Last night before going to bed I saw a pile of bills my wife had neatly organized for me–totaling $8,100. Maybe that was the impetus for my dream last night.
As I was coming out of the men’s room in a corporation I don’t work for but was just part of my dream, someone tossed me a brick of $100 dollar bills. I couldn’t tell if they were robbing the office or were drug dealers. But after the first brick I somehow got 5 or 6 more as the robbers or drug dealers (remember, it’s a dream and not logical) left the premises.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I counted the money and it was about $1,190,000. I counted it several times. And several more times after that.
I found a friend—interestingly one who is not the most upright but a friend I felt I could trust— and asked what I should do. He thought I should definitely keep it. And give some to him to help me keep it under wraps.
I thought about it and prayed about it (very short prayers, I might add) and decided to keep the money for a second day to think and pray about some more. I just couldn’t be myself and was all jammed up feeling guilty and secretive and decided after about 48 hours to turn in the money –all of it—to the authorities.
This was tricky because so much time (48 hours) had lapsed. I was going to pretend like the money was dropped off in my office at the corporation I don’t really work at but did in this dream and that I just didn’t notice the money for 2 days. But that didn’t seem plausible.So I just pretended like I had missed work one day –the day the million dollars was dropped off in my office—but did notice the over $1M left in my office the next day when I returned to work. That seemed somewhat plausible. Unlike the coworkers in my dream I notice things lime 6 bricks of $100 bills left lying around. Mostly, I just wanted to turn in the darned money and be done with it so I could feel better about myself again.
And maybe I’d get a reward like television. Who knows, maybe 10% or even $10,000. Even if it were the latter it would cover all my bills waiting for me in the hallway.
I turned in the money and felt like the weight of the world (or at least as much as $1,190,000 weighs in $100 bills) had been lifted from me. I was relieved and myself again. And got no reward whatsoever. That only happens on TV not in dreams.
And then the alarm went off. And I got up and sauntered into the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal and saw the pile of $8,100 in bills my wife had neatly organized for me the night before. And I was grateful I didn’t have the money to pay them just yet but I did have a clear conscience and would eventually get them paid.
And that feeling was easily worth a million bucks. Actually more than $1,190,000 to be precise.
To judge others or not to judge others…. And the seeming paradoxical personality types behind that decision.
It appears to me the most judgmental people I have encountered in life also seem to be the least critical of themselves. In other words, they are ruthlessly hard on other people but seem tough on themselves not at all.
It’s not so much that they give themselves “a pass” —rather it jus.t never seems to occur to them to apply personally the same critiques, criticisms and value judgments they almost instinctively apply to others. They just don’t see the need.
Conversely, those people I have encountered who are the least judgmental (the most accepting and understanding of other people), usually judge themselves the hardest of all. They seem easily to find flaws within themselves but not in others. It’s not that they give other people a pass — it just doesn’t seem to occur to them to bother commenting on others weaknesses, shortcomings and failings that they seem to instinctively acknowledge in themselves. They just don’t see the point.
This does appear to be a paradox but I don’t believe it is at all. In fact, I think it makes perfect sense once understood. Those people who are deeply self-aware —aware of what makes them tick, aware of the things they could and should have done better, the regrets they have, their idiosyncrasies, shortcomings, character flaws and excesses— are far less judgmental of others for these same flaws because they can’t comfortably criticize others for things they know they have done (or could do) themselves. They tend also to be more generous and understanding–both with themselves and others. They may not approve of all parts of themselves but their deeper and broader self-awareness of the whole of themselves including their own imperfect and halting struggles to improve themselves, allows them to grant others the same dignity and respect they have learned to show to themselves.
By contrast, those who are quick to criticize, belittle and denounce the flaws, faults and hypocrisies of others are able to do so because they appear to imagine they are in some sort of protective cocoon that prevents them from ever having to wonder if they have done –or, God forbid, are doing— anything regrettable or foolish in their own life. They rarely appear to be struggling to improve their own personal imperfections but instead, if pressed about themselves, will draw deeper into their cocoon and resist the horrifying notion that they have anything at all to change about themselves. They are, in their view, not perfect– but a finished product that doesn’t need revisiting. They are done. And yet their alter-egos, those who don’t seem naturally inclined to scold, when confronted about a need to take a closer look at themselves, do so reflexively and gladly, comfortable in the knowledge they will be better off for the effort.
