Humility Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 13, Q2

Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates”

Personal notes:

  • Think about others;
  • Think about where we are;
  • Find happiness here.

My daughters and I sat on our porch blowing bubbles; gentle morning sun warmed us while a fresh breeze kept us cool. Birds flew on their way to water, a few cars ambled to work, and a dog walker, holding more leashes than one person was meant, herded her pack. An unfamiliar dog walking with its owner caused quite a stir and 6 or 8 herd dogs angrily barked at the bearish Shih Tzu. My daughters stopped at the noise, put down their bubbles, and eyed the scuffle – they are fascinated with puppies. Watching the girls watch the dogs, I smiled as my youngest reached out her chubby little hand and patted the small of my oldest’s back to give comfort. In return, my oldest put her arm around her sister and hugged. There they stood, wrapped together, virtuosos enjoying a morning performance. No one has taught me more about humility than my girls; especially when I see their love, and especially when I hurt it.

The births of the girls were religious experiences. Amongst the sterile hospital room and the blood and the hustle, when my first child arrived I was ushered anew into the world with her. A page was turned and in its place was a chapter that was not there before. My second daughter’s birth carried with it a surprising contentment; she brought with her the concreteness of family. We became whole.

My wife and I love them both dearly, and we sacrifice everything for our family: ambition, sleep, health, money. Yet there are days when all that we give is not enough and our reserves run dry. On those days I loose my cool, usually when the girls are screaming, whining or fighting, and snap and yell, drag them to timeout, and walk out of the room boiling. 15 minutes later, when composure returns, I feel horrible; their terrified innocence is heartbreaking. 

When I yell at my girls I scare them, I injure, and sometimes I injure others too. This weekend, exhausted and stupid, I lost my cool with my mom and my wife. Maybe it was the 4am discussion with my oldest daughter or the 530am alarm clock that is my youngest, but I lashed both mom and wife with the most hurtful of weapons: words.

Was I wrong? Completely. I did not even have the weak self-assurance of being right. I was wrong and hurtful and humbled in the worst way; the wrong kind of humbled. This week is about Humility, and one day I hope to stumble upon the secret of pure humility, with its graciousness and calm and understanding. The humility that is with us at the beginning, avoiding a fight, not the humility that is with us at the end after we have been humbled by guilt, sadness and tempers. 

This weekend I apologized to everyone but had the hardest time with that other great virtue, forgiveness; forgiving myself proved impossible. As for my girls, they’re both playing, wrapped in my shirt, giggling that the shirt is as long as a dress, and singing “have another beer in Mexico.” Today they both humbled me and forgiven me in the span of seconds; there is still much to learn from them.

==

Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 1, Q3

Temperanceeat not to dullness; drink not to elevation

Personal notes:

  • Limit alcohol;
  • Reduce sugar;
  • Improve meal intake

Hello old friend, your timing is impeccable. After a summer lubricated by boat drinks, beer and BBQ, Temperance could not arrive soon enough. My waistline welcomes you.

Chastity Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 12, Q2

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:

  • This week is a decade too late;
  • It’s the most difficult week to write about publicly;
  • Focus on “health” and/or “offspring,” depending on what the boss says.

We went on vacation with family last week and, in true family vacation fashion, space was at a premium. Rooms overflowed with bodies big and small, wine bottles battled chocolate doughnuts for counter space, and 6 cousins watched TV in a gaggle of arms, legs and feet across a brown couch built for 3. The week was crowded, fantastic, and inevitably chaste.

Sleeping four to a room quickly crowds out intimacy, no surprise, but no matter. Each night our bedroom stirred with children flipping in their beds. Their soft breathing, their proximity, and their tiny shuffles were all a comfort; a comfort transcending the loud, sweaty, and inebriated vacations of old.

Life is a far cry from past spring breaks where wild Friday night romps rolled into bleary Saturday afternoons. Sex is not as often now, we’re most excited about sleep, but sex is more intimate, sober, and healthy. That’s not to say this week is unimportant, certainly not; in fact, our vacation hammers home how important this week is.

This week is not about being chaste, but being faithful. There is considerable cost to sex and there is much to lose: family, happiness, love. The price is too high. “Rarely use venery but for health or offspring” seems a bargain in comparison.

==

Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 13, Q2

Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates

Personal notes:

  • Think about others;
  • Think about where we are;
  • Find happiness here.

Congratulations! This is our half way point; it’s amazing how quickly it goes. After 6 months, we return to Humility – the keystone virtue. This week, think about Humility: read about it, explore it, practice it; there is value here.

Tranquility Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 11, Q2

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

*this may be also viewed as “Acceptance”

Personal notes:

  • Ignore the trifles. Better yet, laugh at them.
  • Focus on life’s big positives.
  • Realize our time is transitory.

