May 2012

New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto o...

New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; added by those for whom prayer or miracles were granted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, one of my colleagues gave an inspired speech about appreciation.  He defined appreciation as the act of thanking someone for a job well done, not as vain flattery, but as a sincere acknowledgment of that person’s hard work.  Indeed, he pointed out how rarely one is acknowledged for going above and beyond, although I must say that in my experience, “management” is begun to acknowledge employees.  Problem is, it is a form of blanket acknowledgment, rather than sincere recognition of those employees who go above and beyond.  In my company, there are so many employees that perhaps that would be an insurmountable task, to not only be able to monitor each and every employee, but also to then make that employee feel special.  So, our company has instituted various games and contests, with the winning contestant earning gift cards of various denominations, or other more valuable gifts.

As my colleague explained, recognition of a job well done is a gift.  It is a gift when given freely and sincerely.  And sincerity is felt, as is flattery.  Flattery does not feel genuine, and therefore does not feel good; in fact, it may actually feel demeaning if one gets the impression that he or she is being mocked.  But sincere acknowledgment is also felt.  The words used, the way they are used, the body language, and the situation for which they are used are all underpinnings of what winds up feeling genuine, deserved and ultimately good.

I love being acknowledged for a job well done.  For example, when I come across a discrepancy, and bring it to the attention of my supervisor, it would really feel great if the supervisor pointed out, “Gee, that was a good catch!” 

Sincere appreciation is akin to gratitude, about which I have written previously.  With gratitude, one feels thankful for one’s gifts, for the opportunities and situations, for the personal characteristics, for one’s strengths — even for one’s weaknesses, as a source of learning.  Where gratitude is internal, appreciation is a gift we give another.  So, without being phony, do spend some energy acknowledging the people around you. 

There seems to be a prevalent attitude that compliments might go to a person’s head.  What is meant by that is that saying something good about that person would render him or her insufferably obnoxious, with an attitude of haughty superiority.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Neurolinguistic programming suggests that the words we use affect our attitudes, and therefore, our behavior.  And our behavior affects our moods and attitudes.  Tell a child to sit in the back of the class because he doesn’t participate well, and is distracting, is a sure way to ensure that the child behaves according to that pronouncement.  The opposite is also true: that success breeds success.  And “success” can be translated to acknowledgment, gratitude, or anything that will encourage the recipient to continue to act in the direction of the words just pronounced.  Look into your own lives; recall times when you have been admonished and criticized, and times when you have been adulated.  Then, extrapolate and recall how you felt, and what you were moved to do next.  I can assure you that being complimented made you want more of the same.  And vice versa.

Film poster for Casual Sex? - Copyright 1988, ...

My usual TV programming before falling asleep is invariably something on the Food channel – something benign and entertaining, that does not require much concentration, just a background drone of recipes to lull me to sleep.  That, until last night.  While flipping through the channels, I came upon a gentleman who was evidently lecturing an unseen audience.  I don’t know why I lingered as he spoke about how casually young women nowadays engage in sexual relationships, claiming that they “don’t mean anything,” and that they don’t “get emotionally involved,” claiming that “It’s just sex, it’s no big deal.”  The gentleman argued that sex is a big deal, and should be a big deal, and that giving it casually away is a mark of fear on the part of women.  Fear?  Here is the reasoning.  Sex, especially casual sex with no responsibilities, no “feelings,” no promises is what young men most want.  By yielding to that urge, a young woman is avoiding rejection, thinking that the young man is not likely to reject sex.  But in so doing, what she is accomplishing is to build a very thick wall around herself; she is not revealing her inner soul, her tastes, her values, her various interests, her personality — all she is accomplishing is giving away that which she thinks the young man wants and will not reject.  She is, therefore, avoiding rejection.  But the rejection she is avoiding is the shallow kind.  Casual sex, the hookup that “doesn’t mean anything,” is nothing more inspired than what the lower animals do.  With the difference that the lower animals only engage in it to reproduce; and humans engage in it for fun.