They are never done. Nor need cocoons to protect them.
Those who feel less inclined to judge others, I believe, are that way because they are able to lay down their pre-conceptions about themselves, others, and the world we all live in.
They learn at some point that the things they “think” they dislike about themselves, others and the world aren’t necessarily true. In other words, it’s not the “truth” they are upset about but the story they are assuming is true about themselves or some person, situation or circumstance. Often a story they have never questioned and in many cases aren’t even aware or even know where it came from or why they believe it. It’s just there. As a sort of invisible anchor responsible for their world view.
Until one day they realize, often serendipitously, that something that they are mad about—some perceived personal flaw in themselves or another, some characteristic about another person or some unfair bias they see in a life situation working against them, isn’t what they thought it was at all. In fact, it may even be the exact opposite. The actual motive, reason, excuse, cause or purpose of something that has fueled their angst for many years is unmasked as false or non-existent.
At that moment, these individuals truly get a glimpse of what a “blessing in disguise” really looks like. They learn a silver lining isn’t a lining at all but often just a clearing up of their own misconception based on the inability to see more than they—or any of us— are capable of seeing clearly at an earlier time.
Maybe this kind of humbling epiphany happens several times before these individuals really change. But at some point they realize that they are mad more at their preconceptions about the world than they are about the world itself —and as those preconceptions dissolve they are replaced by wisdom.
The more rigid and judgmental, it seems, take an opposite tack. They choose a course requiring them to spend a much greater deal of time trying to prove to themselves and others that the world does, indeed, fit into the cramped preconceptions they hold fast to with an increasing tenacity. It can be, to those observing, like watching a grown man who believes he can still fit into the same favorite outfit he wore as a self-assured boy. Or to be even more metaphorical, like a grown person trying to cram the world they are discovering into a cramped container they used as a child to fit their world into so that it made sense.
It isn’t that all their old ideas are wrong. It’s just that their container, comforting and familiar as it is, doesn’t have room for any new ideas. And there seems to be no inclination to make room by discarding old ideas that don’t work anymore. After a while the life of these individuals starts to seem more about protecting that old and comforting container they are trying to fit their world into rather than about discovering and understanding the world they are experiencing each day.
Their less critical brethren don’t cease to judge or make discriminating decisions. They just do so with a increasing awareness of the limited understanding on which they are making their life decisions. The awareness of what they “don’t know” turns out to be a compliment, not a threat, to what they do know. And humbly embracing what they don’t know becomes, ironically, one of the greatest and most useful tools for living in their life toolbox. And to stay with the metaphor, these individuals seem to have replaced their small and rusty container with an ever-changing and growing toolbox to help them navigate the world they encounter each new day. Their life becomes more about living forward with this malleable toolbox than living backward with a cramped container they aren’t sure how they ever came into possession of in the first place.
The “life container” and “life toolbox,” of course, represent a person’s world view. How a person views and navigates the world. Is life something that is “understood and done” or something else that we should face with greater humility and openness? At least that is what I am trying to communicate in my own inartful and inadequate way.
In trying to sum up what I am trying to say, it would sound something like this: “The more we are aware of what we don’t know — and acknowledging that what we believe we do know could just as easily be false –the more knowledgeable and informed we become. And the more confident and peaceful we find ourselves with the decisions we make. The more open we are to serendipity and Grace. And the richer our lives seem to become.”
In other words, yes, “Knowledge is Power.” But knowledge coupled with the humility of understanding how little we still know —or can ever know — is even more powerful.
Everybody has at least 603 thoughts or memories or reflections or random thoughts or nonsensical ramblings in them that they can write about. It’s a fact. You may think you don’t, like I did once. But you are wrong. Trust me. I know. From first hand experience.
About 2 years and 8 months ago, my friend Jonathan Miller asked me to write a biweekly column for his new blog (one column every two weeks). I agreed and wrote the first column for the blog’s launch in March of 2011. It was well received and now it was time to write my next column but I lacked the time or discipline to put together another 1000 word piece.
Jonathan was eager to get that second column and I told him I was working on it…even though I really wasn’t. I was trying to think about something to write about…which is sort of like working on it but not really.
