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Gratitude For Opportunities

I am grateful for the opportunities in my life. I am not talking about earth-shattering events that alter the affairs of nations, or even my neighborhood, but for the little things that allow me to improve my life one moment at a time. Too often, I bypass the small events in my life, waiting for some huge event to come by that alters my life forever. I suppose it’s like the fisherman who keeps tossing back fish that don’t meet his standards, waiting for the big one that will make his day. So, instead of a bucketful of fish, he has unfulfilled expectations. I think that opportunities are all around, but I turn them down because I am waiting for a bigger, more satisfying opportunity to come my way.

I wonder if a part of it is that taking hold of an opportunity requires effort and change. It always means doing something differently, taking a new route, putting in more work, changing the mindset. It seems that every improvement requires a change of some sort. In some sense, comfort or homeostasis is the enemy of growth. When we are comfortable with our lives, then we have little desire for change. That is because change is tied to discomfort or even pain. We change when we no longer accept our lives as they now stand. Unfortunately, we humans have the capacity to withstand great amounts of pain before we make that change. Often it is because we imagine the pain of change to be greater than the pain of what we are currently doing. However, for change to happen – lasting change – we need to see the change as a good thing and our current situation as a bad thing. We tend to move away from pain and towards pleasure. And in that order.

Notwithstanding all the trouble it is to change, I am grateful for understanding the distinction. I know that change will require effort, a shift in my mindset, and taking deliberate action. That’s because when there is an opportunity in my life, I know what I need to do to take advantage of it. Too often, I see an opportunity and dismiss it before even trying it out. I realize that this first comes from my belief system and my active thoughts. So, the first step I must take is to make sure that my thoughts and belief system are in line with making the most of an opportunity. For example, if I am offered a job that makes me more money each year, then I have to assess whether my beliefs will assess or hinder me in this new opportunity. If I have the belief that making money above my level of necessity is wrong, then I will subconsciously sabotage myself to keep my income and expenses equal. In a similar manner, if I want to exercise, but I think that those who exercise are vain jerks, then I’ll find excuse after excuse not to put in the effort to improve my body.

Ed Mylett had a great video that highlighted an aspect of this – the difference between cost and worth. The words we use, both to others and ourselves have a decided impact on our thinking and our behavior. In this video, he talked about the difference between cost and worth. When we consider the cost of something, we experience pain because something is being taken from us or we have to give up something that has value to us. On the opposite side is the word worth. When we use this word, we are talking about something that has value, something that we want to move towards, something good. It seems to me that if say, I want to eat healthier, then I list all of the ways that fast food and packaged food cost me my health and joy in life and the how healthy foods increase the worth of my body and improve the worth of my relationships and daily activities.

It also seems to me that seizing oppo rtunities requires energy. It means taking action and making changes in one’s life. One example that comes to mind is relationships. When a relationship starts, it has a certain amount of emotional energy to it and the energy of those emotions intermingle between the two people and generate a synergy that spurs on that love. However, life has an entropic aspect to it as well. If we want the relationship to flourish, we have instill it with energy, that is, take action to improve the quality of that love. If we do nothing, it will be pulled into a whirlpool of apathy that will destroy the relationship.

I am grateful that opportunities are all like this. I am able to see more opportunities as I take advantage of them and make them a part of my life. When I take hold of them and instill them with energy, the more opportunities appear. I am also grateful to know that it is my own responsibility to see and use them – it is no one else’s job to make the most out of my own life.

Every morning sun is a symbol of daily greatness – a birth of energy and power to make the most of what life has to offer, but only if we make it so. Let us all be active participants in our own success.

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Gratitude For Transportation

My wife and I went to Bear Lake area for a day trip together. After gassing up the car, we drove for roughly four hours, to the Bear Lake area. After we arrived, I saw that it was different than when we had visited there a number of years previous for a family reunion – more shops, especially eateries. For some reason, milkshakes seemed to be a thing. We drove around looking for a way to actually get to the lake but the marina and the state park were full. Everything else appeared to be private property. We ended up driving into the Idaho side and ended up having a picnic on a church lawn under large shady trees in a little town called Paris (I’ve always wanted to go to Paris). A lady walking her dogs called out to us that it was a great day for a picnic and we agreed. It was sunny, peaceful, wispy clouds with baby blue skies. All of that wouldn’t have been possible if there weren’t any automobiles or support services like gas stations.

