Being in someone’s shoes

April 17, 2019.

Following occurred to me during our Camino Frances. I decided the category for this post will be different as I want to touch on this topic in somewhat depth.

Most of us who drive have a destination in mind when we are driving. Getting to said destination is the objective. If we own vehicles, we may opt for a more premium vehicle, so that it is a more comfortable drive with various auto-cruise and safety features, so that we arrive safely and in a relaxed state. If we are driving on country roads, we will likely pay attention to the road conditions a bit more.

As a Camino pilgrim, there were a handful of occasions when we had to walk many km along country roads. If you have experienced this, you know how different the slip stream and noise is from vehicles traveling past at 30 mph to 50 mph. There’s a reason why speed limits in American school zones are 20 mph.

I had seen a vehicle which I estimated was probably traveling at about 40-45 mph along this country road. It did not even brake nor slow down when passing fellow pilgrims walking ahead of us.

That driver was so cocooned in his/her vehicle that he/she was totally de-sensitized to the effects being felt by walking pedestrians by the speed of their vehicle.

Are we sometimes cocooned in our jobs, in our positional status, in our wealth class, in our educational superiority, etc that we don’t really sense how others around us are being affected? Or even care?

If we ourselves have been subject to this ‘slip stream/noise’ by those ‘above’ us in life, does that increase our empathy for others?

Life can be all about me. Or it can mean much more.

More on Reading

Imagine a society that did not have a printing press. Everyone will be dependent on oral communications or very costly and limited hand written/copied books. We are fortunate because of Johannes Gutenberg. But to what extent, are we taking advantage of this inflexion point in mankind’s ability to share and disseminate information and knowledge?

There are several titles that I had the good fortune to read in 2018. One was recommended by a FB friend who I met in the last three months, namely, The Righteous Mind – Why good people are divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. In a nutshell, Jonathan outlines a contemporary framework, the Moral Foundation Theory that articulates how various people perceive, evaluate and decide situations and events, based on interal moral convictions. He further shows through research how liberals and conservatives (on opposite ends of the political spectrum) rely on different sets of moral pillars/standards. A free online self test guides one’s own self discovery.

The next title is White Fragility by Dr. Robin Diangelo, published in 2018. This is a very complex issue in recent times. Why would you want to read this book? It’s fitting to then quote the author herself, why she embarked on her own career, why she wrote this. “Interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality; the interruption is by definition not passive or complacent…. It is a messy, lifelong process, but one that is necessary to align my professed values with my real actions. It is also deeply compelling and transformative.”

The other reading category that I have stepped up is spiritual titles. Others may prefer self improvement books. Both inspire, not just inform or educate. Let your books help you live an inspired life!

My reading style has evolved with age. Previously, I will complete a book before I start on another, i.e. a serial reader. But now, I find that I can start three four books concurrently, and complete at different times. Obviously, I will sometimes come across a book that I will read to finish within two three days. Perhaps because I am so used to multiplexing projects during my work career, that this skill has laterally transferred to my reading brain!

So, I have read 30 books since my last update on this topic in Jan 2018. I do have significant travel time this year, so, I may not be able to sustain the pace for 2019. Regardless, I will complete 100 books way before June 2021.

One final thought provoking question to you, my reader. Clearly you enjoy reading. And clearly you have a good circle of friends. How often do you gift books to friends that will just influence their life trajectory? Isn’t that a beautiful idea to contemplate?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

After wading into the retirement pool ….

Here’s an edited piece I recently wrote in a FB Closed Group about preparing for retirement.

1. Figure out your purpose in this next stage of life. This is important as a number of Types A’s identity are so intimately identified to job, role and work circles, that they may go adrift come retirement.

2. Strengthening bonds with family and loved ones should become a priority in retirement. They are the ones who will shed tears at your funeral. They are the ones who will cherish memories of you. Many of your friends will not feel that deeply. Know the few friends who will, and treat them like family.

3. It’s easy to fill up our calendars with cherished or long wished-for pursuits or activities (e.g. travel, reading, golfing, etc). What is more difficult is determining the circle of friends that you want to strengthen the bonds with. Many in the work circles may not wish to continue the connections (and this could be mutual). So, finding friends that one can retire gracefully with, is an often over-looked task. This gets complicated if one downsizes or relocates to a totally different locale. But the beauty of that different locale is the beginning of a new adventure, finding new circles of friends that align, complement or broaden one’s outlook on life.

4. Consider volunteering, and giving back. Focusing one’s energy on continuing to make money part time, on the side, diminishes one’s heart. A very poor legacy for children and grandchildren.

