Prudent

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Prudence vs. imprudence. Cautious vs. carefree. Sober vs. impulsive. Who isn’t a bit of both? I tend to enjoy being impetuous at times, but I do know my limits, I think.
A couple of years ago my sister and I went on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. When we got off the boat in Nassau, a bit unsure of what we wanted to do, I spotted motorbikes zipping around. I’d never ridden one (I had tried a mo-ped), and I thought that looked like fun. My sister reluctantly agreed, and we paid for our rides. We had a quick lesson in a parking lot — a bit trickier than I thought, but I knew it was manageable, and I was determined. (I was 65 — how much longer would I be able to attempt something like this.) We took a simple route along the water, getting out of the busy town, stopping at an historical monument, enjoying the feeling of the warm wind in our faces. We did get better as we went along and stopped for a quick swim at a beautiful beach with shallow, clear water. Wending our way back, we got just a bit nervous as the traffic into town got heavier. I think the bike’s owners were relieved when we returned the motorbikes on time, and in original condition.
Afterwards I reflected on my spur-of-the-moment decision. On the one hand it was just plain foolish to try something relatively dangerous (a fall could have been quite serious for either of us, though my sister is younger by 6 years), but on the other, why not? I like to learn new things, and while I don’t much like roughing it, I do like an adventure. This was fulfilling for me and I would have regretted not accepting the challenge, getting a little out of my comfort zone.
With age advancing on me far too rapidly, I respect my limitations, but I want to keep pushing myself to have new adventures and achievements. Or maybe the older I get, the crazier I’ll get. We’ll see.
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Meaningless

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Every little thing we do has meaning. Doing nothing has meaning. Some things have special significance, others simply have to be done, and some of the best things are random and surprising in their occurrence and satisfaction.

Priorities play a large part in assigning meaning to a task. We assign value to what we do, even more so than in the past when there were fewer choices. I find that I try to make everything I choose to do meaningful. If I go through life thinking that this is too mundane, or that is beneath me and not worth my effort, then my life is less meaningful. I try, with varying success, to do even the smallest tasks to the best of my ability, knowing that they are part of a bigger picture, whether they relate to my home life or working life. It’s far better to think that what I do has importance and relevance. It’s also relates to my character and my self-worth.

Since I have trouble staying on task, I attempt to immerse myself in even the smallest things, liking ironing a shirt, cleaning a toilet, sewing on a button, so that it becomes the most important thing I’m doing at that moment. (That doesn’t mean I ,may not watch HGTV while doing it.) My kitchen floor is a bone of contention. Less than a year old, and it’s a disaster because it shows everything — dust, crumbs, water drops, and smudges. Still I faithfully wash it trying to get everything spotless at least twice a week. For a short period of time I feel a sense of achievement though I know within a few days I’ll be doing the same ordinary task again. Knowing I did it well is enough for the moment.

I help once a week at my elementary school’s library. I enjoy inputting data the most, but at least half my time is spent covering new books with contact paper. Boring. I trying to make it less so by making each book a challenge — to do it as well as I possibly can, not cutting corners (figuratively and actually) and doing the best I can. When I’m doing something that doesn’t challenge my intelligence, I let the quality of the work be my goal, and in this case the knowledge that the book will last longer for more kids to read.

If we let ourselves believe that anything we do is meaningless, we miss the point. Life is meant to be lived to the best of our abilities at any given time. That means focusing on the moment and making it the best and most fulfilling it can be.

To quote the very wise Mother Teresa: “If you can’t do great things, do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love, do them with a little love. If you can’t do them with a little love, do them anyway.”

 

Criticize

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Criticism sounds like something you want to turn away from, ignoring it as a personal attack. And it certainly can be when it’s thrown like a dart, meant to hurt.

In its best form, criticism is “the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.” While this kind of criticism can also sting, it is something most of us need to grow, to get better, or to hone a skill, like writing, or drawing or painting. Who is so perfect that they can’t use constructive criticism in some area of their life?

When you open your ears and keep you mouth closed, and listen to well-intended criticism, you can be a learner, and see what you’ve created through different eyes. Years ago, when I finished writing something, I felt like I’d delivered a baby, and it was beautiful, no matter what anybody else said. Now I know that you have to be much more objective about writing: it is a product, and there are rules and standards, and how the words are put together makes all the difference in how interesting it is. Words are quite remarkable: their power comes not only from making the careful selection, but also putting them together in just the right way.  I’ve found I can rewrite something several times (and hopefully each time it gets better), and still I could continue the process. But there is a time to stop.