My wife worked at a cancer hospital. Passing through the pediatric ward, she would text, “We are ok.” After all, how could we not be? Life’s noisy trifles were muted, their trivial nature revealed at the sight of a 2 year old fighting for her life. The shocking clarity of the moment rebalanced reality. But as always, time went on, the hours and days slipped by, gray overcame clarity, and trifles regained their strength.

Why? Why do we permit trifles such strength? True tragedies – death, injury, sickness – stir in us something more; our intrinsic human response is the opposite of trifles. Trifles provoke rage, anger, and agitation; tragedies evoke sadness, reflection and compassion. Rather than stiffen, tragedies soften. When my daughter spilled her milk, I fumed a visceral heat. When I learned my uncle died, I sought family.

Last week I talked about my landlord. His Sunday night email temporarily trumped all life’s meaningful positives – a fact that is so preposterous I’m ashamed the sentence is true – but it is true. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t shake the trifle. I repeated the grand notes and I said to myself, “We are a happy, healthy family in a loving, secure environment,” big picture stuff, but it was useless. All I heard was the broken cord amongst the symphony.

Three steps helped overcome the obstacle. First, I talked with close friends. Without emotional connection to the issue, they cut through the noise (thank you). Second, the surest way to regain control was to end the matter quickly; cut out the cancer. Finally, I changed my perception of the matter; the trifle became funny.

Why do life’s paper cuts carry such sting? I don’t have an answer – I wish I did. All I know is we practice, we avoid, we improve, but inevitably, we stumble; we are human. The trifle surprises us and we become trapped. Don’t let the common accidents or meaningless trifles win. We are better than that. The trifle’s weight is an illusion; let it float away in the breeze.

==

Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 12, Q2

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:

  • This week is a decade too late;
  • It’s the most difficult week to write about publicly;
  • Focus on “health” and/or “offspring,” depending on what the boss says.

I’ll be honest, this week’s virtue is about 10 years too late. If you’re out there having a lot of fun, respect. This week is for you. But if you’re living a quieter lifestyle like me, focus on improving your “health” this week.

Cleanliness Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 10, Q2

Cleanliness: “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or location

Personal notes:

  • Location, location, location: New Move, New Home, Big Mess;
  • Pitch the suit, wear sweatpants, and fix the place up.

Cleanliness is deeply rooted in our biological DNA. Unsure? Move from one home to another and record what happens. The experience will erase any doubt.

We are moving, and exhausted, but despite our exhaustion, we are driven by a deeply ingrained desire to persevere. Like an animal ensnared in a trap, we tirelessly unpack boxes, break down cardboard, drag garbage, paint rooms, construct furniture, clean deep into the night, then repeat; it is an effort to free ourselves. The speed is breakneck – we are racing towards sanity.

Our pace results in a deep, filmy sweat that layers like a dirty sweater. The film begins early and builds depth as we labor through the day. I’m left uneasy – I’ve come home from a week of camping and felt cleaner. The only relief is a shower to wash away the filth, and a clean bed to provide a few hours of renewal.

This is our space, our home where we relax and provide shelter. I can’t relax when a deep, visceral dirt covers my person and clutter robs my space. Cleanliness is a part of me; it does not bring me joy, but it does bring me peace.

Moderation Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 9, Q2

Moderation: “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Personal notes:

  • Avoid confusing with Temperance (food/drink); Moderation concerns more with emotions and personal interactions.
  • Avoid flying off the handle, and when you do, be sure to sit down and mull it over.
  • Tie it to last week’s observations.

Last week I was pretty fired up at my dad (in all honesty, I was seething) but took time to work through the emotions, determine a course of action, and, thankfully, calm down – the Bens13 framework worked! But in all honesty, I failed to moderate my emotional reaction. In fact, I’d say my emotions trapped me. Once fury sprung, I was stuck in the whirlpool for hours, spinning deeper and deeper into the abyss. Fortunately, I did not act and did not injure my father.

A few days later, when I found out why my dad didn’t want to talk, I felt bad for ever being angry. More than anything, he needed someone to talk to, and that realization made me think how often we confuse individual actions with personal insults; especially when we can interact without seeing, touching or listening to one another. Often there is no insult intended, just a lack of understanding or a missing piece of information lost amongst words typed on a screen.

Taking a step back was key. Putting everything down, turning off the cellphone, getting away from the noise, prevented me from injuring someone I love – you cannot fire off an ill-thought email if the computer is off. Maybe we all need more solitary reflection? Happy words masking a lie.