We have but one life.

 

Kicking Off A New Year, 2019

No, I am not going to talk about New Year resolutions. Not that they aren’t a good thing. Even though most do not check off 100% of their fine intentions come December 31, it’s an exercise that does help at some level. Kudos to those who preserve at this.

Rather, it’s reflecting how the arc of one’s life journey has been so far, and the progress towards one’s North Star(s). I will share two of such Stars.

Before getting to that, here’s my mechanism. I have created an xls that has tabs for each year. And in each tab, I outlined the core goals in my life, most of which are aligned to my North Stars. Some goals do reflect my human reality, e.g. centering on physical health. My goals stay fairly consistent year to year. What changes are the targets or milestones for that year.

If you journal a diary, then, consider scanning your writings/entries, and pulling out the key moments and experiences that you wish to build on for the New Year. You can always synthesize the micro into the macro, as there was an inner compass within you when you pulled out those key moments/experiences.

My first Star is my spiritual faith and discipleship. In 2018, I learnt that 100% Belief does not necessarily translate to 100% Trust, both being different sides of the Faith coin. And Trust is not just accepting that events occurred as God Willed or Allowed.

100% Trust means “I am ready to do whatever God asks of me.” 100% Trust means believing and sensing that God is always with me. 100% Trust means believing and accepting that God works all things together for my good.

Thus, in 2019, I will be working on that 100% Trust. It means looking at every moment, every event, every trigger, as an opportunity to discern what God asks of me, and to do it, with the conviction He is always with me and together, He and I can handle anything. A simple daily ‘get out of bed’ prayer is, “Lord, nothing will happen to me today that You and I together, cannot handle.”

My second Star centers on our adult children. It’s natural to de-emphasize parenting when adult children have left the nest and are living on their own. But we have experience, distance and  wisdom born from scars that actually place us in positions to discern and provide that parental guidance, even to our adult children. As we evaluated each child’s life stage and circumstances, we could easily identify that one aspect that we as parents could assist our child in their journey in 2019. What a privilege to be able to continue this journey with our children.

There’s much to look forward to in 2019. We have a Holy Land and second Camino pilgrimage planned. We are going to re-connect with family far away. We are enjoying the new friendships. A toast to all our readers, that we live and love more deeply in 2019.

the future

Which Historical Figure Would I Want to Spend a Day With?

The key proviso is that it must be in the historical figure’s context and time. Said figure is not transported to our modern day. Thus, if I were an anthropologist, I definitely would want to observe Lucy in her natural state (as conversation would be almost impossible)!  😊

This was a much easier task for me to contemplate, probably in large measure due to the history lessons in school. The significant milestones in humankind’s arc offers many candidates. It’s likely that one’s passion, one’s interests will help narrow a short list from many many possibilities. Thus, if one were interested in military warfare and strategy, given how the world wars have changed the face of nations, one could zero in on  the pivotal figures that had an out-sized impact on the outcome.

My list includes the following:

  1. Thomas Edison
  2. Leonardo Da Vinci
  3. Nostradamus
  4. George Washington
  5. Martin Luther King Jr
  6. Jesus Christ

How would I approach the dialog and engagement with these figures? What would be the central points and topics that I would seek to engage in?

Edison is well known as an inventor extraordinaire, holding 1093 US Patents! It would be amazing to understand how he gets his creative ideas, the ability to imagine and create new technologies. And when/how does he realize an idea is (or is not) a dead end, given the reported 1000 attempts at an electric incandescent light bulb? His attitude is best illustrated by his response to a reporter’s question on ‘How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?’ Edison replied, I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.’ At the end of this conversation, would we be nearer to answering this, ‘Is creative genius a genetic happenstance or can it be nurtured?’

Da Vinci is often regarded as the Renaissance Man. He’s adept at the arts, having painted the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, The Vitruvian Man and many others. At the same time, he had documented many scientific concepts, such as the Parachute and Helical Air Screw (http://www.da-vinci-inventions.com/). It’s amazing that Da Vinci was equally adept at both the creative/artistic and scientific domains. In researching his background, Da Vinci was un-schooled, learning from observation and apprenticeship. An interesting conversation is to pose the question that if he knew his time was limited, how would he spend it? Where would he channel his last energies?

Nostradamus appears on my list because I have a fascination with the future. Does Nostradamus’ quatrains really pertain to the future, or was it simply the extrapolations of others? If the former, were they divinely inspired? What other quatrains about the future have yet to un-fold?

