Civil Mindset

The polarization of the U.S. citizenry and of Congress along with the increase in slander and libel by popular commentators and political leaders are stains on the fabric of our political system and a violation of the basic principles of our democratic republic. The decline of civility is not only annoying, it presents a serious threat to the survival of our democratic experiment. The basic social threads that bind the nation together have become frayed to nearly the breaking point.

In my opinion, much of the problem of the decline of our civil mindset began with the anonymous nature of the Internet and the promotion of the newly minted derogatory term, “political correctness”. To accuse someone of being politically correct became an expedient way to denigrate polite, civil behavior and attitudes towards women and minority populations. The phrase continues to be used to poison public discussion and policy.

Historically, civilized society has been integral to the makeup and preservation of great nations. It is basic wisdom that to treat everybody fairly and respectfully is of social benefit and important to national integrity. Understanding human nature and allowances for error are some of the basic ingredients of a civil mindset and its manifestation as civility.

Although the nation and the world frequently fall short in this regard, keeping a civil mindset is a moral attribute that pays dividends in interpersonal relationships and personal peace of mind. Not only is civility towards others the right way to behave, it engenders and promotes individual ethical behavior. Therefore, it seems that learning and promoting an ethical mindset would greatly help society heal from our divisiveness, unethical communication, and toxic behavioral habits.

When I watch people on current events programs screaming at each other, ignoring basic rules of debate and politeness, I see an absence of the civil mindset among the quarreling parties. This type of misbehavior has become so popularized and normalized that the nation and the world are in deep trouble. Civility is not the absence of critical analysis nor formal debate. The civil mindset enhances how we conduct our freedom of speech and discussion of important issues. When ethics are abandoned and patronizing, insulting discourse is substituted, then rational problem-solving ends. Civility depends upon the ability to contain one’s emotional rage. Without civility, the end result is the danger of society falling under the sway of demagoguery, treachery, and tyranny.

We need to steer the national debate towards calmer waters and seek ethical, wise leaders who will once again guide the ship of state towards common ground. As citizens of this country and of the world, it behooves us to embrace ideas of thoughtfulness, kindness, and civility regardless of others’ political opinions, and places in the social heirarchy. Civility is not merely a matter of proper ettiquette; it is the matter of reclaiming the power of individuals working in concert to debate the common good. Civility is the way to manifest the highest values that are basic in our democratic republic. Civility is not social conformity, it is acceptance of our differences and appreciation of our similarities.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the 17th U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona. “I see good ideas on the Republican side as well as the Democratic side. You have to return civility and statesmanship to governance. If you don’t do that, it doesn’t matter what portfolio of issue you’re pushing, nothing is going to get done.”

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May Is Stroke Awareness Month

I should begin with a disclaimer. I am not trained in any medical profession, nor have I attended any type of medical institution. I am only someone who writes blog posts about what I have observed. If you want or need medical advice, please consult a physician. Also, there is a description of death, so skip this post if this subject upsets you.

Ever since I learned how my dear friend Doug died, I’ve been thinking about the problem of strokes. Strokes are a malady I’ve known about since childhood. My great-uncle Jerry suffered one in the 1960s. He was a lucid, cheerful survivor but was physically impared due to neurological problems stemming from the stroke. For many years, Jerry represented everything I knew about the mysterious world of stroke survivors.

Many years later, dad’s second wife Tippy suffered a stroke. She was immediately hospitalized and eventually recovered satisfactorily. She did end up having difficulty walking in a straight line. As therapy, Tippy walked around the racing track that circled the football field at Wayne State (Nebraska) College. Whenever I visited Tippy and dad, I’d walk laps with her and watch her progress while we chatted about family matters. After about a year, Tippy was able to walk a straight line for miles at a time.

Then, a few years later, Tippy had another stroke. This was not immediately evident to dad, however. At the time, Tippy decided to play solitaire on the family computer. She remarked to dad, that the cards danced and floated around in a psychedelic manner. She then went to bed. The next morning dad awakened and saw that Tippy was paralyzed and was unable to speak.

Tippy was rushed to the hospital, but nothing could be done to restore her motor functions. She was admitted into a nursing home to receive custodial care. After another few years, Tippy was admitted to hospice care, where she eventually died.

While Tippy was still living in the nursing home, I discovered an excellent book about strokes that I purchased, read, and then shared with dad. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey was exactly the book we needed to read.

At the time of her stroke, Jill was a Harvard-trained brain scientist when a blood vessel burst in her brain. She observed her mind deteriorate to the point where she was unable to talk, walk, write, read, nor recall life memories. After her recovery, the author pieced together scientifically what had happened to her brain.

She discovered insight to the functioning of both halves of her brain. As she lost her left-brain functions, Jill reported feeling profoundly connected to the Universe. It was largely through this meditative quality that she was able to emotionally survive. Then, after her recovery, she was able to write the book, both as a memoir and a tool for recovery.

