldn’t find humor or sense in this practice, but recently I learned its origin.

Although slavery in America was a harsh existence endured by many Black Americans, there was often a brief reprieve from their exhausting work during the period between Christmas and New Year’s when slavemasters allowed slaves to briefly socialize with their fellow slaves on the plantation. Adult slaves would put little presents, such as a piece of fruit or candy, in their pockets. If someone (usually a child) came up to them and said “Christmas gif'” first, they’d have to give them a present. It was similar to the “trick or treat” tradition we celebrate at Halloween.

When I realize that this one week period of time was the only time out of the whole year that my slave ancestors had a break from forced labor so they could act and feel like real families, I’m painfully aware of why the holidays were so immensely joyful for them. For those who were fortunate enough to actually live on the same plantation with their blood relatives, laughing and singing the hopeful strains of the Gospels and carols gave added dimension.

The cultural, sociological and religious history of holiday customs is long and intertwining with many twists and turns.

As I lavishly adorn my Christmas tree in my warm and comfortable home, I’m painfully aware of the hardships that my ancestors endured over a century ago and am ashamed to feel anything but gratitude and joy for my own life. Even though the media fills the waves with stories of lack, horror and dismal economic forecasts, I refuse to be sucked in. I celebrate  my freedom.

I’ve been blessed to have access to education, resources,  and the opportunity to raise my children without fear that they could be taken away from me on the whim of someone who only saw us as property.  I know that I’m not alone.  Many of you can look back only a few decades to see how your situation in your family or ethnic group was very different.

So, even if you don’t have adequate finances, the kind of home you prefer or even a mate this holiday, be thankful if you have freedom.  That means that all these things are within your reach.  Don’t let anything steal the joy to which you are entitled or keep you from exercising your freedom to claim it.

Pow! Sucker Punched by the Tiger Woods Halo Effect!

suckerpunchOne of the best responses to the public dethroning of Tiger Woods is an article by Richard Shweder in a Psychology Today blog. He explains why we react with so much indignation to the revealing that a public figure has human flaws and does not live up to the god-like status we’ve thrust upon them.

Shweder defines “the halo effect” as “the expectation that someone’s greatest in one area generalizes to their greatness in all areas. “ But the phrase is not new. It was first coined by a psychologist, Edward Thorndike, in a 1920 study to describe the way that commanding officers rated their soldiers. Thorndike found that officers usually judged their men as being either good right across the board or bad. Few were seen as good in one respect but bad in another. It was all or nothing.

It’s clear we have a “generalization” problem.

Shweder says

I believe the revelations about Tiger Woods seem stunning, in substantial measure, because we have allowed ourselves to be sucker punched by the halo effect. Most tellingly, this is an opportunity to see through the illusion of generalized grandeur. Why in the world should we ever expect a Mozart or a Magic Johnson or a Tiger Woods – all of whom are genuine wizards of a sort – to also be supermen, or to be standard bearers for family values or civic virtues?

Of course some will argue that moral and family values are indicative of honesty and integrity across the board and can’t nor shouldn’t be separated from a person’s amazing talents and abilities. That was part of the argument for efforts to impeach Clinton. Many of the same people who praised his oratory and leadership skills could no longer reconcile that Clinton with the philandering Clinton.

Evidence of “the halo effect” can be found in every field and endeavor and proves the continuing power of first impressions.

In job searching, for example, people who “interview” well are often hired based on their strengths being overvalued and their weaknesses being ignored.

Car companies will put out a first model,the halo vehicle, in the expectation that its appealing features, will make other models in the range attractive to buyers.

In dating, we are hopelessly drawn to an very attractive person who “shows” well and are forgiving of the less attractive attributes even when they are signaled by a “red flag.”

We pay more for a pair of jeans with a designer’s name on them than the same pair with a generic label. We are drawn to a tutoring program or trust a pharmaceutical report if they are named Princeton, even though they have no affiliation with the historical university by the same name.

