Humility Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 13, Q4

Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates

First, I’d like to thank you. Without you, I probably would not have stuck to my plan and spent a year documenting personal reflections. I’ve always looked forward to whatever feedback you could afford, and was heartened to learn that so many of you, at one time or another, were dealing with similar thoughts, issues, and reflections.

Second, this is the final post — if you can believe it — another year has quite literally flown by. With full honesty, I can say 2016 was a significant year in my life. The results of spending some time each week reflecting on actions, thoughts, virtues, have been profound. I may write about it in the future, but right now I feel like a new person — still making mistakes — but certainly walking on firmer ground. So again, thank you for helping me get here, and I hope that this little journey together has helped you in some way too.

All the best,

Patrick

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To be honest, when I first wrote about Humility, I was a little embarrassed to write, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”  I guess that’s just a sign of the times, but over the course of the year, what I’ve been searching for, or what we define as happiness is, in essence, spirituality. Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues are not original; he, like every other self-help guru, borrowed heavily from religion. In Ben’s case it was Christianity. Personally, I’ve ignored Christianity for a long time. I prayed and attended mass and wakes, but those were passing motions; reading a book without understanding the words.

Deprivation tanks, mindfulness, meditation, being present, are not new concepts, not by a long-shot. There is a torrent in all of us, it has been recognized since the dawn of time. Today’s world does us no favors, and nor did it in antiquity. Sure the technology and stimulants have changed, but the fundamental concepts, mistakes, anxieties remain the same: children, family, security, work, life, sickness, death, etcetera. Then, as now, to weather any storm, one needed a strong foundation. Then, as now, the strongest foundation for humanity is virtue. This widely available secret is hidden in plain sight. The reason I had not seen it was twofold: 1) I had to want to change; and 2) I had to be willing to endure change. Maybe a third preceded the other two as well: I had to recognize that something was wrong. 

Two years ago, despite huge positives in my life, I felt my life was a mess — specifically anger and unhappiness dominated a very sullen outlook. Bright happy sparks would often get overwhelmed by darkness. There were many parts to this darkness: age (goodbye youth), (im)maturity, alcohol, self-image, reality vs. self-image, personal failures. Behind a quick smile and easy laugh was a sadness that impacted my wife, my job, my life. It’s easy to see how people fall into substance abuse — it’s an easy way to cover the pain.

The good thing about pain was that it alerted me something was wrong, something needed to change. The change was slow, incremental, and small, tiny modifications became ingrained habit that over a period of 12-18 months paid profound dividends. Nothing is perfect, it never will be, but I’ve been humbled by this experience and will continue it humbly into the future. I have found true worth here.

I have not become evangelized, I am not here to convert, but to reflect, and when I reflect honestly about Humility specifically, and virtues generally I can’t help but come back to spirituality. I look at the happy people, the content people, those who are put to rest peacefully and with great love. They have religion in their lives, family in their lives, children, friends, love. Some of us stumble, some of us find the bottom, and when you do find bottom, when you are ready for change, if you are ready, Imitate Jesus, or Socrates or Buddha or whomever. The secret to happiness has long been discovered.

Humility Q3

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 13, Q3

Humility: “Imitate Jesus and Socrates

Personal notes:

  • Put yourself into the shoes of others;
  • Remember that we all falter.

“Imitate Jesus and Socrates” is tough to do. We toss around such phrases glibly, in a manner that has almost become (or has become) derogatory: “What would Jesus do?” I feel both the recipient and the bestower could do well with a little deeper reflection. Let’s sit here now with a little deeper reflection. I know in my heart I am perfectly flawed. We all are. How much can we do?

A friend of ours battling alcoholism has relapsed. The underlying conditions weren’t tackled the first time and I’m not sure the person closest to him has the wherewithal to tackle them again. Sadly, we’ll probably be here for a third time, but hopefully not. I hope not, because I’m really tired and want to walk away. I don’t think I’ll be here a third time.

It’s exhausting, and I’m sure anyone who has dealt with this type of behavior understands. You spend hours on the phone with friends and family doing nothing but re-hatching darkness over and over again. You spend time in the dark and you begin to see in the dark. There is mental wear. There is physical wear.

The wear makes me want to walk away, especially when the effort feels unappreciated and is blunted or ignored. The effort was ignored 6 months ago and here we are again. No surprise, I guess. The person’s life further eroded, further pained, but at least this time there is hope and a glimmer of change. It could be the first winds of spring, or winter catching its breath. I hope the former.

I don’t want to be a part of this again and will cut and walk away. But then, this week is Humility, and I have to ask dryly, without the glibness or condescension, “What would Jesus do?” I guess you can say it’s fortuitous that this week is Humility. I know the answer to my question, and I know that I will go on being a friend and helping where I can. But I also know I am human, with all that is flawed, and I know the journey will continue for now, but later my own life and family will take precedence.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 1, Q4

TemperanceEat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Personal notes:

  • Pre-holiday cleanse;
  • Feel good at the end of the week;
  • Reflect on take-aways from the year;
  • Act with Temperance, Moderation & Humility this week.

Here we are rolling into our final Quarter, can you believe it? It’s almost been a year. Time really does fly. Ahead is one of my favorite weeks: Temperance. Way I see it, this is a perfectly timed cleanse – a way to feel good heading into the holidays (because I know after the holidays, I feel an extra 10 lbs of terrible).

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.

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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.

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.”