Suffer Fools Gladly

The coffee mug at the thrift store caught my eye because of its short message, “I do not suffer fools gladly”. I did not purchase the mug because of a noticeable chip on the rim at the location my lips would have touched it. However, the little slogan did stick in my mind.

I thought about the popular meaning behind the idiom, “Suffer fools gladly”. Generally speaking, we think of someone who suffers fools gladly as someone who patiently tolerates stupidity in others. So presumably. the whimsical coffee mug was originally bought by somebody who becomes angry with people she or he believes to be stupid.

There are probably many theological writings about suffering fools gladly because the original form of the idiom is attributed to the Christian, Saint Paul. Since I’m neither a theologian nor an apologist, I’m unqualified to comment on any accepted Christian point of view regarding Saint Paul’s words.

What came to mind was a passage from a book I purchased in 2012 by Robert Greene titled, Mastery. As I’ve done with many other pithy sayings that I believe will help me cope with life, I copied the sentence to a Post It Note.

“Suffer fools gladly, and don’t take criticism seriously or personally from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

My takeaway from Greene’s sliver of advice is that it is wise to tolerate foolish people and I should regard criticism and insults from armchair “experts” with a grain of salt. This can be extrapolated to the personal level to mean don’t take to heart what people who have not walked in my shoes say too seriously.

I recopied Greene’s quote to a fresh Post It Note and stuck it to the fridge. It’s a helpful reminder in today’s resurgence of intolerance of minorities and homophobia by officialdom. Evidently, I’ll need to grin and bear it regarding our powerful, foolish overseers and maintain my focus and self-esteem at the same time.

This is important, because anger obscures reasonable thinking. People who have survived and thrived under the thumbs of hostile regimes have displayed wisdom akin to Greene’s advice. We observe that folks who bide their time by patiently tolerating their adversaries, remain strong and focused in their resistance against despots.

“The serpent, the king, the tiger, the stinging wasp, the small child, the dog owned by other people, and the fool: these seven ought not to be awakened from sleep.”–ancient Indian philosopher and public servant, Chanakya

There is an important corollary to our judgment of fools. That is to remember to call ourselves fools at least once each month. Everyone has the human trait of subjectivity. Most of us consider ourselves to be better than average. Yet, considering the mathematical definition of average, how can most people be above average?

Do most people overestimate themselves? If we’re honest should we rephrase the question as, “Do most people overestimate ourselves?” A related question is, “Isn’t boastfulness a folly?” Great diligence and care must be utilized when labeling people as fools. So, in a backhanded way, it is in our self-interests to suffer fools gladly.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders something from poet and politician Lord Byron. “If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.”

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Keep Your Wits About You

During these stressful times it’s easy to allow oneself to feel anxious. We are tempted to just “tune out” and escape. While it’s healthy and refreshing to chill out, this is a poor strategy for coping and thriving. The intelligent plan is to remain calm and rational.

“Men are mad most of their lives; few live sane, fewer die so. The acts of people are baffling unless we realize that their wits are disordered. Man is driven to justice by his lunacy.”–Edward Dahlberg

I like the old idiom, Keep your wits about you. During times of possible danger, denial cultivates more anxiety and panic than the calm, rational awareness of a threat. Remembering this idiom is far more helpful than dredging up platitudes and old wives’ tales. To carefully, calmly observe the situation and consider immediate and long-term consequences that could threaten our well-being leads to more effective action.

If we can remain calmly on guard while the rest of the world seems chaotic and hostile we will already have a leg up on being able to better cope in life. Not only will we cope, we’ll be more likely to thrive. After all, accurate data and knowledge enhance the best strategies. The best mental environment for learning and applying knowledge is calmness and rationality. This attitude helps short-circuit impulsive, knee-jerk reactions.

I like to pause a couple of times each day to refocus the mind. I take a slow, deep breath, hold it for a few moments, then very slowly exhale, all while concentrating fully on the process. I repeat the cycle three or four times. This usually puts a smile on my face. Basically, this is a short mindfulness meditation. This is perhaps the best way I know of to keep my wits about me.