Even scarier, with all of our attention to political speeches, debates and town hall discussions, we vote based on some generalized grandeur about candidates based on their appearance, charisma, smooth oratory, choice of clothing or mates rather than anything they say or promise about the issues. (We like to pretend that what they say is spontaneous, rather than rehearsed and orchestrated.)

Could it be that in our eagerness to have heroes and gods that we are no more advanced than the ancient Greeks who without adequate knowledge of science thought that the sun rose because their kings commanded it to do so?

We not only expect our “heroes” to excel in their own areas of expertise, but we unrealistically look to them for examples of how we should live our personal lives. This is problematic not only because we see only a small aspect of their lives, but we only see what the media reveals to us.

It brings to mind the movie,”Wag the Dog,” where a spin doctor distracts the public from the President’s scandalous affairs by creating a fake war. This movie was created in 1997. Now, thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other social media, spinning is much easier, faster and now viral. Anyone with a computer and the mind to enter the spinning fray can do so with a tweet, email or blog post.

Since I never looked to Tiger, Michael Jackson, Clinton, O.J. or other public figures for clues on how to live my life and raise my family, I can admire their talents and congratulate their achievements separate from the personal lives they chose to live. As a matter of fact, how do we distinguish this hunger for details of celebrities’ sexual exploits from voyeurism?

The fact that we so ravenously consume the “falling from grace” celebrity stories that fill the tabloids, waves and coffee shop banter makes me wonder what parts of our lives are being neglected and diminished. Let’s face it.  Our own feelings of inadequacy doom us to look to our celebrities for inspiration and live vicariously through them.

How sad.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were so busy creating amazing lives for ourselves and helping others live amazing lives that these celebrity stories would only be a blip in the atmosphere, if at all? Or better yet, if we paid so little attention to these stories that the media decided they weren’t profitable enough to even run them?

How are You Preparing for the New Year?

j0433093Invitations for holiday parties call for closing out the old year and ringing in the new. I’m looking forward to attending a few holiday parties this season, but I don’t consider those as preparation for my new year.

It’s a common practice to make New Year’s Resolutions in January but it’s also common that few people follow through with their resolutions.

Why is this so, and what can we do that will bring about better results?

When Denise Dyer, a spiritual life coach, was a guest on my Dec. 14th radio show she pointed out that resolutions are doomed to fail because they focus on problems. We often begin them with “I need. . .” instead of affirming and committing to the changes we want to take place in our lives. (If you missed this episode you can listen to it here.)

Denise continued by giving her formula for success: Inner work + outer work= success. As long as we come from a place of lack and try to impose changes from the outside, we are doomed to lackluster results.
If you want to make changes in your life for 2010, in fact, it’s essential to do the inner work to prepare for those changes now.

Janet Conner, author of Writing Down Your Soul: How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within, laid out a December plan for her readers that consciously prepares us to receive the good we want. She believes that it’s not enough to just state what we want. We must be ready to receive. To get ready involves a number of activities and shifts in consciousness. Although we’re already mid-December, it’s not too late to benefit from the activities that Conner proposes. Visit her December 1st blog post and catch up.

We’ve all heard many versions of John 16: 24 “. . .ask, and ye shall receive. “ I’d like to reword this saying with my own understanding, “Ask believing and in readiness, and ye shall receive.”

In my book, Color Your Life Happy, I share the importance of creating and repeating affirmations, but only to the level at which we can believe that we can receive what we want. Wishing for a million dollars, for example, is not of much use if you can’t visualize yourself having even $100,000.

As I prepare for the new year, I’m adapting Conner’s December preparation, which parallels some of the activities many religions complete during Advent season. The key components of my preparation are:

1. Setting aside time daily to be still and reflect on my many blessings.
2. Expressing gratitude for the blessings of ideas, people and experiences I’ve enjoyed this year
3. Forgiving others and myself
4. Drawing a picture on a December calendar of something I want in 2010.
5. Listening more deeply to my inner voice

What are you doing to prepare for the new year?