Order Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Three, Q2

Order: “let all your things have their place; let each part of your business have its time.

Personal notes to start the week:

  • stick to a prearranged schedule
  • focus on tasks at hand/block out noise
  • allow flexibility to enjoy family; plan “cheat time” for one off events

Last Monday I did nothing: no deadlines, no to-do’s, no emails. My only task, focus on my girls. After all, it was a beautiful, spring day. We went to the park (twice) and walked everywhere. By the pond we fed the ducks and at the playground we laughed on the swings. For hours they tumbled down green hills until exhausted, they collapsed in my arms. For dinner we had their favorite, mac and cheese. Mom came home early and was met with screams of joy, followed by an impromptu dance party. All of us slept soundly that night. All of us had a great Monday; the rest of the week was a breeze. “Let all things have their place.”

Silence Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Two, Q2

Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Personal notes:

  • Remember to be silent!
  • Ask why, and then listen to the answer.
  • Limit “hate watching” during TV.
  • Extend to the cyber world: FB, social networks, etc.

A couple walks up to a house, the color of the house is pooh brown. The interior: a 1980s kitchen with scattershot pooh backsplash, pooh painted walls, and dark pooh floors, which I guess is a good thing if you own dogs. The pooh house sat on a lot that can only be described as a repurposed military base: square brick rows separated by tiny plots, no trees, no fences, a cracked concrete slab posing as a patio. The type of craftsmanship that screamed “made by the lowest bidder.” During the viewing of the home, my wife and I joked incessantly about poor taste and even poorer design; surely HGTV showed this home to fuel our self-esteem. But when the buyers decided to purchase the home, our collective hate-watching kicked into overdrive.

I’ll be honest, it was fun making fun of the buyer’s poor decision. But as I sat there afterwards, I wondered why we gleefully ridiculed people? Why didn’t we think: “Well, they’re happy. Good for them for buying a new home.” Better yet, why weren’t we silent? The old adage of “if you have nothing to say,” popped to mind.

On Mother’s Day, I made my wife cry because I couldn’t be silent. All I had to do was shut-up, but I couldn’t help myself and let go a hurtful comment. For a second I stood there fully satisfied, then the second after I felt horrible, wishing I could undo the mistake. Over the next hour I apologized profusely and did my best to make amends. We talked and shared a lot. Turns out we weren’t communicating: I was mad about troubles I kept to myself; she was silently carrying burdens.

When we should have been talking, we were silent. When I should have been silent, I shot my foot off. Yes, you should listen and empathize with others this week, and be sure to avoid useless conversations, but give those closest to you, those you love, the conversation they deserve; engage constructively. And be careful of those fun, snide comments, they can become a knee-jerk habit that ruins Mother’s Day.

Temperance Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week One, Q2

Temperanceeat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Personal notes:

  • Limit alcohol intake;
  • Reduce coffee;
  • Eat well rounded meals, no junk;
  • Temper temperance.

When coffee and alcohol lubricate the week, who has control, me or my appetites? Overindulgence leaves me feeling sluggish, slow, depressed. The physical and spiritual recovery is long. Excess drowns the pleasure.

There is reward in temperance, it returns strength and appreciation. When I step away from food and drink, the body feels fitter and my mind sharper. More interestingly, the simple joys that are lost from routine, return: the pleasure of red wine, the richness of steak’s fatty iron, the invigorating smell of coffee.

But there is more to temperance than food and drink, more than restraint in appetite; temperance is restraint in pride favoring humility, restraint in vengeance to fuel forgiveness, restraint in extravagance to build thrift. Or when my daughter throws her tin of toys through the air in church, restraint of anger for calm.

Temperance has grown in importance to me. I understand now that it is key to dominion over self, a domain over which I have never achieved mastery. It’s an area that I will practice, but right now, after a week off, I’m pretty excited for a martini.


Aristotle: “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”

Humility

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Thirteen, Q1

Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

Personal notes:

  • Focus on being humble. Reign in being proud or rude.
  • Pull together the other lessons learned in Tranquility, Acceptance, Sincerity, etc.
  • Put to use here and now! Especially when dealing with current issues.
  • Don’t confuse humility with self depreciating behavior.

At the start of the English Premier League’s season I noticed an irresistible uniform, Leicester City’s home jersey. You see, I love the color blue, my last name is Power and I’m not shy: the perfect combination for a blue jersey boldly emblazoned with “King Power” across the chest.  King Power, however, was a misnomer; the team was horrible and narrowly avoided being sent to the minors with the rest of the bums in 2015. No matter, I wore the shirt, a loving gift from my wife, to dim-lit bars and watched with awe as an innocent season became spectacular.

Leicester City won England’s Premier League this week after starting at an improbable 5,000 to 1 odds. The club that came from nothing humbled the giants, leaving England, and most the soccer world, stunned. If there’s a lesson here, it is this: when I buy a team’s jersey, they win championships.

Ok, that’s more of a punchline than a lesson, but when I thought about humility this week, I thought about myself, some of my accomplishments and talents, and how I often turn them into a joke. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it comes from the military, where those who are true to the institution never self-promote, or maybe not. Wherever it stems, the inability to self-promote is a horrible trait in a world of self-promoters; to avoid self-promotion, I took the opposite tact of self deprecation. Instead of appreciating what I had, I downplayed it, took an easy laugh and avoided discussion.