Jonathan reminded me he had offered me no pay for this venture. Just the satisfaction of getting to write (even if no one ever reads it other Jonathan, me and my mom) and I was cheating myself of this personal satisfaction. I naturally felt bad about all the personal satisfaction I was missing out on but mostly felt guilty because I couldn’t think of a second substantive column for Jonathan’s new blog. Jonathan gave me an extension until mid-April and I took full advantage of it using the Derby (which was still 3 weeks away as the reason for not being able to write a second column). I convinced Jonathan that after Derby had passed my mind would clear and a second column would be forthcoming ASAP, even though I don’t even bet on horses.
By June, a month after Derby had come and gone, I told Jonathan …..something. I don’t even remember what. But I told him I was still working on my second column and just needed a little more time. In July I pointed out it was summer vacation. Not for me but for my kids. And that it would may be August before the second piece would be fully ready.
With school starting in September, I had to ask for another extension for my second column. It had now been 6 months and I was 12 columns behind. Jonathan’s wonderful and very wise wife, Lisa, reminded Jonathan that “John is just like this sometimes and for some reason we still like him, more or less, and have for many years.” That seemed to help and bought me a little more time—at least through the end of October, for my big second post. Thanks, Lisa!
With the holiday season approaching it only made sense that I may need a little extra time to put the finishing touches on what I had apparently been working on for nearly 8 months now. And Jonathan patiently agreed.
I have a phrase I like to use in situations like this. And use it often. It goes like this. “If you’ll just give me one more chance, I swear I won’t let you down again. Really. I mean it this time.” And I used it on Jonathan….and bought myself another two weeks.
It was about this time that Jonathan had a brilliant idea. He noted that we were Facebook friends and I had recently posted several silly things just for fun. Jonathan said, “Look, John. I can’t wait another 8 months for you to get me a second column but I have an idea. How about you continue to write these posts on Facebook about whatever you want whenever you want. They can be serious or silly; random or timely; about what you are eating or what you are thinking. It doesn’t matter. Just write. Whatever you feel like writing about. Take a few minutes each day and post it. At the end of each week, I’ll collect a few of them and run them the following week as John Y’s Musings from the Middle on the Recovering Politician blog. What do you think?”
That was around Dec 1st. I asked for two weeks to think about it and finally said, “I can’t think of any more excuses, Jonathan. OK? You got me. But what if I don’t have much more in me to say?”
I don’t remember what Jonathan said. I’m not even sure I asked this question. But I sure did worry about it. Anyway, as it turns out I have already come up with 603. In fact, this is 604. Like most the others, it has my trademark rambling confidently toward no particular destination. At least not a very important one. I thought I would run out of silly random things to say at about 20 posts. Maybe 30….45 at the outside. But I was wrong! And you may be too if you don’t feel you have much to say.
Dig deep. There is a lot of deep thoughts, absurd thoughts, pointless nonsense and seemingly sensible things you have to write that may or may not be important. But write them anyway. Who knows. Maybe a lot more will come pouring out. And it’s not a matter of the more you write the more you’ll teach others. Not at all. But the more you write the more you’ll learn about yourself.
And if you are reading this and asking yourself, “What is the point of all this, John?” If you were expecting a point, I really can’t help you much with that. But don’t feel like reading this entire post was a total waste. Think of it this way. If you read this far you now have something in common with my mother and Jonathan and me. I doubt anyone else read this far. Sorry. But we now have this common bond that the four of us have having read this post. And I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.
But let me ask you this, Would you rather read 602 more of my posts or start coming up with 603 of your own rambling thoughts, ideas, musings, insights or attempts at humor? So…..Go for it! And know the hardest part isn’t writing the 603rd post or 457th post or 123rd post or the 19th post or even the very 1st one. It’s that dang 2nd one. It is a bear! Trust me. And may take up to 8 months to finish it. But if you can get past that second one, you are one your way. And even though, like me, you probably won’t be getting paid anything for it, as Jonathan Miller reminded me, it’s the personal satisfaction that you’ll get. I’m glad I did it And glad Jonathan kept prodding me. Thank you, Jonathan! And Lisa! And I hope you don’t cheat yourself out of the personal satisfaction of your own writing either.
Let ‘er rip!
Just Write It!
Well….I just got home and went out to the mailbox and found an over-sized envelope I wasn’t expecting. On the front was written my name in big gangly letters all authoritative and award-sounding like. Which turned out to be true.