True, it is fun.  It is pleasurable, and it should be.  But it is so much more than simply an exchange of bodily fluids that “doesn’t mean anything.”

The man lecturing was an elder in the Catholic Church.  Who knew?

key to happiness

key to happiness (Photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~)

I have come to understand that happiness takes many forms.  And rarely do these forms include a state of giddiness or silly irresponsibility.  In my case, my happiest moments have been when I have accomplished a great feat, a difficult project, or achieved an important goal.  For example, one of my toughest courses at the university was a specialized computer course that I failed at first, but then chose to face the monster again and vanquished it, triumphant, and was granted the highest grade without needing to take the final exam.  That was a victory over the subject matter, but much more importantly, it was a victory over myself and my own demons.  It was just such difficulty that allowed me to see my deeper self, my core, realize my own strength; and it was that realization that produced a sense of joy and happiness. 

There was another occasion where I chose to override my own urges; where I chose to toe the line, even though it was unpopular, unnecessary, even, and yet that choice of asceticism produced an enormous sense of joy, satisfaction, victory, triumph over myself that cannot be duplicated in any other way.

So, I ask you: is personal choice the way to happiness?  In many ways, yes.  In the situations I described above (and many others), clearly, it was a choice on my part to follow a certain course of action, action that was not as comfortable or pleasant, but action which ultimately was a measure of my mettle.  It is that very sense of pride which has produced my happiness.  And in my ability to make choices also resides my personal freedom.  Were I not free, could I make any choices at all?  Indeed, how many choices would be available to me?  As it is, I have designed my life in such a way so as to have many choices in many situations, and looking at the sum total of my life, it looks like the choices I have made thus far have been solid ones.

In 1984, I applied and was accepted at George Washington University.  I was thrilled and proud to have been accepted at such a prestigious university.  But of course, that would have involved relocating to Washington, D.C. where I knew no one, had no job, and did not like the weather.  The more I thought about it, the harder it became.  Leaving Miami meant abandoning my best friend, relinquishing the deep affinity and meditative spirit I attained from my weekly early morning pilgrimages to the beach, and also meant being far away from my son.  The choice to study at GWU was all the more undesirable when I considered that I would have to push graduation farther by a year and a half to comply with its academic requirements.  To clinch the deal, my boss gave me a raise which I simply could not refuse.  The pros and cons did not even come close.  Prestige of a degree from GWU vs. the life I had carved for myself thus far.  My current life won.

More importantly, in retrospect, I am happy with the choice I made in 1984. 

Then, in 1989, I had yet another opportunity to relocate to Washington, D.C., and again, life in Miami won out. 

The point is that as I look over the choices I have made, I realize that they were all my choices — the so-called good ones, and the not-so good ones.  In fact, we all have infinite choice.  The test is which ones we take?  Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, is quite applicable here:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
I cannot know, of course, how my life would have turned out had I taken the other road.  I do know how my life is now, and when I take full responsibility for my choices, I can clearly recognize the power behind the freedom I have, the freedom I have had to make the choices I have made, which have all converged to bring me to the present moment.

I had a conversation with my son in which I asked him if he was happy.  Without hesitation, he answered, “I’m extremely happy.  I am free to do what I want, when I want it.  My life is just good.”  I pondered that answer, and felt some envy at his sense of freedom.  I, by contrast, do not feel free.  I feel weighed down by “stuff,” responsibilities, my job and limited finances.  So I put that question to a couple of friends: What is happiness, and what is freedom?  The answers came rapidly and authentically: Happiness is the state of accepting what one has with gratitude.  Freedom is a bit trickier.

On gratitude, I can easily echo the sentiment.  I have, indeed, many, many things to be grateful for, not the least of which is my health, and my living environment which is a sunny locale, warm and comfortable.  And once I begin to focus on what I am grateful for, from the most minuscule to the grand, I indeed feel happy and blessed and lucky and proud of myself.