Three Trios …Floral Friday

Three spiky seed pods mounted on wire stems brushed against my left hand while I searched for some greenery to use on several projects. They had been forgotten but their prickly presence gave me an idea. It would be fun to assemble a few arrangements based upon threes. So, that’s why there are three trio arrangements for this week’s Floral Friday.

A mid-1950s space-age planter contains a succulent, a cacti, and the three spiky pods. The project is basic, simple, and has a minimalist vibe.

To continue the spiky look, I grouped three Hawaiian ‘Ohi’a Le hua flowers with an orchid stem and placed them inside of a weighted department store vase. This is a showy display that will be visually pleasing for a long time.

A cylindrical carved marble vase is the rock-solid foundation for three camellias nestled in greenery. The contrast between heavy and light weights are what this project is all about.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Lao Tzu. “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” 

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Someone Else?

Soon after I began investigating self-help books, I wondered what and how much can I change and remain being myself. There is always the risk of rejecting oneself, in favor of an idealized mental fantasy about how one is “supposed” to be.

I had previously witnessed one of my fellow travelers embark on the quest to completely remake his life. As Gary (not his actual name) tried to change a few of his unique characteristic behaviors, he started his deep-dive into self-improvement. Gary started to come off as fake. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but something about our conversations didn’t feel quite right. There was too much fake while he tried to fake it before making it. One thing for sure is that Gary was no longer himself.

The depth and spontaneity of his personality were cloudy–no longer sharp and crisp. Gary had been a pretty hot guy because of his authenticity. He possessed  a funny kind of cockiness that disappeared almost immediately after he began his journey into self-improvement. I missed his sense of presence and rowdy humor. It was apparent that Gary was in the process of becoming someone else–but not in a good way. I even wondered about the state of his mental health. After Gary sold all of his belongings and moved to Washington State, he cut off all contact with his friends-group and me.

I continued to keep the extreme case of Gary’s “journey” in mind as I dipped my feet into the diverse world of self-improvement. After all, I certainly didn’t want to lose the essence of my inner core of being. How can I have positive self-regard and expect anyone else to like me for who I am if I try to become someone else? Can I have an understanding friend if I have to behave like someone else whenever I’m with him? In other words, I did not want to follow Gary’s path of self-obliteration and radical change.

There were certain habits that needed to go away, like cigarette smoking. As it turned out, I felt more authentic after quitting tobacco because I was no longer hiding behind the cloud of smoke. I rediscovered more constructive things to do whenever I felt fidgety and tense.

I’m not yet where I want to be; there are a few other questionable behavior habits yet to conquer. The idea is to tread carefully as I pare away self-destructiveness to reveal the simplicity of just being myself. This will probably be a life-long process.

Many years ago, country singer Tammy Wynette appeared at the old “Granada Theater” in downtown Norfolk, Nebraska. I was granted an interview with the superstar. Following the formal interview, Wynette urged me to stay a while longer just to chat. After a couple of minutes of small-talk, she inched her way closer to ask me questions about my life and what I envisioned for myself. She seemed sincerely interested in interviewing me to discover how I spent my formative years and early work history leading up to my radio jobs.

Wynette then commented that we seemed to have had somewhat parallel life experiences. She shared some words of wisdom that I’ll try to paraphrase. “Do not try to copy me. Always do your best to be more like yourself. You’ll have a better life if you keep trying to be a better version of who you really are.”

Tammy dismissed me because she needed to prepare for her two shows that night. I returned to the station, edited the interview tape and wrote a few feature stories to use on the air the next day.

Later, I attended Wynette’s first show. Midway through her program, Wynette pointed to me while dedicating my favorite Wynette song, “Stand By Your Man”. I was floored and honored. Although her health was precarious, Tammy Wynette shined like the star she was always meant to be. Her voice revealed her inner strength and being. Wynette was all about being herself, loving who she was, and unashamedly sharing her authentic self with the world. The woman who suffered from chronic health problems was, in fact, a lady who became strong when she was immersed in her art.

If you stop and ponder the concept of being oneself, there is a little bit of fear-factor. The scariness is the main hurdle to conquer because one might wonder whether or not others will accept who we really are. We forget that other people are more concerned with their own business and don’t care much about our business. In fact, most people couldn’t care less. So why try being someone else? Our main job is to be the best version of who we truly are.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the founder and former CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason. “I’ve been very lucky, from the beginning. I’ve found that as long as you’re fundamentally good–as long as you’re not being bad to people–people give you a lot of room to be yourself, because being yourself is being honest. And that’s what people want to see.” 