It’s hard to conceive of society without transportation – both in ancient days or in modern times. In times past, people used wagons and animals to carry goods and individuals from one place to another. At one point, they must have decided that they could tame animals to do the heavy carrying of things to make their lives easier. I suppose that even having another person carrying your belongings is a form of transportation – like what Roman soldiers were able to do – compel another person to carry their belongings for a mile. Society depends upon transportation and I am grateful for it.

It seems to me that one of the bottlenecks of civilization is the level of transportation that a society has. The more people and products that they can move to the needed locations, the faster that the society is able to plant itself in that area. So the most basic form of transportation is when people move goods themselves to a new place, but this is usually a one to one connection, or at best, a one person to one crowd connection. The true power of transportation comes from improving the method of transportation, so that the amount that is being transported increases beyond the number of people doing the transporting. For example, a fruit seller by himself might carry a few bags of apples in one trip and sell those. If he has a car, then he can sell more and if he has a semi at his disposal, he can sell yet even more. Still, he is limited to what he himself is able to transport. The next level that allows a society to flourish, it seems to me, is a many to many model.

The reason for this is that those with limited levels of transportation are also limited in their influence. I see two reasons for this. First, although cultures and societies can change through ideas and information (which do not require sophisticated transportation methods), the implementation of new ideas is important for change to stick. The more resources a group has, the greater the saturation of an area with those ideas. Second, society can be altered when a large number of people are repeatedly proposing the changes. In previous times, that meant transporting those people to new areas. Now we have the internet as a transportation medium – whether as ideas, as information channels that allow the transportation of goods, or as the transportation of money – as a digital medium – to allow the transportation of goods at a later date.

For all of the reliance we have upon transportation for our daily lives, I think we take it for granted. Gratitude means being aware of what we have and celebrating it, both the good and the bad. Yet there are many parts of our lives, transportation being one of them, where we expect them to be constantly running and available to us. Only when it stops working do we pay much attention to it and then it is often to curse it and demand that it work once again. Understandably, it is human nature to become comfortable with most of the aspects of our lives and to focus on the uncomfortable and the things that are out of sync. We are habitual creatures and pay attention to what is not in our comfort zone. So, as long as our cars, scooters, bikes, and so forth are working as we feel they should be, it drops out of our awareness and and we use them with the expectation that they will function.

Yet, gratitude means being aware of the environment and people around us and appreciating them. In the area of transportation, it means being aware of what it does for us as individuals and as a society. It is a form of communication and sustenance – we are able to live our lives because of transportation and not have to farm the food ourselves or create our own clothes, or any other number of tasks because others who do these things are able to have their goods delivered to us, many times literally to our front doors.

Let every day be one of thanksgiving as nearly everything that we use or do comes to us through transportation – either we went out and used modern travel means to get it or it is delivered to us. Let’s be grateful for all of it.

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Gratitude For Love, Part Do

Halfway through my last blog post, I realized I wasn’t going to get through all of my ideas on the subject. I still wanted to express my thinking on a couple more aspects of love and why I am grateful for them. However, if I put them all in a single post, then it would’ve been a massive, unwieldy thing, more like a rambling chapter than a post. Here, I will attempt to cover the rest of my thoughts on the subject, but do it in a clear, and hopefully, enjoyable manner.

Service gets a superficial nod when it comes to love. I am grateful for this aspect of love because it allows me to dedicate my efforts to another person and show them how much I love them. There is an old saying that love is a verb and I believe this is true. Love increases when we act upon it and withers when we do not. I have to be careful about how I express love as my efforts can backfire if my love is self-centered and not other-centered. As Dr. Chapman points out (in his work on the five love languages), if I am only focused on giving love based on how I feel love, then I am self-centered: I am focusing on myself and my own feelings instead of what my wife is feeling and her needs.

So, how do I serve my wife? I am not here to say that I do these things remotely well – these posts are reminders to myself on how I must improve, as much as anything else. When I love my wife well, it is because I observe her – when she feels happy, when she is indifferent, and so on. For example, I know that she enjoys physical demonstrations of love, through acts of service. One way that I do this is by giving her car rides, which usually last almost an hour and end with buying drinks at our favorite drink and cookie stand, Sodalicious. It allows us to spend time together and just be around one another and enjoy a pleasant ride around town. This is something that she enjoys and allows me to show my love for her. It’s going to be different for each couple – but you have to have your eyes open as to what it is that your partner wants and and what increases their love for you.