It took a while to realize both paths are wrong: one is filled with pride, the other false humility. Today, I spend my days behind this laptop, writing thoughts, struggling with prose, excusing myself to pick up my girls from school, make them lunch and maybe quietly lie next to them as they nap. Most days, nothing makes me happier than watching them nap, but on other days I’m plagued with fear: I’m wasting a career, I’m not bringing in income, I’m not meeting expectations of parents, teachers, seniors and strangers. It’s a struggle.

Despite the struggle, this situation is the right one, a step back from the frenetic pace to find what matters. Our time keeps slipping away.  Too soon, I won’t have the time to lay next to my daughter or worse, she won’t have time for me. Do I want to spend that precious time crafting scathing emails in my head, for a subject, or person, that’s trivial? Or would I rather spend that time listening to my daughter’s calming breath?

Before, I chased moments, forever moving from one event to the next, never satisfied. Every day felt like the first Monday back from vacation. I was dying from dehydration, remembering my last sip of water, rather than digging a well. Realize that true happiness comes from humility, virtue, family, and not toys, income and comparison. There are still storms, but I’m finally learning to sail on calmer waters.

C.S. Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Chastity

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Twelve, Q1

Chastity: “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring. Never to dullness, weakness or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

Personal notes:

  • Stay off the internet. Porn is everywhere!
  • Focus on my wife; think about our relationship.
  • Do the reverse and schedule time together.

Remember last week when I mentioned our apartment setbacks: critters, hot water, leaks, etc.? Well, one major and unspoken setback was the lack of door locks. Now, I immediately mentioned this upon first inspection of the apartment but received a shrug. Before signing the contract, I reminded my wife, “No locks on the bedroom doors.” Response, “It’s ok.” Turns out, no, it’s not ok, unless of course your goal is chastity. You see, if you want to practice chastity, the combination of children and non-locking doors guarantees 100% success. I love my children but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say we’ve been practicing Chastity well before this week arrived.

During our first week in the new apartment, it was probably the third or fourth successive nighttime invasion that my wife sighed and said, “Ooooh, there’s no door locks.” Yup, kids are ruthlessly effective at squashing intimacy (and sleep). They’re merciless marauders, sapping time and energy, springing traps on you in the middle of the night and ambushing you when most vulnerable. I’m still confused how we created a second child, and even more uncertain how we’ll satisfy my wife’s urge for a third.

The other night, everyone was asleep when we realized we never showered that day, standard Saturday. Making use of the time, we slipped into the shower for a necessary wash and maybe a little fun. Well, before the soap was lathered, one little cupped hand pressed against the foggy shower door, followed by another, and ending with a nose and cheek smushed hard against the glass asking, “Mommy, daddy, what are you doing in there?” In Harry Potter they say mischief managed; in our house it’s chastity chasten.

Since our open door, abstinence as birth-control policy is fool-proof, when this week’s Chastity challenge rolled around, we effectively shrugged; bring it. But that wouldn’t be fair. There has to be some sort of challenge or introspection. Why not look somewhere else? How about porn? After all, porn helped me get through some far longer stretches of unwilling, adolescent abstinence.

I’m old enough to remember when coming home early from school to find a Victoria’s Secret catalog in the mail was better than winning the lottery. Today, the ease and magnitude of what’s available is insane in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, this is no denouncement, I’ve made use of this new found treasure and enjoy watching it, but I’ve never thought anything about porn until now. So what happens when you think about the definition of Chastity while watching porn? Well, pretty much the worst thing imaginable. The whole experience of watching porn was ruined. When I watched, all I could think was “This is degrading.” That revelation was miserable.

Why was it miserable? Because porn is something I’ve enjoyed in one variation or another for decades and now this experiment was ruining it for me. In fact, the conflicting emotions triggered a mini-existential crisis. Who would’ve thought? An existential crisis over pornography? The recognition of degradation, particularly the feeling I was degrading myself, had an effect; I couldn’t watch. Not being able to watch made me sad, but not just sad, conflicted. Half of me thinks this is a victory, but there’s another half that hopes this feeling goes away.

Truthfully, I know this feeling will go away because I’m going to ignore it. Hell, there’s no way I could keep this up! A life of virtue is one thing, but complete denial returned me to the state of a 13-year-old celibate. How can one continue life as an adult when the slightest sight of a woman’s ankle is enough to send me over the edge? Locking myself in the closet is not an option, besides, they have no locks. So let’s return to the core of Ben Franklin’s statement, “rarely use venery but for health or offspring.”

“Health and offspring,” all right, Ben’s giving us an out. In fact, by my interpretation, we need to increase our physical engagement in order to improve our physical and mental health. Yes, one more reason that moving is a good thing. On our “must-have” list, between dishwasher and storage, we’ll be sure to put locking doors. There’s hope for us yet! As for “never to dullness or weakness,” well, come on, let’s be honest, that time has passed. Maybe if the internet existed when I was 16 “dullness” may have been a problem, but today, with my kids running around, all I lust for is a nap.