Unlike my other complementary post on modern contemporary figures that excluded any political leaders, Washington makes my historical list for the simple fact that he’s a Statesman and exemplified the true qualities of consistently putting the interests and well being of the nation, the people above his own. As I contemplate the modern political leaders, some may have had noble intentions and objectives when they pursued and assumed office. But ultimately, power has a corroding effect. Holding public office is truly like wearing the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings. In the story, only Frodo was able to wear/use the One Ring without fully succumbing to it. How apt is this as an analogy of the risks of holding public office, and the rare individual that can successfully do so, for the benefit of the nation.

Washington, was the first President of the US, from 1789 to 1797, and is known as the ‘father of the country’. How did he demonstrate that he did not succumb to the corroding effects of power? After his final victory over the British in 1783, Washington was encouraged by others to seize power. In effect, he was offered the role of emperor of US, the counterpart of King George II of England! Washington resigned as commander-in-chief rather than seize power. As historian Gordon S Wood concludes, ‘The greatest act of his life, the one that gave him his greatest fame, was his resignation as commander in chief of the American forces.’

While I would love to converse with Washington over the current modern day interpretations of the various Amendments to the Constitution, it would be un-fair as he lacks the context of how societal values has evolved. Perhaps what might be most invaluable in our day together would be learning his approach to uniting a very modern and diverse nation. Guiding and reprimanding a partisan Congress. Striking the right balance between many opposing viewpoints and needs. I am sure he faced a similar set of issues, perhaps of a different scale and nature. His integrity and prioritizing the needs of the nation allowed him to lead and influence. Every nation today needs leaders like Washington.

As someone who grew up outside USA, I was not intimately aware of the civil rights struggles in a society that was bifurcated and racially segmented. But that same distance, lends an objectivity that allows me to unequivocally believe that MLK Jr enabled America to regain its’ own soul back. Much has been achieved for Black Americans, but much remains. Perhaps we are expecting to achieve too much within a generation, but when there’s still so much injustice, can we afford the luxury of time when lives are being destroyed, when generations will suffer? How will the conversation unfold? I would want MLK Jr to quickly understand what has been achieved, what remains un-fulfilled and the current state of racial relationships. To understand the current issues and insidious challenges faced by Black Americans (and other minorities). We will then discuss and identify actions and programs that will address the root causes. We have too many superficial attempts at addressing symptoms, while the disease stubbornly worms deeper inside. This would be a priceless day.

My final candidate is Jesus, and as a practicing Catholic, that’s the person that I would want to spend a day with. If you have a different faith and religion, I am sure that your candidate will be your religion’s founder. As a Catholic, I truly believe Jesus is the Son of God. I would really want to ‘know’ Jesus. Our conversation will be like a spiral. On the outer spiral rings, I would start with life after, what is the soul/spirit and what does it mean to be in heaven with God? The inner spiral rings will then focus on Jesus’ teachings and really juxtaposing these against my life to date. Where have I fallen short? Seeking forgiveness and peace. The spiral ends at the core, what is the purpose of my life?

Though, if Jesus responds the purpose of my life is for me to un-cover, that would NOT be un-expected! After all, God gave us the freedom to choose. And this conversation would be my truest ‘journey within’.

Peace be with you.

B

The Bucket List

Joon shared Wednesday this week that she’s currently reading ‘The Immortalist’ (copy bought the day before). The synopsis is ‘If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?’  How co-incidental as I had been drafting this piece for several days. We usually tease each other that we have ESP, and can influence the other person. I think married partners like to think that through ‘nightly osmosis on the bed’, a  partner gets that sub-conscious power over the other. Sounds like a possible Black Mirror episode!  😊

From dictionary.com, a bucket list is defined as “a list of things a person wants to achieve or experience, as before reaching a certain age or dying”. It reached broad awareness when Hollywood released the 2007 movie, ‘The Bucket List’, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, a story about two terminally ill men on a road trip with their list of to-dos before their time is up.

This notion of a bucket list seems to be an American cultural phenomenon. People in other parts of the world, don’t think or write down a definite list of things to do, experience or achieve before they are ready to depart planet Earth. That doesn’t mean these people do not have wish lists, just not a definite bucket list that once scratched off, they are ready to kick the bucket. Rather, their lists continue to be made periodically, updated, revised. Perhaps it’s also in their heads, not on paper or on smartphones to be whipped out to be shared.

I do see the benefits in making a bucket list. It channels and gives voice to one’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, ‘holes to-be-filled’. Boiling it all down to, how do I want to live and experience life in the (unknown) time span I have left. The most blunt and direct phrase that I came across about mortality is this – ‘Every day, we are walking nearer and nearer towards our own grave/tombstone’. A hopeful and positive take for Christians, is this – At the end of each day, you can tell yourself, ‘I am one step closer to heaven.’