Perhaps all of these elements come from having shared values with each other. There is an old saying that opposites attract, but sameness stays together. I think this is because we are attracted to the new, the shiny object, the “other.” However, with exposure, the “new” becomes the “regular.” Once that newness wears off, then there has to be something solid, something enduring. Unfortunately, many people form relationships based on external, temporary qualities, so when these things change, the relationship suffers because it was based on something that cannot last. I would consider such qualities things like money, physical attractiveness, athletic or creative skills, and things of this nature. It is a demonstrable fact that people change over time and if I enter a relationship with a person based on their looks or ability to earn wealth, when those things change, and it is likely that they will, then that relationship will collapse as the connection between me and my partner was based on a poor foundation.

Interior/intrinsic values, or as I wrote about in my first post – virtues of the heart – are longer lasting and are built upon the foundation of self-development and character building, and thus are much more durable, especially when turbulent times come. In my own life, I was first attracted to my wife because of her energy, her generosity, and her charisma. That has helped me immensely through the whirlwind of life because it created a bedrock that I could place the relationship onto. Now, it’s important to note that people’s nature can and does change, those elements that are central to a person’s nature is the least likely to change and therefore, the best place to anchor the relationship.

We are always going to tie our relationships to certain anchors, the aspects that we consider to be the most important parts – we might as well as anchor them to deep virtues that will stay constant over time and create a richer, fuller connection over the duration of our lives. I am grateful for my wife’s desire to serve our family and those around us. On many occasions, she has been the one to push me to serve and I have been a better man for it. But that is an important part of love as well – bringing out the best in one another with the best intentions, using methods that are honorable to reach the best possible ends.

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Gratitude For Love

Love is a strange thing. For one woman, it means falling in love with multiple light fixtures and tying the knot with her antique chandelier. For most, it means being committed to another person over the long term, hopefully for the rest of their lives. For myself, it means being in a committed, married relationship going on for twenty-six years this summer. Whatever an individual’s case may be, I am glad that there are specific actions that we can take to increase our love for another person. It is not a mystical or magical occurrence beyond our control, as many movies and novels would proclaim. Because it is within my control, I am grateful for the love in my life and my ability to make it grow.

Now, before I dive into the different areas of love development and why I am grateful for them, I want to separate love from attraction and lust. Attraction can lead to love, but attraction is not love, although it has been confused with it. Attraction comes in many forms: physical attraction, similar interests, bonding through shared experiences, and so forth. Love is a much deeper emotion and it is much harder to sever when life gets hard. Lust is more of a function of biology and is locked into the superficial and the immediate. While two people in love can have great physical attraction for each other, the relationship is not based on the physical, as it is with lust. I am grateful that real love is much more than shared moments and goes beyond biological impulses. I am glad these factors are within my grasp.

I have noticed that the various forces that affect motivation also affect love as well. I am a fan of Brendon Burchard and Tony Robbins models of motivation and I feel that they dovetail nicely with the factors that affect the development of love. For those inclined, you can find Brendon’s ten factors here and Tony’s can be found here. One of the factors that has a direct connection to the development of love is control. This is because we are only able to develop love with another person if we believe that we have control over our feelings. We get to decide whether we are in love or not and whether or not that we want to pursue the relationship. This is a critical point and one that I do not make lightly. If we are not in control of our love, then it is doomed.

This is because if we feel that an experience is beyond our ability affect its outcome, then we become overwhelmed and hopeless. We sense that we are a victim and that we are struggling against an impossible situation. One of two things generally happen: either we abdicate responsibility and embrace the emotion without constraint or caution or we fight against it, rail against it, and beat against its walls until we are bloody. In either case, love runs its course and we are left jaded and apathetic.

Another aspect to developing greater love is what I’ll call contribution. I am grateful that contribution allows me to develop greater love with others because it allows me to actively choose to be more loving and to receive greater love in my life. A metaphor for this aspect of love is a set of scales used in the distant past, as displayed by “Lady Justice” in statues or other forms. On these scales, items are placed on both sides and if they balance, then the observer knows that the two items have equal weight. However, if one side is lower than the other, then it is clear that one side weighs more, and therefore the two parts are unequal. This is true for relationships as well. Both parts of the relationship must feel that they are contributing. If one side believes that they are giving and the other side isn’t, then the relationship suffers and is headed down a path of breaking up.

If a person feels that they are contributing and the other isn’t, then feelings of ill-will towards the other person is going to develop. A relationship is a lot like an emotional contract between two people and if one side of the contract is not providing emotional well-being, then the other party will feel cheated and angry that their needs are not being met. They will begin to blame the other person for the failure and will experience emotional pain when the other person is around or when they think of the other person. Once this pain has become habitual, it is hard to come back from that. Not impossible, but it takes consistent effort to change the tenor of the relationship and bring positivity back to the fore.