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The Death

I didn’t realize there was an ambulance with flashing lights in the neighborhood until a police cruiser parked in front of my house. The policeman casually strolled across my neighbor’s yard across the street towards a nearby house. I hoped that whomever the victim of whatever misfortune occurred would be OK.

As I waited for some sign of activity, I wondered why the ambulance and its fire truck escort had arrived without blaring sirens. Why did the policeman casually walk across the yard without any sign of urgency? Why wasn’t a victim being rushed to the ambulance?

After what must have been 20-minutes, the ambulance crew and firefighters wheeled a stretcher down a driveway. I couldn’t determine who the person was, because the crew obscured the view.

After another several minutes, the various emergency personnel entered their vehicles. The policeman drove away. The flashing lights of the ambulance and the fire truck were switched off. The fire truck departed slowly, followed by the ambulance. The absence of flashing lights and sirens upon arrival and departure implied that the victim was probably dead before the emergency crews had arrived.

An hour later, I noticed my across the street neighbor sweeping his driveway. I asked Chuck if he knew anything about the incident. The only fact he knew for sure was that the person on the stretcher was Olivia, one of the legal guardians of two children who lived one house away.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”–Mark Twain

After returning home, I wondered about the reactions and feelings of the children in the household. What about the emotional wellbeing of Olivia’s spouse? The death was the end of Olivia’s life story.

Olivia’s story was intertwined with the stories of her family, friends, and acquaintances. The stories have beginnings, plots, subplots, endings, and epilogues. The stories change the meanings of stories that preceded it. Olivia’s story is the prelude of stories to come.

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”–Steve Jobs

Whenever someone close to us passes away, it’s normal for us to ponder our own deaths. How have we lived our lives? Will we change anything about our ways of living for the future? What will be our legacies?

I did not know Olivia well as a person, but I do know she was part of a happy family. Apparently, she had a good life and was well loved. The memories of her will live long with her survivors.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Ancient Roman Emperor/philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” 

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The Love Of Learning

I noticed a large poster behind the check-out desk at the public library yesterday. It depicted a stack of books and proclaimed the message, “Cultivate the love of learning.” I thought to myself that I’ve never had to cultivate a love of learning; it seems to have been innate. Both sides of my family are curious folks by nature. As a child, I never considered the possibility that some people do not like to learn about things.

By and large, my friends and coworkers have been people who enjoy learning new things or expanding their knowledge bases regarding their particular fields of interest. None of them have ever had to struggle to cultivate the love of learning.

Doug, was the technical engineer at one of the radio stations I worked at and was also my room mate for a couple of years. When he wasn’t tinkering with something, Doug seemed to always have his nose buried in technical manuals. He read them the same way other folks read novels and non-fiction books. He derived great pleasure from the manuals–most of which contained hundreds of pages of text and illustrations.

Whenever Doug finished reading a manual, he’d start over again in order to memorize certain portions that he deemed essential to his work. Doug sometimes talked about particularly interesting theories and technical aspects that he learned. Whenever he had aha-moments at home, Doug reiterated them and explained his newfound knowledge to me. His acts of trying to teach me something that he had just learned was one way he cemented new data into his memory. He once explained that as a child, he bothered his parents and siblings the same way. He was “using” me as a substitute brother. Doug was one of the most intelligent colleagues I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing–I miss hearing about his epiphanies.

One of my college room mates was Andy. For awhile he was one of those “career students”. He had not figured out what he wanted to do to earn a living, However, he had managed to win numerous scholarships. Most of Andy’s time was spent engaged in writing post-graduate essays and preparing his thesis for a doctorate in psychology. Andy eventually earned his Ph.D. in Psychology, but he never became a practicing psychologist. He was eventually hired by a marketing agency headquartered in Omaha. From there, he later moved to Toronto, Ontario to do creative art work at a larger company.

People used to chide Andy about his ambitious pursuit of knowledge. He took their insults in stride and used them as further motivation to study even harder. He said that his desire for knowledge could be compared to a starving person’s cravings for food and water. Andy was not out to make a name for himself, his urges to learn were sincere and came from a very deep place in his mind. He wanted to learn something about everything in the Universe but was aware enough not to become a dilettante. He focused enough time on each subject in order to become fluent in its workings.

Doug and Andy are just two of my friends who exemplify the advise of the poster in the public library. It’s not just the knowledge itself they are after; it’s the process of research they enjoy. It’s not just about knowing how to perform tasks or understanding what makes things tick. It’s the act of learning that they really love most.