In my writing group, someone else reads my story. Hearing it aloud, I myself become the first critic. I realize that this isn’t right, or that could be better. Then I listen to what the others have to say. This generally means I have changes to make, all for the better.

How wonderful if this could be transferred to other parts of my life (everyone’s lives) and listening becomes the first step in understanding and improvement. Of course, how criticism is delivered is very important, too. It has to be constructive, stay on the topic, and never be personal. It’s about developing, getting better at whatever one seeks to achieve. Who doesn’t have room to grow?

 

Overwhelmed By Negativity

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Religion and politics are no-no’s when talking with friends, or so it’s said. I do know people with whom I would never bring up those topics, and tread carefully when discussing current news events.

But here I’ll say what I think: Is a second civil war coming? Some days I feel that way, and wonder why we as a nation and the individuals therein can’t appreciate the freedoms we have and respect our form of government.

Hey, I wasn’t thrilled with either candidate; what informed my decision was a love of the Constitution, and how far away from it we have moved in recent years. I want the Constitution to be foremost in the decisions made by our three branches of government. Perhaps idealistically, I would like elected officials to first feel allegiance to that founding document, and not to the parties they attach to their names.

The president was elected according to the well-known terms of the Constitution and as such deserves the respect that office has always commanded. We have a new administration every four years (sometimes eight), and Obama exited fairly quietly respecting the process. On the surface he was genial, presidential, and welcoming to the new President. (I won’t mention the questionable actions he took in his last few months).

Without respect for the Constitution we have chaos, and the left’s actions are an indication of what a negation of the process that has made this country lawful and peaceful in the changeover of power. We are currently acting more like a third world country new to democracy and the tenets of the Constitution. Other presidents have been reluctant to welcome their replacement, but never has an election and early actions of a new president been so questioned and criticized, sometimes violently.

Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Because we have this freedom, people think they can say anything. I was shocked at the words that were let loose at the women’s march, and in the presence of young children. I believe its purpose was to let loose on Trump, and express every negative opinion that they could bring up. What constructive purpose did it serve? I find I have nothing in common with those “nasty’ women (as they dubbed themselves) and would have been totally out of place in their throng. I also noticed that pro-life women were dis-invited. Curious because there are plenty of women who are pro-life and we saw in the tens of thousands of women who two days later descended on Washington in an orderly and far less offensive fashion.

Then there’s this trend on college campuses for vocal groups to oppress the expression of opinions that counter what they believe (whether they’re in the majority or minority). Where’s the dialogue? Where’s the listening to other people’s opinions and allowing their (including some students) expression of free speech? I sincerely doubt that all of the demonstrators on the Berkeley campus were students. These events seem to draw people who just want to disrupt and destroy.

We know that there can be peaceful protests. Martin Luther King taught us that and that had more impact than screaming women spewing hate, or young adults smashing windows.

Personally I think the universities of themselves must come out to not only allow, but to encourage differing opinions to be expressed, even if they have to call in the police or national guard to make this happen. They have to be at the forefront in defending freedom of speech and the rights outlined in the Constitution. The two-party (an occasionally three) system has always been a feature of our government, but have always included patriots. Where are those people today? I’d like to see more of them expressing their opinions and standing up for the USA first, and their party’s stance second.

 

Yellow

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Context is crucial to the meaning of some words, and yellow is a good example.

Obviously it’s a color, bringing to mind breezy daffodils, cuddly chicks, and bright sunshine. Unfortunately it’s also a term used to describe a cowardly person, or a scoundrel. Why I wonder? The “yellow terror” was used to describe the spread of Yellow Fever in the United States in the late 1800’s. In its toxic stage, the disease, now rare in the USA, causes jaundice, thus the yellow connotation.

I think I’ve discovered what has recently been called “false news”. In fact in an earlier age it may have been described as “yellow journalism“, characterized as “dishonest in editorial comment and the presentation of news, especially in sacrificing truth for sensationalism”.

The “Yellow Peril” is a term in history best forgotten because of its exaggeration in the media (e.g. newspapers because of the time period) of the danger from the Chinese and Japanese. The term was first used following Japan’s military defeat of China in 1895 and then was applied to Japan. Some ascribe the first use of the epithet to German Kaiser Wilhelm II, in 1895 against Japan, but it was also used by a Hungarian General (quoted in a US newspaper): “The ‘yellow peril’ is more threatening than ever. Japan has made in a few years as much progress as other nations have made in centuries.”