Keeping the relationship positive isn’t hard to do, but it does take intention. All relationships are based on assumptions on what makes up the connection. Talk about your expectations and how you know if they are being met or not. More often than not, you will be surprised by what your partner needs to feel love. Then go out and fill those needs.

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Gratitude For Neighbors

My washing machine broke down a little while ago, and as I considered my options, I received a text from a neighbor asking if I needed help. I was surprised – not that they asked, but that they knew that I had a problem. I hadn’t actively talked about it, mainly to one or two people nearby. They heard it through the grapevine and asked if they could help in some way. That’s what great neighbors do. They’re concerned and look for ways to assist in any way that they can. I am very grateful for my neighbors.

Another great neighbor that I have live next door: the Baxters. I have known them since we moved in the neighborhood five years ago. I’ve always hit it off well with the father of the household, Rob. He was the one that got me interested in donating plasma and I’ve spent time in their home. A few weeks ago, he noticed that the bushes at the end of my driveway needed trimming – they were smacking the car – and he offered to trim them, as he was already doing yardwork. Good neighbors are like that – going the extra mile for another person. I’m lucky to live next to him.

It’s not that good neighbors are hard to find, but that each person has to be a good neighbor. Reciprocation is an important part of any relationship. Stephen Covey talked about how people have emotional bank accounts with one another. When we ask a person to do something for us, we are making a withdrawal out of that account. If you make too many withdrawals, then the relationship suffers. You have to make deposits too. There is a give and take to any relationship. If the other person feels that you are only taking, then they stop giving. It’s just part of our nature. When we serve each other, we strengthen the bonds that we feel for each other.

That isn’t always the cause, though. I have a neighbor that’s gone through multiple back surgeries and isn’t able to take care of his lawn like he used to. I talked to my son and my son agreed to mow and landscape his lawn. This neighbor, the Davies family, isn’t able to return the favor, as his injury keeps him from much of the activities that he is used to, but that is alright. Everyone has times in their life when they need to receive more than they can give. There is an ebb and flow to life and we need to be prepared for that. We give when we can and we receive when we need it. I think an important part of receiving is to be grateful for it and not take it for granted. To take without being grateful is a major withdrawal from the emotional bank account and we can bankrupt that account if we aren’t careful.

We are living in times of greater stress and difficulty than ever. We need the bonds of friendship and service to get through these trying events. Having great neighbors and being a great neighbor is a key to getting through these times.

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Gratitude For Second Language Students

I am grateful for all of the students that I have taught over the years. I have been blessed to teach students from various experiences and age groups. I have taught second-graders all the way to students entering graduate school, both here in America and overseas. I can say that teaching has been one of the great loves of my life. I enjoy sharing ideas and getting feedback from my students. I can say that one group of students has been the most enjoyable to teach. That has been the adult second language students – people who have come to America to work and live and want to learn the English language.

One of the differences between adult students and others that I have taught is that adults want to be in the classroom. While they have different motivations for being there, the reality is that they all chose to educate themselves. I have noticed that there is a large difference between a student that makes a choice to be in a classroom and one who is compelled to occupy a seat. Although elementary and secondary education are necessary– a lack of desire to be in a classroom does have an effect on learning. In adult education, that is an issue that I don’t have to deal with.

Because of that, I can push my students to learn material that they wouldn’t otherwise engage. However, I have to make sure that what I give them is within what I call a “comfortable difficulty.” The best learning takes place when the substance is challenging without being overwhelming. There is an aspect of control here – and control is a facet of motivation. When we feel that we are in control of a situation, we are more likely to do that activity. Part of the role of education is to discover what each student’s threshold of difficulty is for the subject matter and to balance there, so that they are challenged, but not to go so far into the difficulty that they can’t see a way through to the other side and give up in frustration.

Another difference is that the second language students often have greater critical thinking skills, sharpened through their life experiences, a depth and the breadth that younger students have not acquired. Many of these students were professionals in their own countries – I have had accountants, scientists, teachers, and lawyers in my classroom as well as housekeepers, students, retail associates, and homemakers. Yet the limitations of learning a new language had dampened their prospects here. They have a maturity that they have developed through their struggles to thrive in a new environment. The struggle has given them a perspective and a toughness that younger students don’t have.