Knowing about Tippy’s second stroke and its impact upon her life and how it changed the lives of dad and the rest of the family, gave the book a poignant meaning. It is the first book I recommend to anyone who wants information about strokes. My Stroke of Insight has had mixed reviews. Many of the detractors saying that there are a lot of New Age, feel good passages between the covers. In my opinion, this style is a result of her stroke, not from any engrained beliefs.

The tragic nature of stroke became personal again this year. My close friend Doug died suddenly of a severe stroke. One of his sisters described the circumstances of his death as sudden, without apparent warning. According to Phoenix, Arizona police, Doug had gotten up from his kitchen table where he had been paying utility bills. He collapsed in the living room, where he remained motionless for a few days. Doug’s medical condition was finally discovered after he failed to report to work. Doug was taken to the hospital where it was determined he had no brain function at all. He was only able to breathe. He then passed away peacefully five days later.

Nobody knows what types of symptoms Doug may have experienced immediately prior to the stroke. It only appears that his condition happened suddenly and severely. As far as anyone knew, Doug previously enjoyed normal health and had few physical complaints of any type. In my estimation, Doug probably suffered the worst type of stroke–it happened swiftly without warning and immediately left him physically disabled. Living alone and being suddenly disabled, left Doug unable to request help.

Doug’s family and I are left with more questions than answers. There is one takeaway we have learned: strokes are serious with immediate medical attention being the foremost requirement. Now is a good time to brief yourself on the warning signs of stroke and what to do about them as soon as possible. May is Stroke Awareness Month, now is the time to become better informed.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes an anonymous stroke survivor . “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

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To Meditate

“Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”–Voltaire

I have often wondered about the types of meditation Voltaire may have practiced. His insights about human awareness and consciousness hint that he more than dabbled in contemplation and meditation. Awareness, consciousness, and mindfulness were not strange concepts to him.

Regular practitioners of meditation understand that there is a profound sanctuary and stillness within that allows us to retreat to and recapture ourselves. The calm peacefulness and mental silence cause the practitioner to fully appreciate life in all of its forms and allow love to blossom within the heart.

As for techniques, there is a world of variations regarding practices of clearing the mind. Many North and South American Native cultures have developed their unique practices. Oceania has been often overlooked regarding contemplative traditions. Africa is rich with ancient meditative, spiritual culture. The Middle East and Europe have their own flavors of pagan and Abrahamic techiques. I am personally influenced by Buddhist philosphy from South and East Asia.

Regardless of any particular belief system or school of thought, theistic or atheistic, meditation can reveal a radiant mental quality that opens one up to allow wisdom a chance to breathe. At the very least, meditation opens the mind to life and sensitivity. Life becomes simpler yet richer. When Socrates advised, “Know Thyself”, He might have had meditation in mind. Socrates understood that knowing oneself includes recognizing the limits of our own knowledge and wisdom–distinguishing what we know from what we believe we know–then knowing what one needs to learn. Honestly understanding what one needs to learn and unlearn come about through contemplation and meditation.

Contemplation and meditation help the practioner to observe one’s own thoughts, rationalizations, engrained ideologies, ideas, and errors. Meditation enables better internal dialogue with oneself and external interaction with other living beings.

As one becomes habituated with meditation, we realize that all is not rainbows and unicorns. Many people find it difficult to sit silently without relying upon technological crutches or mental wandering into phantasmagorical fantasies. We soon stumble upon uncomfortable personal and existential truths about ourselves. However, with honesty as a tool, we learn what will lead us forward and what will hold us back from becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Wisdom teachers from ancient times and in contemporary society teach that meditation is vital in the process of discovery. It is the primary secret of inner and outer growth in knowledge, life, and wisdom.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the late Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. “Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness we know what to do and what not to do to help.”

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A former Roman Catholic priest once shared his views about a concept similar to happiness that he learned during his schooling. Edward mentioned eudaimonia during an intimate discussion with my friends group at a birthday party gathering a few years ago. The concept stuck in my brain and has periodically surfaced in the manner that earworms spontaniously appear. Last evening was one of those times.

Edward explained that eudaimonia is a state of mind that can be seen as a life’s goal that is more profound than happiness and more satisfying as well. One of his philosophy teachers in seminary taught that eudimonia is sometimes experienced by priests, monks, and nuns who have discovered that their missions coincide with their deepest personal wishes. In such instances, eudaimonia becomes a means and an end to happiness. It is finding purpose in life without conforming to any particular dogma nor belief system.

After leaving the priesthood, Edward further explored ancient philosophies and gave much thought to the concept of eudaimonia. He concluded that it is akin to living well in the context of a good and happy life and being guided by one’s own positive virtues. Such a state of being comes about as a product of letting go of the struggles to seek honor and existential pleasure. One may define eudaimonia as living in harmony with oneself and society. Edward says that a synonym for eudaimonia is “flourishing”.

