The poet William Blake believed that one of the big problems in human life is half-heartedness—that easy tendency to just get by, play it safe, hold back, become complacent or stay stuck in second gear.
He believed that half-heartedness was very damaging. It damages the workplace, the classroom, the home, relationships, and even our inner lives.
He also believed that whenever we work to convert half-hearted living into whole-hearted living, we are doing something very significant.
The word he often used to describe this quality of living was exuberance, and he wrote many proverbs about it. Here are a few, with some reflections.
“Exuberance is beauty.”
Exuberance is not about being an extrovert and it is deeper than just positive thinking. It can be quietly intense. And it’s all around us, in the riotous rivers, the roar of the ocean, the mystery of the stars. Exuberance connects us to the universe.
Exuberance can introduce us to a little different experience of everyday life that lets us see colors we haven’t quite seen before and sing songs we haven’t quite sung before.
“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”
Doing and being “just enough” can lead to complacency and dullness. Life is best lived in the “more than enough” mode where there is always more to learn, more to create, more to give and more to your story. This is the mode of exuberance.
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
“Excess” is about going beyond the glass-is-half-empty or the glass-is-half-full to having a life that overflows. A life that is exuberant.
And this is a path to wisdom. The person who puts her whole heart and mind into what she does will learn things about life she never would have learned any other way.
“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.”
Exuberance frees us to fly…rather than crawl.
It the words of e. e. cummings, it frees you “to be nobody but yourself.”
To forgive or not to forgive…sometimes that is the question.
But it’s not an easy question. If I forgive, am I condoning something? Or letting someone get away with something?
Our sense of rightness, balance, justice may feel violated. “If you knew what he did…”
And today, taking the question of forgiveness seriously may be a little harder because of the atmosphere around us. The Labeling, Judging & Condemning business seems to be flourishing while the Kindness & Forgiveness business seems to be in Chapter 11.
So, is forgiveness still relevant? Here are three brief reflections on the value of forgiveness.
First, Havelock Ellis, a physician and writer from a century ago, suggested that the way to approach this question is to start with ourselves:
“We cannot forgive others in any comprehensible sense unless we have first learned to forgive ourselves.”
A little experience forgiving the person in the mirror may give us the best training for forgiving others.
Second, the German writer, Goethe, believes that forgiveness is a minimum daily requirement for living. As he put it:
“How could a man live at all if he did not grant absolution every night to himself and all his fellows!”
Forgiveness benefits the forgiver as well as the forgiven. Forgiveness does something for our hearts, for our spirits that nothing else can do. We must forgive to live.
Third, Frederick Faber, the noted English hymn writer, pointed out that sometimes the problems we get into are so complicated that they can’t be unraveled or “fixed.” The only thing that will cut through is kindness and forgiveness. He wrote:
“Kind words will set right things which have gotten most intricately wrong. In reality an unforgiving heart is a rare monster.”
And that provides our final motivation: Forgiveness may be the best way, perhaps the only way, of taming our inner monster.
Running low on Astonishment?
It happens. When we’re a child, everything is astonishing. But then, at a certain age, long-term careers and long-term relationships require us to be reliable.
And with all the duties and responsibilities, life can sometimes feel pretty predictable.
One thing’s for sure, we don’t want to end up settling in the City of the Bores and the Bored. So where do we go to search for the lost city of Astonishment?
Mark Twain suggested a surprising strategy for that when he wrote:
“Always do right. This will surprise some people and astonish the rest.”
Of course, he was half-joking. But where there’s humor, a little insight may not be far behind.
And one insight here is: if “doing the right thing” has made life a little too boring and predictable, then something needs our attention. Maybe it’s time to surprise things up.
Like the woman who said to a co-worker, “Well, it’s clear you and I don’t like each other much. We need to get better acquainted. Let me take you to lunch.”
Or like the peace-loving Quaker who warned a man who had insulted him: “Friend, I love thee, but thou art standing where I’m about to strike.”
Adding a dash of surprise and astonishment to our daily efforts to “do right” will, if nothing else, keep us out of the City of the Bores and the Bored.
Many years ago, when we lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, there was a toy store in our neighborhood with a sign in the window that read:
“Don’t postpone joy.”
It was a good reminder to me of the importance of joy to our daily lives.
What’s the point of life? What’s the point of work? Of relationships? Of dreams? Isn’t it joy? Aren’t we supposed to enjoy these things?
I can’t think of a better point. And yet somehow, it’s easy to let stress or routine crowd the idea of joy out of our minds and make it seem peripheral or frivolous.
But joy is all around us. And it’s deep. We sense it in the sunrise and the full moon. It may be the deepest thing in the universe. And it may be a lot more important to our lives than we think it is.
Joy energizes. It’s for today, not someday. It’s like the grease that makes the machine run with less friction.
With its favorite tools, humor, playfulness and stories, joy makes life feel more meaningful and even helps us cope with stress and problems better. Joy helps limit the damage in relationships. Joy is the flip side of tragedy.
In his book, The Inner Game of Work, Timothy Gallwey applies lessons he learned from teaching tennis to the challenges of the workplace. He often emphasizes the importance of enjoying work, even with all its problems. Especially with all its problems.
Gallwey tells the story of a sales manager in a large company who, inspired by his ideas, told all his salespeople: “This quarter, in our sales meetings, we are not going to talk about how many calls you made or sales objectives. We are only going to talk about how to make your daily work more fun, more enjoyable. You still have to do your work, but our focus will be on joy.”
So that’s what they did. At the end of the quarter, you guessed it, their group made more sales than any other group in the company. And they spent less time on paper work and other tedious details of the job.
As Sikorsky, the inventor of the helicopter said:
“Be absolutely determined to enjoy what you do.”
I’ve always appreciated Marion Parker’s words:
“Be kind—remember every one you meet is fighting a battle.”
Great words, but hard to remember, hard to put into practice.
Especially when the other person is acting just a little too ornery for words! Or when what they’re saying or doing makes absolutely no sense to me!
It’s easier just to assume I know what’s wrong with that guy and what he should do—if only he would listen to me!
Empathy is hard work. Listening is hard work. Understanding is hard work. Patience is hard work. Kindness is hard work.
So why should we try?
Maybe because one day we may need a little empathy and kindness ourselves.
Or maybe because the more ornery a person seems to us, the more he or she may need a little kindness and understanding.
Or maybe because we’d rather use our lives and actions to vote for a world of kindness and empathy than vote for a world where everyone quickly labels and judges.
And then there’s this…
I think it was the writer Albert Camus who, toward the end of his life, was asked what advice he would give and said:
“After all my writing, it’s a little embarrassing to have to admit that the only advice I have to give is, ‘Be a little kinder.’”