October 2008

Good afternoon.

It is a gray rainy day in Washington. Dark and gloomy, a perfect moment to reflect upon what seems to be a fairly constant stream of bad economic news punctuated by a great deal of other difficult and troubling events. These are interesting and perplexing days no doubt. Everyone, despite economic circumstance, seems frozen and unclear as to how to proceed and even think about these days. Many don't even look at their 401 k monthly reports, knowing exactly what awaits their gaze.

Two days back, I noticed on a small marquee the following: Change is inevitable, growth is optional. How true, how true. In 2001, I read a small little book that was distributed free to shuttle passengers flying out of LaGuardia in New York. The book by Spencer Johnson, M.D. is entitled: Who Moved My Cheese? It is a simple little work that uses 'cheese' as a metaphor for whatever one wants in life, whether it be a great job, success, a good relationship, health, etc. This little parable provides truths about the inevitability of change and suggests ways to learn to embrace change and to enjoy the process. Easier said than done.

I thought that the simple takeaways from the book might be useful for all of us to review during these curious times.

CHANGE HAPPENS -- They keep moving the cheese

ANTICIPATE CHANGE -- Get ready for the cheese to move

MONITOR CHANGE -- Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old

ADAPT TO CHANGE QUICKLY -- The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese

CHANGE -- Move with the cheese

ENJOY CHANGE! -- Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese!

BE READY TO CHANGE QUICKLY AND ENJOY IT AGAIN and AGAIN -- They keep moving the cheese

One of my favorite writers is the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. In one of his books he likens progress in life to being a trapeze artist. You will not succeed if you cling to the security of the trapeze; you must let go with outstretched hands to what awaits. Yes, it is terrifying to let go at times. The old and familiar becomes so very much a part of our lives that we can hold on even when that approach has repeatedly yielded a destructive result. Unhealthy patterns are rhythms that, while destructive, are familiar even if they produce the worst possible result. A wonderful story in the New Testament describes Jesus' interaction with a paralytic who for 42 years hung out at the pool of Bethesda, a place where legend held that, on occasion, an angel would stir the waters, and the first to reach the curative waters would be healed. Wow. Talk about faith. This man had held onto a belief that had demonstrated absolutely zero results for over four decades. Yet I found it so interesting that the first question Jesus posed to this ill man was: 'Do you want to be well?' Hello... this seems pretty insensitive upon initial reflection, but then, yes, actually, this is perhaps THE question. (Not for every ill person but for this particular ill person.) Did he actually want to become well and take responsibility for his life and actions? Up till now the paralytic's identity was perhaps related to the fact that he was ill and seeking wellness. Jesus challenged him. Do you actually want to be whole? Was he merely in love with the notion of being well, or was he actually ready to change his entire identity and be a different kind of man if he were restored to health. The right question for the right man at the right moment.

I find that many of us (I especially) talk about change and transformation and yet to be different requires an entirely altered outlook. This is precisely why unforeseen circumstances can be truly a time of tremendous growth. Remember: change is inevitable, growth is optional.

During these days, I am doing two things. First, writing down the things and people for whom I am grateful. Gratefulness is a habit...as is the opposite. Remember 'you become what you think about and focus upon'.

Second, I am recalling the purpose of pain and suffering: to force us to focus upon what actually matters in life. There are only a few things which really matter in the final analysis. What are they for you? What are you learning during these days? Turn the fear into becoming a deeper, better person. That's my personal mission. The German philosopher Nietzsche had it right: ''THAT WHICH DOES NOT KILL ME MAKES ME STRONGER.''

I agree. Those who I admire most have been tested in significant ways...and yet they have an illusive attractive quality like a great wine that has been aged properly.

I'm trying to learn the above. This is a good moment to determine what imbues life.

Peace in the storm,

Doug

 

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