In my own readings of literature and practical explorations of this concept, it seems that eudaimonia is a constructive, helpful quality that develops when we realize our highest potentials and apply them in a self-agreeable, expressive manner. It might be compared to a life lived in a constant “Zen Moment”. Such a state of being is acting on purpose without thinking of the purpose nor feeling self-conscious about one’s purpose or actions. Eudaimonia can be approached through mindfulness meditation.

One goes about tasks and challenges in a calm, imperturbable manner. Eudaimonia is not materialistic nor anti-materialistic. It goes beyond materialism by using things as personal tools to attain helpful outcomes that benefit oneself and others. This explanation is merely an approximation, because like many mind-states, eudaimonia is best defined by actually experiencing it. As someone who probably has not attained eudaimonia, I do not have a firm grasp upon it–it’s merely an intellectual concept in my mind.

I phoned to touch base with Edward last night with the purpose of asking about his progress towards deepening his understanding of eudaimonia. He said that it is very important to know who he really is–deep inside. Through his meditations, eudaimonia in his experience, is contemplating upon his core beliefs while owning up to his character, personal strengths, qualities, and weaknesses. This awareness is then applied in a mindful manner without indulging in angst or struggle. With persistance and committed effort towards living his best life as his best self, Edward feels that he understands the concept much better.

After finishing last night’s conversation, I concluded that Edward is closer to achieving eudaimonia than he is willing to admit. He is a big believer in social and individual justice. He has the guts to stand up for goodness and honor. He has retained the temperance that he practiced as a priest. Most importantly, Edward is all about prudence and practical wisdom. His pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is unstoppable. It seems to me that Edward is flourishing in life.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Northern Irish poet and writer, Michael Foley. “It is not possible to be original by trying to be original–those who attempt this in the arts will be merely avant-garde. Originality is the product of an impulse so intense and overwhelming that it bursts the conventions and produces something new–again more by accident than design.”

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Fancy …Floral Friday

Earlier this week on flower project day, I dressed up for a funeral wake to honor an acquaintance. The funeral home is near the downtown district of town, so afterwards, I swung by the supermarket to purchase a few grocery items. (Longtime readers of bluejayblog know that once in awhile on a lark, I enjoy grocery shopping dressed in a suit.) With the shopping finished and the purchases put into cupboards, I decided to assemble this week’s floral projects while still donning the suit.

Conceptualizing and piecing together the projects while dressed up felt mentally refreshing and quirky. However, I did need to work more carefully, slowly, and mindfully because I didn’t want to make an unplanned visit to the drycleaner’s shop. After the projects were completed, I knew that I’d like to do it again sometime in the future.

I purchased the fancy Hull vase five or six years ago at Goodwill for next to nothing because it is damaged goods. The previous owner apparently broke the vase and made a poor repair. It rebroke when a store employee placed the vase on display. The store manager said to discard it because sharp edges would be dangerous to customers. I was nearby and overheard the conversation. I said I was willing to buy the vase to again repair it. I did put it back together as well as possible and it has been used several times since then. This week, I chose pastel blooms to create subtle elegance.

The small, hobnail pattern Fenton milk-glass bud vase has an opening so small that it barely allows for the use of one stem. The peachy rose seems like a fancy choice for this very basic arrangement.

Highly polished stainless steel makes a glistening statement. To create an ironically fancy arrangement, I added a random assortment of colorful floral elements. The project reflects how it feels to overdress for the occasion.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes singer/songwriter, Jason Mraz. “You make all the fashion statements just by dressing up your mind.”

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One can cite favorite references to explain that a certain politician is benevolent and is only interested in the public good, but if someone counters with other references that hint that the politician has the potential to be a narcissistic tyrant, there will be claims that the contrary evidence is taken out of context. On and on the quarrels continue without evolving into legitimate arguments.

It seems that the political cycle in the United States never gets a time-out. Even during the conclusion of elections, campaigns for the next election begin in earnest. The contrarianism and toxicity continue unabated. The political pundits and the politicians themselves seem to need to justify their careers. Entire organizations are instituted around the concept of obfuscation. It is nearly impossible for the public to assertain true facts about candidates and issues.

I mailed my ballot in early last month ahead of this month’s Nebraska Primary Election. That means I have also been able to step back and witness the bickering as a more or less disinterested observer. If the business of electioneering wasn’t so serious, it would be amusing. The pervayors of half-truths and outright deceit are cheered on and sometimes even worshipped as god-sent saviors by many citizens of the democratic republic.

I find it fascinating that we human beings are not only prone to being mislead by politicians and advertising, but appear to encourage and embrace disinformation and misinformation. But enough about the players in the election cycles–their lackings of integrity regarding ethics, morality, clarity, pandering, and transparency are infamous around the world.