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has introduced new challenges for teaching, but I think we’ve managed find workable alternatives and keep students on the path of knowledge. Introducing new technology can be a challenge – so I used applications that they were familiar with. They already used Google Hangouts, which made communication easy. I already had set up a website to share information with the class, so I modified it to fit the new situation. I scanned documents that we’d be using in class and uploaded them to the website. We were able to carry on, but it isn’t the same as face to face interaction. Physical interaction is an important part of education and no matter how advanced the technology, it can not replace the need for real contact.

Perhaps it is a cliché that the teacher learns more from the students than the students from the teacher, but in my case it is true. It is the thing that I am grateful for more than anything else – their desire to learn and to grow resonates within me and inspires me to be my best self.

Thank you, students and more importantly, my friends.

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Gratitude For Fantasy Novels

Other than a mystery genre based reading contest in the third grade, I’ve been a solid fantasy and science fiction fan for most of my life. The bulk of my teenage years were stuffed with book after book, sometimes reading two or three books at the same time. I am immensely grateful for these authors who spent the time to develop and craft these novels for my (and everyone else’s) pleasure. Their stories have stayed with me decades after, and through occasional re-readings and fond remembrances of the stories within.

Although it’s strange to me, I tend to write science fiction and read epic and high fantasy. I am not sure why this is so – perhaps because we’re living in an age of science fiction – a time where what was once fiction is now fact. In any case, since I read much more fantasy, I will focus this post on that genre, though both science fiction and fantasy are similar. Perhaps I will write a post in the future on why I am grateful for science fiction and the benefits of it.

The first way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that the heroes depend on their own skills and inner strength to accomplish the tasks set before them. While it is true that magic often exists (but not in every case), it is usually an aid to the heroes and not an all-powerful savior. Even with a magic system in place, it is still the protagonists that must develop their skills and wield it to the best of their abilities. It is a tool that the characters use to accomplish their goals and not magic that is the master. It is interesting to note though, that there are many stories where the villains are the slaves of magic or some other powerful force that they are using to defeat the heroes.

The second way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that – at least with the sub-genre of high fantasy – good and evil are clearly defined. While there are epic fantasy series that are dark and gritty, it seems that most of the sub-genre has a clear-cut morality to it. Contrast this to other sub-genres of fantasy, such as urban fantasy where the characters live in world of gray and a shade of moral relativism. Some people might say that this more like the world we live in now, but I think that this is a result of personal pain and loss. Good and evil do exist and there is a strong appeal to stories that reflect this.

One of the great things about high (and most epic fantasy) is that good and evil are apparent and choosing one or the other has definite consequences. I consider this to be an aspect of the writing adage of cause and effect sometimes known as Chekhov’s Gun. Chekhov said that if a gun is hanging on a wall in the first act, it needs to go off by the third. In this case, good and evil are major aspects of these sub-genres, and as such have real consequences in the world and to the characters that live in them. Intentions matter and actions have consequences – just as they do in the real world.

The third way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that the characters often face great adversity, suffering from greater pain and sacrifice than most people face in their daily lives. It is true that other sub-genres of fantasy and all genres in general deal with these issues, high and epic fantasy tends to deal with them on a larger scale. That is to say, the stakes (or the risks) involved are much greater and the burdens laid upon the hero or heroes is much more intense because of it. Personally, it shows me that my own issues are much smaller by comparison and more manageable. Although it is a work of fiction, it does give me a sense of perspective and I am grateful for that.

Perhaps the greatest reason that I am grateful for these sub-genres is that the struggle matters and that the protagonists have the seeds of victory within them, no matter how daunting their foes. I think that this is true in our own lives as well.

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Gratitude For My Mother

When I mention that I am the oldest of seven boys, I’m asked if we drove our mother insane or if she’d gotten her sainthood. Every time, I answered, “sainthood.” It is not that I think that she’s perfect, as we all have our faults, but her virtues and the sacrifices that she made over the years are more than enough to place her in the hall of heroes in my life. I think that many children feel the same about their own mothers and they are correct. I know my own mother the best, so I will speak from my own experiences, and perhaps they will be of value to you as well.

One of her first sacrifices, (and one that I am grateful for) was the choice to have children before she was financially secure. I know that many people wait until they’re financially comfortable. My mother felt that bringing children into the world was more important than having a stash of cash. Personally, I am infinitely grateful for her decision, as I am the direct product of that choice. I know that this isn’t an easy choice for anyone to make, especially for a young family already struggling to pay all of the bills and keep afloat in uncertain times. Yet, it can be done as my mother demonstrated, and it continues to happen.