So, how does one start a bucket list?

  1. A pencil + eraser + blank paper (or a PC/tablet + word/note pad software).
  2. A quiet setting, infused with whatever helps an individual (sunshine, background music, scents, birds singing, etc.)
  3. Brainstorming a list of Categories. Mine are Relationships, Legacies, Travel, Experiences, Celebrations, Charity, Spiritual.
  4. Finalizing list of Categories and fleshing out specifics under each Category.
  5. Dialog with one’s life partner.
  6. After some time, loop back to steps 2 – 6, and update/revise.

I feel good about the above approach.

But just as different people have different favorite meals, here are some other approaches that may work in place of steps #3 and #4.

  • Ask yourself, if you had truly un-corked a Genie who will grant you 3 wishes, what would that be? Push hard as if it’s only 3 wishes. Before the Genie smiles, and say, you have another 3 more final wishes.
  • Imagine the end of a perfect day, when you felt the happiest you ever have felt. Your happiness overflows from deep within. You can’t help yourself, you sing, you skip, you dance. Feel the emotions. How did that perfect day unfold? Rinse and repeat.
  • Imagine you have a giant blank scrapbook in front of you. You will be creating and describing your happiest moments, that you want to leave behind and share with future generations. You have all the tools and creative dexterity needed. How would these pages be filled?
  • Let your own creative genius guide you. You know yourself.

I will read The Immortalists in due course and aim to change/fine tune my list. My Bucket List is too personal to share in this blog. Not unless you offer to make some come true!   😊

And finally – Perhaps, perhaps this exercise of drawing up one’s Bucket List, may result in the following practice. After waking up each morning, we start the day with a deep thankfulness for another day of vibrant life. We spend a minute or two, visualizing the key moments and emotions that we desire to color the day’s blank canvas with. Perhaps a kiss, a hug, a laugh, a reach out, a heart-felt connection, letting the inner child out. Carpe Diem.

B

 

Which Contemporary Figure Would I Want to Spend A Day With?

This simple and innocuous question took some deep pondering (and soul searching) from me. A name or a list of candidates didn’t jump out at me. I had to think hard, scanning across multiple categories, dimensions and geographies.

I ruled out national leaders, as I had become disillusioned with how politics and governance has de-generated significantly from the golden years of statesmanship for the better good of fellow citizens and humanity/the world at large.

A list slowly formed in my mind, as I considered the discussions I would want to have, to explore, to gain insights/perspectives:

  1. Edward Snowden
  2. Julian Assange
  3. Pope Francis
  4. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  5. Chelsea Manning
  6. Jeff Bezos
  7. Bill Gates

I had to think deeply of females/ladies before I came up with Ayaan and Manning (do I subconsciously have a masculine-bias?). So, this is my list at this point in time, Jan 2018. It tells me that I need to enlarge my world view further, to push and seek notables whose work, ideas or achievements I would want to know and engage on.

Snowden and Assange are individuals who have risked much, to expose deep states that threaten true liberty and freedom. The Pope has substantially moved the Church into its own mini-reformation. Much remains to be done, especially with a clergy rooted in traditions and struggling with past transgressions. Ayaan’s insights into the changes needed within Islam would provide a great dialog on how Islam and Western civilization come to terms and harmony. Manning’s own personal persecution and her future congressional plans point to a deeper convition about the changes needed. Bezos’ success at futuristic business models point to an evolution in commerce and business. It would be interesting to understand how he perceives the evolution of human labor.

Which leaves Gates. He would be the one that I would select, not because of his success at Microsoft. Rather, it’s his work at the Foundation that interests me, how they are addressing global-scale challenges that impact the poor, the sick and the hungry. How he considers the intractable problems and threads a way to jump start, mobilize alliances and seeks a lasting solution. That would nourish my inner belief that we can solve such scaled challenges.

The value of this exercise wasn’t so much the list and the selection itself. Rather it caused me to internalize that I have been coasting along, in regard to observing the world beyond my immediate bubble. I look forward to re-visiting this topic at some point in the future.

Next morning….as I was lying down in bed for the night, it struck me that Gates is not particularly known as a social conversationalist. The idea of how enjoyable or smooth flowing the conversation could be, led me to the category of comedians. That it could be enjoyable as well as insightful. Which ended with two comedians on my list, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel. While I realize they have writers for their material, they obviously must have some originality as well as passion over the materials they have delivered. Ah…..this matter of the contemporary figure that I would love to spend a day with, is far from settled!

B