Anyone can be a lover of learning because education continues in one way or another. You don’t need to pursue a Ph.D. like Andy or digest technical manuals like Doug. You can certainly do so if you wish, but the entirety of life from childhood until we rest on our deathbeds can be a process of learning and loving every moment of it.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Leonardo da Vinci. “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”  

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Heart To Heart

An ancient Eastern sage once said, “Human hearts are fields of blessings for the world, since this is where the path of reason originates.” Since we are taught that matters of the heart and subjects of reason are separate, this proverb seems counter-intuitive.

If we pause and consider the word “counter-intuitive” and remember that it is often used in discussions of reason, we quickly see the innate connection between intuition and reason.

Scientific minds tend to rationally investigate what their hearts desire. An example of this is the person who wishes to deeply study mathematics. She has been moved to do so because of some yearning in her heart to do so. She loves the field of mathematics. Soon her heart becomes a field of benefits for the world at large.

We typically stereotype heart to heart communication as the domain of sages and lovers. However, in actuality, this is not the truth. To some extent, we all do certain practical things because they fascinate us. Curiosity is integral with our feelings and emotions.

The mathematician is motivated to investigate numbers and their relationship to the world. Perhaps she discovers that she has a particular talent to solve equations. She goes down the rabbit hole of mathematics and ends up investigating geometry, physics, and calculus. She finds that she is skilled in those areas, too. She might then find ways to use her skills to work in another field that she loves, for instance biology. She has smoothly managed to integrate her heart and reason.

A more obvious link of the heart to practicality is how a leader forms his understanding of how to win the hearts and minds of the people. He may learn this practical skill through trial and error. He discovers early on that losing the emotional esteem of his followers reduces or eliminates his effectiveness. When he manages to win their hearts, he and his causes flourish. This is a foundation stone of political theory.

We are reminded that other people cannot read our minds, nor can we read theirs. Relationships of all types fall apart due to poor communication. Misunderstanding often results in anger, confusion, hurt feelings, and resentment. Communication breakdown happens because we all have different communication styles. This is why it is important to seek ways to communicate according to the needs of our relationships.

Verbal and written communication are skills that can be learned. They are not as complicated as mathematics or political science, even though communication skills are important aspects of those subjects. So, heart to heart communication is an effective way to improve our lives on many levels.

In most endeavors we learn to read between the lines and hear what isn’t explicitly said. It is important to be aware of the other person’s emotional state in order to effectively convey our own feelings and thoughts to the other person. We talk or write to the other person what we would want her to communicate to us if our positions were reversed.

Meantime, wise people speak and write to be understood and read to grow their understanding. Communication is a two-way street. Keeping this in mind is how we grow stronger communities and healthier relationships. Relationships that have healthy, strong communications are better able to weather challenges and remain unified. People and groups with ineffective communication skills are more vulnerable to crises and challenges then often fail. This has been known throughout the ages, yet too many people overlook the need for intuitive communication.

The way to improving work environments as well as personal relationships is heart to heart communication. That is, to reach people with the words they use and understand. This type of communication enables understanding, which in turn leads to community.

In the end, lack of heart to heart communication leads to cynicism, doubt, faithlessness, insecurity, mistrust, and conflict. Meantime heart to heart speaking and writing strengthens trust and understanding–resulting in happier, healthier relationships on all levels.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes counselor and writer, Cole Todd. “Communication is humanity’s greatest blessing, although efforts to establish it can feel like humanity’s greatest curse.” 

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“He who speaks evil only differs from him who does evil in that he lacks opportunity.”–1st century rhetorician, Quintilian

While skimming through the new non-fiction books at the Norfolk (Nebraska) Public Library I noticed another edition of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I didn’t bring it home because I have a personal copy of the book at home, which I’ve read a few times. However, seeing that there is another edition of the book caused me to contemplate upon the subject of evil.

Evil is a concept that has been pondered and written about throughout human history. It is addressed in every holy book and scriptures regardless of religion or any belief system. Philosophers have written numerous treatises on the subject. It has been deified into such characters as the Devil or the Greek Goddess, Atë. Whiro is the lord of darkness and evil in Māori society. The Aztec culture has Mictlantecuhtli the male co-ruler of the underworld and Mictecacihuatl the female co-ruler of that realm. There are counterparts in nearly every culture on Earth.

I used to believe that nobody chooses evil because she or he is evil but that they mistake it for happiness. That belief has evolved to include the idea that some unfortunate individuals deliberately choose to think and do evil because it is part of their personality or a character trait. I stress that this is only my opinion. This opinion is not based upon any medical or psychological findings. My opinion has come about through first-hand observations of acquaintances and personal adversaries, as well as news reports about crimes and wars.