That isn’t to say that she was a stay at home mother the entire time, for she did pick up work as we children were growing up. However, taking care of us was her greater priority. There were several times that she quit her job so that she could spend more time at home. It was not a decision that she made lightly, but she realized that her family meant more to her than her career. Having a job can seem critical in the moment, but familial bonds strengthen over a lifetime and few, if any, individuals looking back on their life wish that they had spent more time at the office and less time with their spouse and children. I am grateful that my mother was able to make that distinction and choose us instead of a paycheck.

A second sacrifice she made was with her education. She had been a top-tier student with straight A’s. When she decided to have children, she put off her formal education to focus on her family. That was hard for her, as she was a strong advocate of education. That said, she continued to develop herself, to read, and study on her own, as she raised us. Also, she was concerned for us and encouraged us to do well in our own educational paths. I remember countless hours of sitting down at my kitchen table and completing homework assignments. I imagine that she had a number of wistful moments, assisting us with our studies, thinking about her own education deferred.

Still, she did not give up on her dream of finishing her degree. When I was about twelve years old, she decided to go back to the university part-time. She took enough just enough classes to continue on with her schooling and also watch over her young household. Obviously, it wasn’t easy, but she did it and continued to hold on to her 4.0 GPA. I distinctly remember my mother bouncing my youngest brother, who was two years old at the time, on one knee, and having an open Spanish language textbook on the other. Her dedication to her family and education allowed her to raise us and obtain valedictorian status at her university. She went on to obtain both her masters degree and a Ph. D.

She made these sacrifices while maintaining her sense of humor. I think my own humor stems from hers and I am grateful for that. A certain levity makes hard situations easier to bear, and I think that is part of why she came out of the other side of raising large family, while not unscathed, but with an undefinable grace. It’s a constant reminder that my own life is much easier than what I like to imagine and my trials are tiny compared to what she went through.

Most of all, I am grateful for her presence through the years. I am also grateful that I am still able to visit her and share my love of her and all that she has done for me. She is a role model that I will spend the rest of my life attempting to live up to.

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The Soul Of Thanksgiving

When I decided to do a post on what makes Thanksgiving Day special to me, I spent a long while pondering the subject. At first, the three main pillars stuck out to me: family, turkey, and football. Of the three, family is the most important and I have a great family to celebrate it with. Also, the stuffed bird in the center of the dining room table is an iconic staple that I grew up expecting on that day. On the other hand, ours never was a football family and I am fine with that.

Yet, I felt that something was missing, as if there was a blindspot in my vision. Not to the back and left, like when I’m driving, where the rear and side mirrors refuse to show me that vehicle right behind my wing. No, this was a spot in the center of my vision that my thoughts skittered across without really seeing. It was a curious thing, both uncomfortable and troubling, that I would have this difficulty discovering what made this holiday important for me. Certainly it lay in a virtue that I repeatedly skipped over, conscious of it or not. There was a pain tied to this virtue and by ignoring it, I attempted to avoid staring it in the eyes.

However, I knew that if I continued on this course, greater personal issues were in my future. Comfort zones are great and I have spent years in mine – but deliberately avoiding anything that pushes the edges of these zones causes our positive natures to shrink, where they become weak and anemic. Strength comes from facing resistance, not sprinting from it. Not confronting this blindspot, this aspect of my nature, was an attempt to run from myself. And the funny thing is that you can run, but you can never escape yourself.

Anyway, after a week of contemplation, I think that the virtue most associated with Thanksgiving is love. There is no gratitude and thankfulness without love. The most important love is that which is not focused on the self, but on serving and loving others, which is true for any virtue. If my life is based on a self-centered end, then yes, I can develop that skill or ability, but it will fall short of its potential. If instead, I develop myself so that I can assist and serve those around me, then my skills will surpass anything that I would have thought possible. Perhaps I feared the power that love brings.

At its heart, love is the freedom of communication, of sharing through vulnerability and (hopefully) reciprocity. It has to be returned, not through force or threats, but by free choice. Love is an expression of freedom – an openness of the heart. Love must be freely given and freely received to reach its greatest power. Anything less is a shadow.

I hope that this Thanksgiving Day you have those that you can express love to and demonstrate it – and receive it back in kind. Because behind all the pageantry, the turkey, and yes, the football, this is what Thanksgiving is all about.

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October 28, 2019

Gratitude For Disappointment

Once upon a time, when I taught high school, I had a discussion with an English teacher I’ll call Cliff. We shared stories of our first experiences teaching. He told me that his first day was the hardest. I wasn’t surprised. He caught me off-guard with his next sentence – after the day’s classes ended, he shut the door, collapsed in his chair, and wept. The students were unruly, the classroom management difficult, and the lessons ineffective. I had known Cliff a long time, back before we taught our first lessons, and he always appeared confident and sure of himself. I never imagined it possible for him to break down. He experienced disappointment at the highest level.

