Today, May 18, 2011, I’m please to
bring you the first of my promised Travel Blogs. Cedar and I left Denver
International Airport a week ago yesterday, a mere three days after our
wedding. As some of you know, our division of labor was—Cedar organized the wedding
weekend, while I planned the six-week honeymoon tour to follow. Today I’ll
write only about the former. By all
accounts a huge success, it began with a Friday-afternoon trip to the hand-made
carousel in Nederland, a charming mountain town thirty minutes from Boulder.
Here is how I think of happiness.
First, you can’t find it head on. Despite the Declaration of Independence, happiness
cannot be successfully pursued. Rather, live a meaningful life—one that
benefits you and others—and happiness will pursue you. So what is happiness? I’d
use terms likecontentment,fulfillment, or even that 12-Step
favorite,serenity. It’s a feeling of
enoughness: The fancy term issatiety.
It’s how you feel after good food, good sleep, good sex, even a good workout. Happiness
also seems to result from the satisfaction of a job well done.
July 3, 2076. An America chastened by the
crises of the 21st Century is about to celebrate its Tercentenary.
No longer the sole superpower, it has abandoned its role of global policeman to
a more mature U.N. and is now using its limited funds for the needs of its
people—more Denmark Anno 2011 than the United States of that era. Congress has
just enacted a National Maturity Test, better known as the Adult Licensing Act.
Unless a citizen passes this multi-phasic exam, he or she may not open a bank
account, purchase or drive a motor vehicle, matriculate at a college, apply for
a salaried job, buy property, run for office, or even marry. As you can
imagine, parents, the schools, churches, health clubs, summer camps, tutoring
organizations—everyone is teaching to this test. The ten things everyone is
required to know and be able to do to qualify as a “mature American”—include (1)
RELATING effectively to others. This is one “R” no one born in the 20th
Century ever was expected to know. Included are leadership and collaborating
skills. (2) SOLVING PROBLEMS efficiently. Research skills are part of this requirement.
(3) MANAGING TIME and FINANCES well. Living within one’s means, saving money
regularly, and knowing the difference between important and urgent are all de
rigueur. (4) Showing SELF-DISCIPLINE in one’s lifestyle, including eating well,
sleeping enough, and exercising every day. (5) Understanding and practicing
responsible HUMAN SEXUALITY. (6) BEING CHARITABLE. (7) Expressing FORGIVENESS
and GRATITUDE on a daily basis. (8) Showing CIVILITY in all one's interactions. (9)
Exhibiting a SENSE OF WONDER. And (10) USING POWER WISELY in everything one
does. During the first three-quarters of the 21st Century, humankind
suffered from a collective lack of these behaviors. The President, a
forty-year-old Muslim woman, will sign the bill into law tomorrow.
Day Two of Passover. As aJewishChristian I think of the Shema Prayer—“Hear, O Israel, the
Lord our God, the Lord is One.” It’s also Wednesday of Holy Week, the beginning
of the end of Lent. As a JewishChristianI think of all the ones in this tradition:Credo
in unum Deum, “I believe in One God”; “The Church’s one Foundation is Jesus
Christ, Her Lord. . . .”; even the contrast between the Devil as “legion,”
many, and God as one. And as a Sufi, I begin my walking meditation by moving in
a circle, my eyes fixed on the horizon.
It must be an allergy. Yet for whatever reason I have
difficulty seeing national flags on cars, tee-shirts, hats, lapel pins, running
shoes, even flagpoles. This goes for the Red-White-and-Blue, our Grand Old Flag.
While helping to unite smaller entities, states or provinces, nationalism often
does so at the expense of the larger whole. People wrap themselves in their
country’s flags before going off and killing, or being killed by, other people
wrapped intheircountry’s flags.
Children get bombed and women raped with the justification that they live under
“Marco! . . . Polo!” Kids in a pool. One yells “Marco!”
Another answers, “Polo!” After the fifth iteration, I’m wondering why I decided
to go swimming that afternoon. After the tenth, I begin to entertain homicidal thoughts.