The use of “yellow peril” in the US was directed at the Chinese, though, as they came from their home country to the west coast to work on the railroads. While originally encouraged to emigrate, they ended up being treated poorly.

It is ironic that the US-instigated influx of Chinese to work building railroads soon bred a distrust of Asians. To enhance relations with the Chinese with better trade in mind, Secretary of State William Seward (of Seward’s Folly fame) designated a special envoy, Anson Burlingame, to work with the isolationist Chinese to increase an openness between the US and China, with a view to achieving a “favored-nation status”.

The Burlingame Treaty also encouraged Chinese (cheap labor) to come to the United States.  While the treaty was supposed give privileges, immunities and protection to Chinese in the United States against discrimination, exploitation, and violence, it didn’t work out quite that way. These immigrants were generally treated badly, not trusted, and did suffer from discrimination. Furthermore, they could not hope for US citizenship because that was denied under the Naturalization Act of 1790, which limited naturalized citizenship to “white persons.” So much for a closer relationship.

On both sides of the Atlantic fears of the “yellow peril” continued into the 20th century and was bolstered by various  in books and films. “Prominent among these were portrayals of sinister Orientals an English writer’s creation, the insidious and diabolical genius Dr. Fu Manchu.” The refocus on Europe’s internal crises, as opposed to any invasion from the east, and the outbreak of WWI soon negated fear of the “yellow peril” until the bombing of Pearl Harbor when the fear was fully justified.

Seward and Burlingame’s ideas about a closer relationship hit bottom when the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) was enacted placing a 10 year ban on immigration of laborers. This was extended for another ten years in 1892, and in 1902 was made “permanent”, that is, until in 1943 Chinese were again allowed in under a strict quota system. It wasn’t until 1965 and 1990 immigration laws were again changed allowing for a greater influx of people from Asian countries (partly due to the Communist menace), and other countries. Naturalization was also allowed, and the persecution many were facing in countries abroad became a reason for allowing their emigration.

While yellow has much brighter connotations, the more sinister definition shows we have struggled with immigration in the past, with and with far less reason for strict laws that we have now.

Who knew — I didn’t until I stumbled upon this information. Thank you internet.

Abide

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Immediately I think of the hymn: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord with me Abide; when other helpers fail and comforts flee; help of the helpless, Lord, Abide with me.”

I find comfort in those words, and have had personal connection with them. Though I’m now 22 years into recovery from alcohol addiction, I remember the depths of the despair I felt when I really thought I was doomed, and wouldn’t be able to get out of the abyss. I prayed. Who doesn’t when they’re in real distress. My husband was despairing, too, beginning to believe that I wouldn’t get sober. Friends, I had none: an active alcoholic isolates, and pushes friends and family away because they don’t want others to know what’s happening.

I began to believe that I was facing the devil at the bottom of that hole I had dug for myself, and prayed that somehow I could, would be rescued. Laying in bed, probably crying, I felt God communicate with me: “You don’t need to do this. This isn’t the way I want you to live.” I realized that was true. The only thing that was standing between me and a normal life, was me and my addiction.

That was really the beginning of my recovery, though it wasn’t instantaneous. I tried and failed, and failed, and finally succeeded. How freeing that is.

How often we stand in our own way! This, of course is why most alcoholics need AA, or specific recovery programs. I needed the help I got in residential treatment programs. I wasn’t a fast learner. I had walls that had to be chipped away, and finally I got it!

God abided with me when I didn’t know he was there, and when he knew the time was right, he “spoke” to me, and I began to believe that my life had a higher purpose: that I wasn’t supposed to live the way I was. With the principles of the 12 steps, I gained the freedom I so desired, and knowing that I have a Higher Power and purpose, I have been able to live a new and better life, with the knowledge that the abyss is still there, but I don’t have to go near it again, by the grace of God.

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Panoply

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This word caught my eye and I know it’s meaning — well one anyway. I like words, and this one with “pan” at the beginning immediately gives a clue that it is “all”. What I didn’t know was that the second part of the work comes from “hopla” meaning armor. The word originally comes from Greek (1500’s) via French. So I guess the French get as many words from Greek and Latin as English does.

suitofarmorSo very specifically, it refers to a complete suit of armor, or full ceremonial dress Of course, probably since armor isn’t as common these days, it is taken to mean a fully array — the whole nine yards. And that’s how I commonly use it. Continue reading