To my mind, disappointment is the gap between expectation and result. Prior to his classroom awakening, Cliff dreamt dreams of classroom discussion where students participated, engaged in group activities,and gathered knowledge. This type of thinking happens to most, if not all of us. We set goals, imagine the outcome, and then make it happen. Only the reality is that the activity of life never matches what we envision in our heads. This because we make assumptions about what it takes to reach our objectives, and the assumptions are based on what I call “virtues.”

Other may refer to them as characteristics, attributes, or values, but I feel virtues best reflects their nature. We adopt them to assist us in getting the meat out of life. They can be grouped into two broad categories: virtues of the mind and virtues of the heart. Virtues of the mind are the aspects of ourselves that deal with our intellectual activities. They guide us in navigating the workplace, public interactions with others, executing personal habits, enjoying hobbies, and so forth. These virtues include creativity, risk tolerance, pleasure, entertainment, and financial success. The other side of the equation has the virtues of the heart, which attends to the emotional and relational aspects of our lives – with ourselves and others. A partial list of these virtues are love, patience, empathy, humility, and integrity.

Keep in mind that each virtue has an opposite, a negative aspect, if you will. Creativity has dullishness, financial success has poverty, patience has impetuousness, and love has apathy. The positive virtues create openness and vulnerability, while the negative virtues create walls and barriers to protect from the inevitable heartbreak.

Now, the question to ask is this: are these virtues I am building my expectations around pushing me towards my best self or away from it? People often embrace negative virtues because they cannot handle the pain and rejection that accompanies an open heart. However, choosing to adopt negative virtues may offer benefits in the short term, but they they stymie growth and deep personal connections over a lifetime. When one or both people in a relationship build walls around their passions, a superficial association is the only result.

Of course we are not going to throw open the gates of our emotions to everyone we meet, but we must be mindful of our virtues and where we have placed our default settings.

When we have taken this step and have developed an awareness for how we are installing our virtues in our relationships – then we can truly exhibit gratitude for our disappointments. If we focus on our expectations and their attendant negative virtues, then we can be grateful that we now know what we have sown into our hearts and minds. We possess the ability to alter our direction, to adjust our course to unite with our best selves. For we become who we want to be and there is much in that to be grateful.

Conversely, when we look at our virtues and find them to be positive and directing us towards our best selves, we have great cause to celebrate with gratitude. We are marching in the direction of our goals. And yet we often feel disappointment because the reality of our lives does not match our expectations of that reality. In most cases, if we are living according to the positive virtues, then the gap between the two is of time. If this is the case, it is an opportunity to turn an analytical eye to where we are. If we are on the path to where we want to go, recalibrate the expectations to match the speed of accomplishment to the ultimate destination.

However, it is possible that we can be living the positive virtues of the mind and heart and still never close the gap between expectation and reality. We must be at peace with that and we can be grateful for the freedom to stretch ourselves, even if that desired outcome, that treasured outcome, never materializes.

Gratitude For My Father

I’ve been one of the lucky ones. It’s sad to report that there have been many kids that had their fathers abandon them, avoid their responsibilities, or even if around, they might as well as have been gone. Not my dad. He’s always been a family man, balancing work and home life. He doted – and still dotes – on our mother, spent time with us kids, and worked around the house. It couldn’t have been easy, especially when I was a teenager. In spite of this, I learned from him, what it means to be a man, a husband, and a father.

One of the lessons I learned from him was honor and integrity. If there was one thing that I could count on, it was that my father kept his promises. It’s hard to point to a specific situation, for honor isn’t dependent upon a single flashy example, but by a consistent setting of a standard. It’s the constant pounding of ocean water on the rocky shore. Each wave seems to have no effect, but over time, the water breaks the rock and turns the formidable stone into soft sand. That’s the way that my father was. His habitual example showed me that a single instance doesn’t make a man – or a woman – but the continuous effort to live one’s best life does.

However, one example does spring to mind. When I was twelve, I broke something valuable that belonged to a place of business and my father promised I would pay back the cost. He could have yelled at me and punished me for what I broke and forced me to earn back the money. He chose a better way. He found a number of people that needed their lawn mowed and landscaped. Every Saturday, we went to these homes and did lawn work. He was there for all of it, providing advice and assistance but not recriminations and blame. Over the course of the summer, I paid back the money for what I had broken and I had a greater love for my father as well.