Yet this dumbest of games honors one of the West’s greatest human beings. Why
do I say that? For contrast, consider that other great Italian discoverer,
Christopher Columbus. A century and a half after Polo’s travels to Xanadu,
Columbus arrived in the Bahamas. As Howard Zinn reports in
My new brother-in-law, Dan Barstow, has a number of
distinctions: He’s born on the Fourth of July, president of the Challenger
Space Education Centers, a heckuva guy, and, most importantly for today’s
reflection, he’s a magician. He does amazing tricks with silver rings, even if
you’re just a few feet away. He’s been wowing audiences for decades yet still manages
to fit into the black robe that transforms him into Merlin. (I guess that’s a
trick in itself.) But here’s some news. We’re all magicians. Every one of
us is a Merlin, a Gandolph, the Kind Witch of the East—or at least we have the
potential. As Jesus promised his disciples, “Everything I do, you will be able
to do—and more!” What does this mean in practice? Simply that through our
words, deeds, and example we can change the lives of others for better or
worse. That is, we can do both black and white magic. We perform our tricks for
spouses, kids, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, housemates, peers, even ourselves.
Sometime our magic is as simple as keeping a promise. Or it may stem from a
word spoken in or out season. Here’s an example. The summer after 7th
grade a classmate threw a party. She and the other girls all knew how to dance
jitterbug. That evening Linda, the hostess, taught me—a good deed which has stood
me in good stead ever since. To my lifelong shame, however, I did not return the
favor. Instead, I made unkind remarks to some mutual friends about her
prominent aquiline nose. My words must have gotten back to her, since in fall Linda
appeared with a new nose. Since then I hope I’ve been more careful in what I’ve
said and done. Yet our challenge remains—to use our magical powers wisely.
Today’s blog is a tale
of two years: 1513 and 1516. In the first, Nicolò Machiavelli published THE
PRINCE. In the second, Desiderius Erasmus published a much less known book: ON
THE EDUCATION OF A CHRISTIAN PRINCE. Machiavelli’s classic was meant to help
princes gain, maintain, and enhance their power. As such, its principles (!)
are still used by today’s CEO’s to increase market share, acquire new
territories and companies, and grow the bottomline. Erasmus’s work, by
contrast, was meant to train princes to use their future power for the
well-being of their subjects.
In 1994 a successful investment banker in San Francisco,
Claude Rosenberg, Jr., publishedWealthy
and Wise.Based on the tax laws, he argued, America’s richest citizens
could do better financially for both themselves and the country by donating from
their net assets versus their income. Rosenberg had done so himself by establishing
a foundation. To be honest, as someone who has never amassed much money, I tend
to consider the rich, per Jesus, as likely to have a hard squeeze getting into
Heaven. Yet I can’t ignore Bill Gates, who has used some of his billions to
establish the world’s largest private foundation, now doing so much to lessen
HIV-AIDS in Africa.
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. . . .”
That’s how Dickens begins his fictionalized account of the French Revolution, The Tale of Two Cities. I suppose one
can say the same about any era, since there will always be pros and cons. Nevertheless,
we’re living now, I’m convinced, in a Dark Age. Yet the good news is, we are on
the cusp of a new Renaissance. On that premise, my wife Cedar, her friends
Marni and Nancy, and I brainstormed 25 characteristics of this born-again
better world: 5 individual and 20 social. I hope you can improve on our
phrasing and/or send us some additional characteristics of your own. So, at the
individual level we see people moving from . . . boredom to a sense of wonder,
reliance on the intellect to greater use of their intuition, fear of the other to
interest in them, culturally sanctioned learning resources to learning from
everything, and psycho-spiritual disconnection to psycho-spiritual integration. At the social
level, globally, there will be a fair distribution of wealth, peaceful conflict
resolution, universal health care, sustainable energy usage, sustainable
lifestyles, person-to-person versus technology-based friendships, an ethic of
sufficiency versus materialism, need-versus-profit-based enterprise and
marketing, a need-versus-want-based culture, effective world governance instead
of chauvinistic nation-states, community-oriented populations versus rampant
individualism, more natural approaches to healing replacing drug-based
medicine, “Jesus” versus Wall Street ethics, the right use of power and
influence instead of their widespread misuse, gender equality versus
patriarchy, a prejudice-free society not a spectrum of isms, non-polluting
versus polluting industry, fulfilling instead of soul-killing work, and soul-freeing,
inclusive religiosity versus the exclusivist, shaming/blaming kind. In future
blogs we’ll consider the parenting, education, and religion needed to create
such a world. For now, I’d love your comments.