I opened up the envelope (the over-sized one with my name written in big gangly letters) and found this. It was enough to make me go all soft and warm on the inside and start thinking about a movie I like a lot. Not a movie I would ever base my life on, mind you. Or a movie I’d ever admit in public that I found amusing and comforting. At least not admit it in a public way where grown-ups or anyone I want to impress could find out. But that movie is The Big Lebowski.
Now, if you ask me, “John, do you have the movie poster from The Big Lebowski hanging in your basement? The real crazy looking dream sequence one with The Dude teaching proper bowling form to Julianne Moore’s character who is dressed in Viking garb? That one?”
If you asked me that, I’d say “no.”
But I’d be lying. Because I do. In a dark corner of our basement but it’s there in plain sight (just darkened a bit) for everyone to see. If they really stray and start poking around a room they aren’t supposed to be in. And I’m proud I have that movie poster.
And I’d also be lying a bit if I told you this here award –even if it is a joke or spoof or prank of some sort—didn’t touch me in some way deep down inside that I’ll probably never be able to explain to my wife and kids or the rest of my family. Or most anybody I work with. Not even any of my neighbors, except maybe the one on the far end of our cul-de-sac who is Indian but trying really hard to understand American culture. Even the weird stuff. I think he’d probably appreciate it. But that’s about it. And maybe Will Russell, a friend of mine who does a lot for the Louisville Lebowskifest. But other than Will and my Indian neighbor whose name I don’t even know but I think would like The Big Lebowski, this is a pretty solemn award that I may try to show off to others but only I can truly appreciate the profoundly convoluted meaning behind it.
Let’s just say I think it’s pretty dang cool.
And I don’t use phrases like “pretty dang cool” unless I am feeling something very intensely than I can’t find the words to adequately describe. Maybe it’s best if I just let the movie itself do the talkin’ for me. It sums it up about like I would if I did have the words to describe it.
“Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? Sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude
here…..Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there……Sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell…The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there.”
Well…I think that pretty much says it all about as well as it can be said. And if you noticed the movie script didn’t ever have to resort to using the phrase “pretty dang cool.” The movie The Big Lebowski has a language all its own and didn’t need intense-feeling preppy phrases like that one. You just kinda know it without ever having to say it.
Know what I mean?
And to prove I may be worthy of The Dude Abides award, I am including this photo.
It’s not a selfie. That wouldn’t be Dude-like at all.
It is, however, a picture of a robe I bought myself recently that I like to wear when I am working in my home office.
And if I may say so, ties the whole room together rather nicely.
And I sure hope nobody, especially German nihilists, ever try to urinate on it.
And although there is really very little about me that even remotely resembles The Dude, I have had a few Dude-like moments.
Not many, mind you, but a few.
Including this one when I was about 11 years old on a fishing boat.
I didn’t fish. But I did manage to look pretty Dude-esque, if you ask me anyway.
Do not go gently into your twilight years….
Very hard to see pic but a special one to me of my father, grandfather and Colonel Sanders at the ribbon cutting ceremony launching the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at UK back in 1979 –and that is going stronger than ever.
I used to listen to my grandfather in his 80s as he would walk 18 to 36 holes of golf in a day (while I drove in a golf cart at age 17) declare that aging wasn’t a natural process but a form of disease that we could and should combat. Colonel Harlan Sanders who was virtually unknown outside his hometown of Corbin in his 50s but by the time he was 70 was one of the three most recognizable faces in the world, believed in staving off the effects of aging too.
The two men convinced my father to start a foundation to do something about their beliefs that would be backed by science and help thousands –maybe even millions—enjoy richer lives in their later years.
I was proud to receive this picture tonight on my father’s behalf and was reminded how fully my grandfather lived his life all the way to the end. Running unsuccessfully for Congress at 81. Handling front page criminal trials at the age of 84 and never saying never to anything.
Sue Wylie, an esteemed public affairs talk show host, interviewed my grandfather when he was in his early 80s and reflecting upon all of his losses when we ran for public office (he lost about 3 times more races than he won), she asked him,
“Well, Mr Brown…..Do you sometimes feel like a failure?”