Some sort of sadistic switch was tripped in the minds of Hitler, Pol Pot and similar tyrants, as well as in the minds of their enablers and avid followers. Some people believe such malevolent people sold their souls to the Devil. I don’t think that is the case. It seems to me that people who derive enjoyment by committing evil acts suffer from severe mental and psychological issues. Researchers have been studying this problem in clinical settings. I am unaware of any definitive conclusions of their studies. Regardless of any root causes of evil, it persists and manifests daily in our world.

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”–Blaise Pascal

Regardless of stated motivation, the horrors of pogroms, holocausts, and ethnic cleansing have brutalized various ethnic groups and minorities throughout the ages. Certain individuals use tenets of belief systems to justify cruelty, torture, and murder. It is difficult and improbable to sway such people away from such thinking.

What is especially noteworthy is that inside all of us are the makings of evil and good. It is taboo to admit this, but we know in our heart of hearts that it’s true. The dichotomy of good and evil exists in our psyches. The struggle between good and evil goes on and on. The truth of the matter is that good cannot exist without evil. It seems that evil is the lack of goodness in the mental sphere in the way that cold is the lack of warmth in the physical world.

There are at least two types of evil–the evil of thought and the evil of deeds. The mental form of evil injures the thinker of it and her or his relationship with the world. The physical manifestation of those thoughts into deeds injures and kills others. When the notions to do harm pops up in our heads we have the choice to decline or follow through.

This battle between good and evil is present in everyone. Ironically, when we decide that any means are permissible to fight evil, our good becomes indistinguishable from the evil we wish to subdue. In my opinion, a good woman or man is someone who is fully aware of their limitations–both their strengths and limitations. They realize there is no goodness without evil.

The mind has an amazing capacity to rationalize thoughts and behavior. Whatever we think and do can find justification in our personal beliefs. The division zone between good and evil is quite narrow.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 20th century mathematician and physicist, Max Born. “The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.” 

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While queued in line to pay for groceries yesterday, I couldn’t help but hear a father lecture his pre-teen son. Apparently, the boy had experienced some sort of run-in regarding theft among his group of friends. The boy mentioned that he didn’t trust a recent new acquaintance who recently became part of his circle of pals. The dad said something to the effect of this: When a bad person associates with a group of good people, the group becomes corrupt.

The conversation reminded me of an occasion when this happened to my circle of work colleagues several years ago. We were basically an average collection of coworkers who meshed very well together as a company team. We all had each others’ backs. A newly hired young woman was assigned to our work group. In apparent attempts to prove her value and worth to the company, she boasted about her educational achievements, her status at her previous job, and that she wished to be an irreplaceable asset to our company.

She attempted to claim sole credit for a documentary about domestic violence our entire group had researched, wrote, and produced. This was accomplished through attention grabbing. Flattery and insults were other techniques in her blatant take-over and domination of the team dynamic. Naturally, this created plenty of discord and infighting within our group.

The scenario came to a head when another group member accused the newcomer of plagiarizing his work. During the next several days, a few of us noticed that our other work had been sabotaged. There were also several pranks pulled on staffers who had become the newcomer’s adversaries. Our group had become very toxic with the discord spilling over into the general office culture of the radio station.

One day, the program director and the office manager finally stepped in to assess the problems. They evaluated the situation. They suspected that the newcomer was committing “workplace misbehavior”. The p.d. and the office manager reported their suspicions to the general manager. The rest of us learned that the newcomer had been placed on probation and was given a chance to redeem herself in the company.

The young woman seemed to accept the general manager’s verdict and did not cause any apparent overt friction. What we didn’t know until later, is that she had become more secretive about her sabotage and dirty tricks. Furthermore, she attempted to frame one of our team members regarding the theft of a pair of the company’s newly purchased loudspeakers. When her continued misbehavior and probable larceny came to light, the young woman was fired and criminal charges were filed against her.

It took several months for our work group to recoup some of our comradery and reestablish a level of mutual trust. In the end, the group dynamics had changed. It took over a year for our team to fully recover from the newcomer’s assault. Even so, the group dynamic was never the same again. The young woman had not been compatible with not only our work group, but with the company as a whole.

The excellence and esprit de corps of the team had been diminished by the young woman’s deceit and heedless misbehavior. Thankfully, we did manage to slowly come together again as a friendly team. Management also learned an important lesson about incompatibility.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author and poet, Lamine Pearlheart. “We choose people based on perceived outward good looks, but we reject them based on their confirmed inner ugliness.”

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