I’ve regularly used this technique as a preventative measure to help prepare myself for stressful tasks. If I am called upon to speak in front of a group or a crowd, the mindful breathing exercise keeps me less worried about the anxiety and more focused on performing the speech. I personally recommend it to friends who will be giving a talk or a presentation.

Whether or not we utilize a breathing technique or other way of refocusing our rational minds, the best strategy for life includes having our wits about us so we can think quickly, smartly, and compassionately.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer and activist Wendell Berry. “It is a horrible fact that we can read in the daily paper, without interrupting our breakfast, numerical reckonings of death and destruction that ought to break our hearts or scare us out of our wits.”

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Leaving It Alone

As I go about doing chores, my mental radio often loops songs. I think the DJ is a scatterbrain, but that’s just how the music fragments are played. This morning, DJ Monkey Mind kept looping the ending moments of the Beatles song “Let It Be”.

“…Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer
Let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer
Let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be”…etc. –John Lennon/Paul McCartney

On a parallel note, I’ve been struggling with a couple of mundane relationship issues with an acquaintance. Should I mention them to her or should I just leave them alone? The trouble is that she does not take suggestions calmly. On the one hand, she feels no restraint in pointing out my faults, but if I disagree, I get the silent treatment for several days.

I’ve read articles and watched videos of popular psychology’s explanation of this type of interpersonal communication and relating. They all pretty much say that this is a “red flag” for dysfunctional behavior. Armchair shrinks claim that it is a warning sign for narcissism.

So I wonder what to do with my internal effort and overthinking. Should I continue to attempt to hold the budding friendship together or should I just leave it alone? The question has been percolating in my mind for over a month. Maybe DJ Monkey Mind is trying to give me musical advise.

When all is said and done, we really cannot control people nor most situations. Even though the desire to influence them is strong and careful thought has revealed that the intervention would be beneficial, the person is going to do what she is going to do. Regardless of the quality of communication and the amount of loving motivation to help, sometimes we just cannot get them to listen to or consider our point of view. It is just considered as unsolicited advise that she will simply ignore.

After so much mental gymnastics over the relationship question, it’s probably time to take a break. Her behavior and attitude towards our acquaintanceship is completely out of my hands and I have little or no influence. DJ Monkey Mind must be telling me to just let it be.

Ancient texts teach that interference and intervention are unwise. It is said that we must learn to leave things alone. There is the popular statement, “Let go and let God”. However, this has rarely worked out in my favor.

The decisions to intervene should be made on a case by case basis. If I’m walking downtown and notice that a nearby fellow pedestrian has stepped into the path of a speeding bus, I’m going warn him and physically pull him back to the curb. To passively let go of the situation would be irresponsible and careless.

The scenario regarding the acquaintance is more complicated. I don’t want to step in front of the metaphorical speeding bus of her temper, yet it is unwise to just let the situation be without voicing my objections. This brings to mind other ancient writings that tell us that if we leave things alone, we leave them as they are. Actually letting things be means that we leave them to the torrents of random change.

So, it’s really up to me to decide whether or not to risk getting chewed out by mentioning my displeasure over the acquaintance’s speech and behavior. Do I want to salvage a potential friendship, or should I just accept the status quo?

To let it be or to not let it be? That is the question. I have a pretty good idea about the answer.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger. “Thank you for leaving us alone but giving us enough attention to boost our egos.”

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Indian Brass …Floral Friday

I was in the mood to clean up some bright-work around the house this week. So out came the bottle of “Brasso” polishing compound. It’s my go-to cleaner for non food use metal. After cleaning up some stainless steel bathroom and kitchen trim, it was time to tackle some brass vases from India.

The sturdy cylindrical vase had become unsightly due to uneven tarnishing around fingerprints. It cleaned up reasonably well, but I decided to leave some discoloration alone because it was very stubborn. The embossed iris design inspired the selection of small yellow irises with wild grass notes.

I did not use “Brasso” nor any other harsh chemicals on the small, lacquered vase due to the fragile nature of the finish and delicate hand decorations. A gentle rinsing and wiping with a microfiber cloth sufficed. A camilia stem and a fern enhance the sophisticated vase.