Some of these words are half-truths. Last week was great, and I’m trying to be positive, but I’m seething again on a Sunday night.“Forbear resenting injuries” is difficult. The saga of our previous apartment continues. Despite severing the relationship with our old landlords (last week), they refuse to go away. They are holding our security deposit hostage, and at this moment, I am having a very difficult time being moderate. Part of me believes there are those who take advantage of others, and moderation enables them when they do.

I guess this wasn’t meant to be easy. 

Justice Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 8, Q2

Justice: “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Personal notes:

  • Always struggle with this one;
  • Be true to others;
  • Don’t make excuses or avoid helping because it’ll make your life easier.

I’m furious at my father. After promising to sit down and record a belated Father’s Day interview for the Dadventures Podcast, he called me up an hour before the interview and abruptly canceled. What really sent me through the roof was his refusal (or inability) to give me a reason – the lack of explanation was infuriating. Right now I am doing my best to “wrong none by doing injuries,” because all I really want to do is send a hurtful email, or rage at him over the phone.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I assume he didn’t understand what a podcast is – I once asked him about a DVR player and he responded, “I’ve got a DVR player, it’s downstairs with some old, blank tapes.” Maybe once he understood that I was asking him to publicly share fatherly insight, he did not want to expose himself; he is very old-school in that way. Alternatively, maybe he did not want to talk to me, his son, about being a dad; also old-school.

Regardless, my boiling blood wanted to do tell him off. Instead, I’m sitting here ruminating the definition of Justice; and partially annoyed while doing it – mainly because this reflective moment is denying me my desire for revenge. Harsh words, I know, but that’s what I’m thinking, and I want to be honest, because I also want to be brutally honest with my dad – I’m disappointed.

I’m profoundly disappointed and want to channel that disappointment into an email explaining why I am hurt and angry, but craft that email in a way that leaves him hurt, angry and sad. “Wrong none by doing injuries,” unfortunately, that is what I want to do; cause injury – so I can’t send any email. I’m disappointed, but shouldn’t hurt my dad in return.

Am I omitting benefits that are my duty as a son? A son should not hope to hurt his dad, but what else? Should I have patience with someone with a different outlook? Offer an explanation of what I’m hoping to accomplish? Dammit, I’m talking myself out of what I want to do – I guess that’s the point though. Will save it for later.

==

Some of the above sounds pretty terrible, but it’s what I wrote when I was angry and trying to think through the situation. I came back a few days later glad I took a moment to calm down and reflect. At its core, I was looking to cause injury – to my father no less – because I had been injured; that would have been unjust. What I’m most glad about is I never sent any email. The reasons behind his cancellation revealed itself a few days later and helped make sense of the situation. It’s something I’d like to talk about next week with Moderation. 

Sincerity Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 7, Q2

Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”

Personal notes:

  • Practice on friends & family
  • Be an open book to the girls
  • Sit down with dad for Father’s Day

At times I’d like to share a nice, kind, or pleasant thought with friends or family, but I don’t – I balk at apologies too. Is it weird that I keep these thoughts to myself? Keeping quiet about bad thoughts makes sense, but why does my gut keep silent for good ones? Over the last few years I’ve forced myself to be more open, honest and sincere with my wife – happy wife, happy life, and all that (it’s true) – but not so much others. If I try to think of a reason, I have no answer. Why not be sincere with friends and family? Why not reach out and share? Seems obvious.

This past week, we had a lot going on: visited family, attended a wedding, farewell dinner for an old friend, and a few others. For each I overruled my gut and did my best to be sincere. For my buddy who is moving, I told him earnestly, how much I’ll miss him. The day after dancing all night at the wedding, I thanked the groom and bride for including us in the festivities.

Admittedly, none of this is rocket science, my wife does it all the time (in fact, I think most females do), but maybe it is rocket science for me; the rocket science of sincere emotions – Male 101. Old timers of generations past would pour me a whiskey, nervously look for the door, or punch me in the nose; “sack up” they’d say. But there’s something to this sincerity bit; when thoughts don’t linger I feel better.

People like hearing when you’re grateful, happy, or hurt. Helps put emotion on the compass and give folks a sense of direction. It also helps turn off the mind’s replay settings – or at least lower the volume. Just the other day I sent a snarky email that I initially thought was funny. However, I ruminated for hours how rude it was in retrospect. The only way to quiet my mind was to write an apology; so I did. Success was immediate, as was my friend’s reply calling me a donkey. I had to laugh, it made me feel better, my mind was at ease and I could finally go on with the rest of the day.

Industry Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 6, Q2

Industry: “Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cutoff unnecessary actions.

Personal notes:

  • Fully engage with what you’re doing; immerse yourself.
  • There’s not much time left; we’re getting old. Use time wisely.
  • Shut off distractions!