My grandfather’s voice cracked in a generous and kindly manner as he began to smile and said while still keeping a steady gaze on his host,
“No honey. Look….I adhere to the belief that they only time you fail in this life is when you fail to try.” And after pausing and grinning even bigger adding, “And on that count I think I took about every chance I ever had.”
That’s a pretty good way to live your life. And hasn’t been lost on me or many others inside and outside of the family who knew him.
He would have been proud of his and his friend’s legacy tonight. And, of course, disappointed he wasn’t selected as the keynote speaker. ; )
Warning: If you try to go to Walmart to pick up a half gallon of milk, you will soon realize your errand is not about the 2% milk.
Instead your journey is about the exploration of a wild, weird and wonderfully kitschy world where you will see things that will bend your conventional mind and make you whisper to yourself, “Gee, I could use that.” Followed by “and that too.” Or maybe, “Who thinks up these products?” Followed finally by “These prices can’t be beat.”
And you will soon realize that even though you walked into a Walmart that you have really entered the Hotel California.
That’s right. “You can check out any time you want (through self-service check out), but you can never leave.”
Reposting from July 2013:
Our world seems on the cusp of losing a genuine hero for the ages, Nelson Mandela.
The word hero gets overused a lot but never when applied Mr Mandela, who looks like Morgan Freeman playing God after God has decided to stick around and live among the mortals.
Muhammad Ali famously dismissed achieving the impossible saying “Impossible is nothing.” Nelson Mandela has exemplified that statement throughout his life and continues to do so.
I first heard of this man when I was 20 years old and had the privilege to spend several days in South Africa in 1983. Apartheid, legalized racial discrimination against blacks, was embedded in the nation’s legal system. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated and in poor health. We were taught at the time that he would almost certainly die in prison.
But he didn’t.
Several years later celebrating his 70th birthday while still in prison, Nelson Mandela rallied his people. He became a symbol of patient and peaceful persistence against injustice and a symbol of inspiration much like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King had become resisting injustices in their own countries just decades earlier.
Shortly after that, even though struggling with tuberculosis, Nelson Mandela emerged from prison a free man who not only lived but lived to become the president of his country (and the first black office holder in South African history). Ironically, his country had imprisoned him years earlier for resisting its laws and committing treason and sedition in defying Apartheid in Mandela’s youth. As president Mandela went on to remove the yoke of Apartheid from his country and for all of South Africa’s people.
And today—nearly 30 years after I first heard Mandela’s name whispered as a ghost in the failed resistance to South Africa’s Apartheid policy, he is a living embodiment of everything that was impossible then ….and that his most ardent supporters had stopped believing could ever happen.
How does that happen?
How does a man physically weak, legally incarcerated, politically written off, sick with a potentially fatal malady and aging into his 70s not give up?
How does that same man emerge in his twilight years and become arguably an even more successful South African version of our nation’s Abraham Lincoln?
I don’t know.
Except that’s the kind of things that real heroes do…..and real heroes are as rare as they are extraordinary. And it’s worth pointing out that one is still alive and in our midst. Although sadly, perhaps not for much longer. But he’s here now.
And we are blessed to be able to acknowledge him, again, while he is still alive. And thank him for teaching us that impossible isn’t always as difficult to overcome as it seems.
It’s hard to know the course we are on or where we are in the race or even where it will take us.
Sometimes it isn’t clear if we are closing in on the finish line or the edge of a cliff.
And sometimes when it seems to be the edge of a cliff it is really only a small jump down and part of a longer obstacle course.
And sometimes when it seems to be the finish line and we push out our chest to secure victory we learn we have already been lapped by our competitor. Or forgot to hand off the baton several laps ago.
Which means, I guess, not to waste too much time anticipating or prejudging and do your best to adjust and make the most of whatever you find around the next turn.
And if you have been carrying a baton for several hours, you probably have some explaining to do.
A defining moment……that any of us can have. Frequently.
People may not always remember a kind act…. but almost never forget being treated rudely.
And although a kind act my lead others to think well of us for a brief time ….if we treat someone poorly they tend to define our nature as rude and our intentions as suspect.
A person who is viewed by another as rude and suspect can almost never be viewed by that same person as genuinely kind or completely trustworthy.
So when you are about to treat someone rudely, make sure you chose thoughtfully, carefully and wisely. Because you are not simply about to exhibit a flourish of rude behavior; but rather are about to define yourself with someone for a very long time