The robust “Made in India” urn-style vase took to the metal polish very well. I decided to compliment the rich brass color with a trio of California poppies. The result is a pleasing summertime arrangement.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author, politician Shashi Tharoor. “In India, we celebrate the commonality of major differences; we are a land of belonging rather than of blood.”

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To Conform

I’m of two minds about conformity. It is a social good to cooperate with certain rules that help us stay alive such as health standards, highway traffic regulations, and laws aimed at curbing violent crime and fraud. However, there are some other rules that direct us to forgo our individuality and behave like a flock of sheep. In other words, there are pragmatic reasons to conform to traffic flow patterns on a freeway; but there are rules invented by subcultures to keep us in line with their particular social norms.

“The race of man, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity.”–biographer and critic Carl Clinton Van Doren

Arguably, humans are social creatures. To varying degrees we crave to belong to herds. Yet, to varying degrees we crave independence and uniqueness. For instance, the advertising agency hired to promote the sales of Lincoln Continental automobiles presents a commercial video that highlights the benefits of purchasing that particular brand of car. We are told that one of the best reasons to purchase such a vehicle is that we will enjoy a unique ownership experience.

If we pause to analyze such a claim, we realize that such ownership is far from unique. After all, some 8,700+ new Lincoln Continentals were sold in the United States last year. In addition, there were probably thousands of pre-owned Continentals sold privately or through dealerships. These numbers do not make me think of uniqueness. So, although the idea of unique individuality may be a selling point, there is the accompanying notion that to own a new version of that model of car gives the owner the cachet of belonging to an elite social subculture of Lincoln owners.

This dichotomy is common in many other everyday aspects of our lives. For instance, blue denim jeans were once thought of as statements of rebellion and radical individuality. However, I cannot think of a more ubiquitous article of clothing than blue jeans. If any one type of trouser qualifies as a global uniform, it’s the blue jean. I am safe in claiming that probably the vast majority of people reading this sentence owns at least one pair of blue jeans.

“If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.”–writer H. P. Lovecraft

There are serious social taboos surrounding the subject of religion around the world. Not only are we strongly encouraged to belong to a religion, there are sometimes fatal consequences for people who choose not to conform. It’s difficult to think of a more controversial topic than conforming to religions. This field is polarizing and beset with land-mines. I only mention it in passing because it is a global issue.

The purpose of this short article was to seed thought about the subject of conformity because it is so easy to go about our day to day activities conforming to routine and comfortable pre-conceived notions about life. We conform our thoughts and actions to our own boxes. It’s good to examine how and why we conform.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor and public personality Peter Ustinov. “In America, through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from.”

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Apprenticeship Experiences

During most of my broadcasting career, part of my job was to mentor new part-time employees. To teach and demonstrate the numerous skills and techniques to young people felt very rewarding. After an employee’s probationary period and training was complete she or he officially graduated from being an apprentice to being a peer.

Strengthening of skills and initiation into the workplace culture resulted in the mentor-protégé relationship evolving beyond teacher-student into mutual respect.

The mentor-protégé relationship can be the beginning of a life-long bond that extends beyond the workplace. At least this has frequently been true in my personal experience. Most of the former part-timers eventually moved on to other employers or careers. Several of them have kept in touch and remain as friends.

After retirement, as I reflect upon the many people who have had short apprenticeships under my supervision, I realize how much I miss those types of relationships. Perhaps young people still approach me for advice, consolation, and some measure of friendship because they pick up on my love of mentoring. At least I like to think so.

Many people who apprentice in one type of work do not choose the apprenticed job as their careers. However, they do take their learned skills and apply them in ways that benefit them in their new, chosen careers. In my own case, I apprenticed under the close instruction of a grocer. For several years, I thought that retail food sales would be the best career path.

I genuinely enjoyed working as produce department manager and the eventual promotion to frozen foods manager. My direct mentor was a kind, almost elderly man by the name of Ollie. He was manager of the main, non-perishable department of the supermarket. He was the former owner-manager of his own small grocery store. Ollie dissolved his business after a large, national supermarket chain moved into town and out-competed him for customers. Ollie’s experience as an entrepreneur made him an ideal choice as a mentor.