Honestly, things are getting a lot better in life, I mean a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to notice, and often, like in this blog, we only focus on the setbacks and failures. But after trying over the course of several months, I can see a change in my behavior, an improvement in my attitude and, most importantly, an increase in my happiness and the happiness of my family.

Distilled down, there are several root factors, but one of the biggest is also one of the biggest enemies of Industry: technology. Technology plays a dual role: on the one-hand, it amazingly increases productivity; on the other, it increases distraction.

The other day, when I should have been writing this post, I got lost on Facebook. When I should have been paying bills, I was texting. When I should have been playing with my daughter, I was reading headlines on my phone. Worse, when she interrupted my phone reading, I was furious – a recurring result when mixing tech and family.

Don’t take this as a slide to negativity; they were only moments in an otherwise very productive and happy week. But to achieve productivity and happiness, I had to be proactive.

  • On the iPhone, there’s a little moon button for “Do Not Disturb,” take advantage of it.
  • If you have a Mac, it’s a blessing and a curse; seamless integration with your other devices on the one end, constant interruption from those apps on the other. Fortunately, that little moon button is on the Mac as well.
  • Facebook, well, avoiding the site is the hardest part and the easiest way to do that is to turn off your notifications. Sorry if I never respond to your Facebook posts but my notifications are off and/or sent to junk mail. Try giving yourself a break and go off FB for a week; avoid the stress, comparisons and bad news.
  • Want another way to go on FB less? Do what I did and take the app off your phone. In fact, take any distracting app off your phone. The process of logging into a webpage is enough of a hurdle that it will end that distraction.
  • Finally, for the kids, put down the phones and hide them in another room. My wife and I police one another, sometimes we fail, but if our 2 year old catches sight of our phone, her screams and cries when she doesn’t get the phone are a poignant reminder that we need to keep them out of sight.

It does always amaze me when I go through these virtues, how often unhappiness or setbacks are tied to phones specifically, technology generally. I’m a big fan of tech – let me be clear, nothing makes me happier than a 2 minute wait for Uber – but when I look at myself, my family, our happiness and Industry, I know progress demands technology in moderation.

Frugality Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 5, Q2

Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.”

Personal notes:

  • Burn our credit cards! (or just don’t use them this week);
  • Our family bleeds money on one off purchases (I’m looking at you Amazon);
  • Rather than spend on self, make a worthwhile donation.

I don’t like spending money unwisely but, sometimes if you look at our bills, you would think unwise spending was our favorite past-time; not baseball, not football, but the Spending Olympics is our game. We excel, like the United States in basketball, Russia in hockey, and Canada in ice luge.

Now some of it is our fault, that’s true as day, but I like to think the rest of the blame lies with Amazon, and that suits me better than having to take the full blame myself; I’m partial to partial blame. Besides, one look at Jeff Bezos and you know he’s got to be blamed for something.

But that’s what we do (besides blame Bezos) we spend and spend, with people trying to get us to spend some more; pop-ups, ad pages, flash sales, Prime, direct mail, overnight delivery, all at the click of a button. It’s quite fabulous if you think about it, but I prefer not to think about it, makes my brain hurt.

What has been working for us is silencing the noise, putting away the phone, making our lives smaller, and using technology to our benefit; automatic withdrawals are great, automatic investments even better. The best so far, though, has to be living smaller. In this case, we are quite literally living smaller by downgrading our apartment and vastly improving our savings rate.

Frugality is a tough one in this day and age. A lot of forces are stacked against us. But ultimately small changes can add up to big gains.

Resolution Q2

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 4, Q2

Resolution: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”

Personal notes:

  • Act like you would if someone challenged you.
  • Do not approach things mildly when you could approach it decisively.
  • Deliberate purpose in everything.

Resolve is a tough virtue to master. This week, however, I can record an accomplishment; my wife and I, finally, after 4 years of talking about it, signed our last will and testament. Wahoo! Big stuff. Time to pop the champagne — no joke.

Ok, maybe I joke, but if anything, this experience has taught me that true determination does not materialize in a week. Resolution takes time; writing takes time. There are days I sit in a corner, mumbling like Winnie the Pooh, “Think, think, think”. To me, this blog is a test of resolve; each week I practice, hoping to prove my determination, and maybe improve my writing, too.

But that’s all we can do, practice; and give over to the idea that time is a concrete component of resolution. We shouldn’t suffer anxiety when big, important undertakings aren’t solved in an afternoon. The truth about our last will & testament: my wife and I made no headway until we broke down the 1 daunting task into 14 manageable steps. We wrote out a list and began scratching off smaller items with ease. This one change broke the impasse and our resolve came to fruition.