A second lesson I learned from him was how to serve. He often thought of others and worked to provide for them when he could. He was a teacher by profession and I remember many times seeing him in the kitchen preparing some tasty treat for his students. I often felt jealous as I saw my father slather homemade icing over the humongous cinnamon rolls. It wasn’t a rare sight to see students come over to the house to get extra help on their assignments either. He was generous with his time and he wanted those he taught to do well.

He also helped out those in the community. If he found a person in need, he was there to provide for them. Sometimes he did yardwork for older people that had a hard time getting around, or providing for families that didn’t have enough to eat. I remember one time there was a man in his twenties that had a hard time getting a job and my father found him one. He also brought the man into our home, fed him, and we rented a movie and had a family night with him.

Lastly, I learned from him how a man must treat his wife. My father cooks for my mother, he runs errands for her, and provides for her comforts. If my mother wants to go out, for entertainment or some other activity, my father makes the arrangements so that they can enjoy their time together. He consistently seeks out her wants and her needs and provides them for her – the small desires as well as the large – if she is thirsty, he will give her favorite iced drink – just as readily as he will plan out date nights with her.

I could not have asked for a better example of a father in my life. I am grateful and I will always be grateful for his example and his life.

Gratitude For Self-Directed Learning

When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher was the worst I’d experienced in my life up to that point, or ever since. She had a nickname that seemed to be perfect for her nature – “the Cockroach.” She lectured, condescended, and tested, all without engaging. I didn’t do well in that environment and I was punished for it. I remember one time when she showed the movie “Shane” to the class. I and several other students didn’t get to watch it because we were behind on our schoolwork. She placed us at a long table against one of the classroom walls and set up a curtain behind us, so that we couldn’t see the movie, but we could hear it. Unfortunately, that was the year that grammar was taught. That being the case, I am grateful for self-directed learning, which due to the Internet, has far-reaching and amazing potential.

One of the ways that I am grateful for self-directed learning is through audio books. I have used CDs and online services. A few years ago, I was commuting to work, which meant that for an hour a day, I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I decided to be more effective with my time and visited the local public library. I found a wealth of books on CD and started listening to them. It was a great way to spend my time and I learned a lot. Nowadays, I subscribe to a service and I get around three books a month. I download the books to my phone and listen while I’m getting ready for work in the morning and while I’m in my car. I also love how I can change the rate of playback – I usually listen at 1.5x speed and when I do a replay listen, I listen at 2x.

I have to make a note here – these books are great, but if all that I am doing is listening and then moving on, then it is a waste of my time. I also have to write down what I’ve learned and make a plan to put the key points into action. I’m grateful for those authors who create workbooks that go along with the audio and make it available for download. Learning sticks best when we make it a part of our daily experience. The more we use our knowledge and skills, the more we develop them and they become part of our nature. To me, it’s useless to listen to something once and not attempt to use it to improve my life.

A second way that I am grateful for self-directed learning is through online videos. Youtube is probably the most used form of this, but there are other services, both free and subscription-based that have fantastic benefits. Almost anyone can put up a video, so it is important to me to know that the content o is accurate and true. That often means watching many videos on a subject (or reading and listening to related material) to see if what the video creator is saying is in line with the data. I think this is a good general practice in any case – I try to send out a wide net when I am learning something – and check to see whether the various sources of information connect and where they contradict one another.

One of the great things about videos is that it can combine the visual and the auditory to enhance learning. Other than through the use of computer-based training, there aren’t many methods that are as engaging as through videos. The opportunities for this type of learning, is growing, especially as more colleges and universities are putting up their courses on the Internet. I still need a way to remember the information – I’m a big fan of notebooks – and a plan to put the information into action.

A third way that I am grateful for self-directed learning is through online courses. While they will be more expensive than a series of youtube videos or an audiobook, they can have great benefits. For one, they are often taught by a well-known expert on the subject. This is especially true of such services as masterclass. Brendon Burchard also has a variety of online courses, some of which are fairly inexpensive. Whatever you desire to learn, there is likely a course out there that will give you the knowledge that you need.

If you lack the resources to take these courses, you can make your own. In the book “Ultralearning,” by Scott Young, he talks about how he wanted the knowledge that a degree at MIT offered, but he didn’t want the schedule or the price of that degree. He found that the professors offered lectures, slideshows, test questions, and other data that would allow him to tackle the degree, but at his own pace. Thanks to the Internet and the wealth of information there, we can learn just about anything that we want.

And now, even though I missed out on some key learning, I can now dive into subjects that evaded me so long ago.