An equally valuable aspect of working in a small town supermarket was that our responsibilities spilled over into general store chores. Aside from managing and stocking frozen foods, I was expected to help stock canned goods shelves on slow days. During busy weekends, I either ran a cash register or bagged customers’ orders. Sometimes I helped customers load their cars because the store offered “carry out” service. All of these skills had been taught by more experienced fellow employees as part of my apprenticeship. The coordination of the training was under Ollie’s direction.

One of the most valuable skills to hone was that of presenting a friendly, warm manner when dealing with the public. In fact, customer relations was a major skill that was useful after I left the grocery business. Customer relations skills were integral to my work in broadcasting. Furthermore, the experience of ordering and displaying perishable fruits and vegetables as the produce manager translated into better understanding the fickle tastes of music consumers. I adapted this skill to good use as music director of three radio stations.

Understanding the benefits of being a protégé probably helped in my roles as mentor, later on. In fact, being both protégé and a teacher taught me that being open to learning new skills and studying unfamiliar topics. The pragmatic curiosity and eagerness of apprenticeship are qualities worth retaining throughout life.

The world is our mentor and we are the apprentices.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the late, great guitarist, Chet Atkins. “A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success. The only alternative is overnight stardom, but I can’t give you a formula for that.”

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Such Folly

“True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth
often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.”–the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton

If we judge the modern world by the standards of the long departed Akhenaton, it seems that we’re awash in folly, all around us. A quick appraisal shows that we’re a bull-headed, gullible, somewhat narcissistic bunch of creatures.

Those who disavow our own folly and claim to be wise generally turn out to be otherwise. In other words, those of us who make conspicuous claims of expertise and perfection probably have an inaccurate opinion of themselves. On the surface, such folly seems harmless and even humorous. The problem with this attitude is that it quickly leads to hubris. The greater conundrum is that in a political leader, hubris often leads to danger and great harm to civilization.

“It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.”–Epicurus

My old meditation teacher was fond of saying, “Check your wisdom at the door.” It took us students awhile to figure out his warning on our own. It turned out that basically, he meant that that it’s foolish to believe in the superiority of one’s own high assessment of one’s own level of wisdom. He didn’t disavow the importance of wisdom. He reminded us that we’re not as wise as we think we are. The old teacher reminded us of the deliciousness of consuming humble pie.

Whenever I see an obsolete or semi-obsolete word in print, I like to investigate its etymology. Because the word “folly” seems antique and somewhat Victorian, I decided to look into it. My Websters Etymology Dictionary says the noun originated in the early 1200s CE. It was adopted as a Middle English term from the old French word “folie”. It was then defined as “foolishness, madness, and stupidity”. Folly is also an architectural term. In that sense it is a showy feature or structure used primarily as adornment. An example of that type of folly is the gazebo.

Of course, gazebos are not the type of folly that most of us own nor even care to own. People who are interested in self-improvement and personal growth concern themselves with the other types of folly.

“It’s the height of folly to want to be the only wise one.”–François de La Rochefoucauld

To live a fulfilling, happy life is to keep things in balance. We can practice introspection, weigh the opinions of our friends and adversaries, contemplate, accept reality, read from wisdom teachings, and do the other things to improve our lot in life. One must be careful in doing so that we do not become haughty and believe we know the sole, complete answer to humanity’s problems. Proselytizers gained their negative reputation because they succumbed to the temptation to propagate their views.

To write about folly is to risk becoming a proselytizer. So any writer about this subject must be aware of the risk and simply remind readers about the fascinating subject of folly. I hope that I have not been foolish to examine it today.

I have yet another quote about folly that might be useful to the reader: “It may be the part of a friend to rebuke a friend’s folly.”–J. R. R. Tolkien

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and political theorist Herbert Spencer. “Who indeed, after pulling off the coloured glasses of prejudice and thrusting out of sight his pet projects, can help seeing the folly of these endeavours to protect men against themselves? A sad population of imbeciles would our schemers fill the world with, could their plans last.”

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