The world’s parents, teachers, theologians, and philosophers have long taught that honesty and clarity of intentions produces true dignity and trustworthiness. We crave and need forthright partners and friends in our lives. We weed out people who appear to be concealing or hiding pertinent facts about themselves and their actions.

When we obscur our own minds by our own personal dishonesty, we exhaust our emotions and mental state as well as those of people around us. Humans invent beliefs, ideologies, and institutions to distract and obfuscate our lack of candor and fidelity. Communication is muddled while intent is inextricable and unclear even when we believe we are communicating and behaving according to the most accurate algorithm and legality. Essential facts and ingredients are withheld in the interests of reputation and personal gain.

Yet another form of obfuscation, but not the only other one, is the use of jargon. We display our pride of position and intelligence by expressing simple concepts and thoughts with exclusive words and communiques in ways that “outsiders” cannot understand. Certain technical words and jargon are particularly legitimate, useful, and expedient for insiders and practicioners of the arts and sciences. There is no doubt of their necessity in specialized fields of study and commerce. However, the overuse of jargon is a sign that we should be on the lookout for clever deception and distraction.

The fact that obfuscation is accepted and ubiquitous should mean that we are wise to practice discernment about our interactions and in the formation of our personal opinions. It is also prudent to be aware of our own obfuscation. Of course, these are just my observations; others may disagree.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 20th century English poet and writer, Dorothy L. Sayers. “Any fool can tell a lie, and any fool can believe it; but the right method is to tell the truth in such a way that the intelligent reader is seduced into telling the lie for himself.”

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Snag Yourself Some Leisure

Sometime in my career, my attitude slowly shifted away from living to work into working to live. This was subtle and went back and forth for awhile. Eventually this means to an end solidified and has become a mostly unconscious mode of thinking. I understand that I am fortunate to be able to physically live this philosophy.

Society today is centered around the culture of work. Productivity is the ideal by which individuals are judged. Certainly productivity is a key componant of commercial success and brings benefit to society at large. However, when productivity becomes the sole focus of life, individuals end up functioning like automatons. To only produce and consume without leisure leads to mental dullness.

When all one does is fall in lockstep with the work, eat, sleep only cycle, life passes us by. As self-help guru Stephen Covey asked, “How many people on their deathbeds wish they’d spent more time at the office?” Indeed, our lives are more fulfilling and happy when we place ourselves higher on our “to do” lists. That is to discover our own optimal work/life balance.

To be clear, laziness, rest, and leisure are not the same things. I could choose to laze around all day scrolling through social media; or work in the yard for hours on end, then pause for some necessary physical rest. To me, leisure is akin to contemplation which can at times also be active. Many people choose to travel during their leisure time. Others may refresh themselves by playing tennis or some other sport. Some folks engage in meditation and study. Some do a combination of these and more. Leisure enables us to more fully live life.

“It is in his pleasure that a man really lives; it is from his leisure that he constructs the true fabric of self.”–20th century American essayist, Agnes Repplier

Many people fail to grasp the meaning and importance of leisure and the role it plays in each of our lives. First, it is wise to know when one is in need of truly refreshing leisure. Perhaps one is caught up in the rigamarole of daily obligations and tasks. We feel at wits end. The need for a time out is urgent.

One could stop and just collapse out of exhaustion or one can actively choose to seek out quietude. To seek out quietude is a vital aspect of self-mastery. To engage in leisure is a sure way to refresh and fuel one’s life. To fail to do so ensures that we will become overwhelmed and risk becoming cynical about living. Awareness during leisure helps keep us from falling prey to other people’s toxic influence and destructive thinking.

When we are fully engaged in leisure activity or contemplation, our anxieties are calmed and we feel more in tune with nature. As we fully engage ourselves in leisure, we discover our true selves.

Most of us fill our schedules to the brim with obligations and work; we engage in leisure only when the work, eat, sleep cycle leaves us a few hours to be ourselves. Multitudes of books and essays have been written on the subject of “success”. They promise freedom, luxury, money, and leisure, but do not go beyond superficial descriptions of leisure. Society programs us for hardship and struggle. We end up feeling adrift and unsatisfied when we have “too much” free time on our hands. We forget that it is impossible to live a full, rich life without engaging in activities that bring us joy. To discover how to spend work and free time well, could be one way to live a happier life.

One of my uncles liked to say that leisure is not the same as free time and it should not be classified as a noun. Leisure should be defined as a verb. Although this grammar is sketchy, I believe he was on the right track.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Ancient Roman architect and engineer, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. “I am moreover inclined to be concise when I reflect on the constant occupation of the citizens in public and private affairs, so that in their few leisure moments they may read and understand as much as possible.”

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