It's easy for us to complain, bicker, and point fingers at power.
It's a lot harder for us to rise to the occasion, to stand up and fight for what we believe.
The fight worth fighting is not easy. But for those of us who somewhere deep down believe in the possibility of a better future, the difficulty of action is no excuse not to act. We know hope is real. We've felt it. We've seen it. We've seen a single flame, ignited out of thin air, light a pitch black room. We know what we need to do and it's our job to do it. We must lead.
In On Leadership, John Gardner explains why leaders exist: to offer “hope in a world that often gives little ground for hope; the quest for justice in a world only fitfully committed to justice; love in a world that is often unlovely and unloving; the hunger to understand things that elude understanding; the capacity for awe, wonder, reverence…”
The world can be a tough place. Life can suck. We've all felt the impotence of apathy; we've all felt drawn hypnotically to the material; and we've all felt void of imagination; but “even in the most apathetic, the most materialistic, or the most unimaginative members of a group there is something waiting to be awakened, wanting to be awakened.”
It is this awakening that leaders exist to serve and spread.
Charlie Jones said “The only difference between where you are today, and where you'll be a year from today, are the books you read and the people you meet.” Since I started reading voluntarily at the age of 14, books have had a huge influence on my life. Most of the books below are ones I've read multiple times, dog-eared dozens of pages in, and given as gifts. They and their authors have shaped who I've become.
If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin, you know I'm always posting quotes. I'm a total quote junkie. It's how I get through the day. Here are the ones I've printed out and taped to mirrors, written on my hands for inspiration on sad days, crammed into the front covers of Moleskines, and have memorized for opportune recitation. ;)
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
- Winston Churchill
“It takes conviction and vulnerability to believe in something, and absolutely no balls to tear it down.”
- Eileen Guo
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
- Theodore Roosevelt
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's possible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
- Niccolo Machiavelli
“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”
- Abraham Lincoln
“My belief is in the blood and flesh as being wiser than the intellect. The body-unconscious is where life bubbles up in us. It is how we know that we are alive, alive to the depths of our soul and in touch somewhere with the vivid reaches of the cosmos.”
- D. H. Lawrence”
“To study the Way is to study the Self
To study the Self is to forget the Self
To Forget the Self is to be Awakened with All Things”
-Dogan, sixteenth-century Zen monk
“Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”
- Robert F. Kennedy
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
- Marcus Aurelius
“Only in the synthesis of the most diverse fields of knowledge does life reveal its full intensity. Today, in a time of globalization and collapse of national identities, this is as true as ever. The age of specialization is over. Mixing together aspects of life that have apparently little to do with each other will be the essential talent of the twenty-first century. It is time for an athletic philosophy: a philosophy forged through muscles and heart; a philosophy born out of the union of body and mind, of pragmatism and utopia, of sweet sensitivity and a warrior's determination.
Martial arts are no exception. Restricted to "insiders only,” they are nothing but a ghetto. Grey. Small. Limited. No surprises. No horizons. Not a single great vision can live within its borders. Only when martial arts become part of a larger picture can we see their full potential and beauty. Traditionally, martial arts went hand in hand with acupuncture, massage, medicine, religion, and even with arts such as painting, poetry, and bonsai-making, origami, and tea ceremonies. But these are not the only things I am referring to when I speak of a larger picture.
Rather than being confined to a separate dimension, martial arts should be an extension of our way of living, of our philosophies, of the way we educate our children, of the job we devote so much of our time to, of the relationships we cultivate, and of the choices we make everyday.“
Determined dynamism and dedication to diversity drive development.
"Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up.“ - Terence McKenna
It takes little courage to dream.
Dreams are just fantasies, and fantasies are a dime a dozen. Whether it’s of a different career, different colleagues, a different family, different children, different friends, a different partner, a different body, a different face, a different set of talents, different habits, or a different past, we all fantasize. We all dream.
It’s comfortable to imagine a distant fantasy in which we’re happy and satisfied. Living in a dreamed-up delusion, we begin to feel these emotions prematurely and we become addicted to them. It’s comfortable to sit waiting, wishing, hoping. It’s comfortable to pass the time. It’s comfortable to settle. It’s comfortable to stagnate.
But it’s also dangerous. It’s dangerous because dreams are living things, and when living things are left stagnant, they decay. Dreams left stagnant rot, wither, and reek. Their putrid remains leave the dreamer bitter, insecure, and indecisive; their carcass calcifies like a prison-shell around the dreamer’s mind. In the dungeon of dead dreams, the very thought of action is expelled from the realm of possibility.
When action is impossible, we feel powerless. The canvas of existence becomes pitch black. But against a pitch black night sky, a flaming meteor stands out like an infernal archangel savior. Pitch black is where the impossibility of action meets the impossibility of surrender, where the titanic force of inertia meets the titanic force of human survival instinct. When we're on the verge of surrender, when we think there's nothing left inside, when we think the world has given up on us and we should follow suit, the animal inside of us awakens. When this happens, we begin to feel again. Our paralytic claustrophobia triggers a conflagration of anger, frustration, and outrage. Sometimes these feelings of pain are the only ones that we can hear the prison walls, the only ones that can give us the power to melt the bars, shatter the ceilings, and explode into action.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
Sometimes, rock bottom is the awakening we need to muster the courage for change. It’s what reminds us how connected we can be to our own reality. It’s what allows us to let go of the limits we’ve placed on ourselves. It’s what helps us connect the dots of our existence. It defibrillates us and tells us there’s nothing left to be afraid of. It shows us we can extract meaning from the worst of experiences. It gives us permission by freeing us of our need for permission.
This self-declared freedom gives us the courage to be decisive, to commit, to lead, and to love. When we decide, we cure indecision. When we commit, we cure uncertainty. When we lead, we determine the conditions of our existence. When we love, we share in the interconnected infinite symbiosis of cosmic life, and we enable others to free themselves to do the same.
It takes little courage to dream. It takes a lot more to wake from a nightmare.
“When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
Principles are the vertebrae that form the backbone of life. They constitute our integrity; they make actionable our values. Principles are what great men and women turn to when facing tough decisions. Principles enable us to be consistent, wise, dependable, and strong. Principles are the promises we make to ourselves for how we want to live our lives. When people talk about “walking your talk” or “practicing what you preach,” they're talking about living out your principles.
But just as important as the discipline to stick to principles is the flexibility to bend them according to circumstances. A backbone that never moves becomes brittle. Like the spine, principles need to be exercised, bent, and flexed in order to be effective in action. The question is how much.
For all of their supposed integrity, overly principled people can be brittle, awkward, dogmatic, and lonely. They can seem brash, arbitrary, and holier than thou. Yet, overly flexible people can be inconsistent, undisciplined, lost, and flaky.
The key, it seems, is to be like steel on the inside–principled, disciplined, uncompromising, strong, and resolute–and silk on the outside–flexible, adaptable, chameleonic, and relatable. There's a fine balance between being disrespectfully spartan and submissively adaptive. The former risks alienation; the latter risks indignity. To bend without breaking is to achieve harmony between principle and flexibility.
“As we tenaciously work the sails, the ropes and the rudder of our sailing boat struggling against the Antarctic storm, a glorious albatross approaches our battered vessel using that same wind to totally unfold itself to magnificence.” - Rodrigo Jordan, Drake Passage, January 2008
Life is unpredictable.
One moment, you’re walking your dog, having coffee with an old friend, or drifting to sleep on a flight; the next moment, turbulence hits. A loved one calls you to tell you they have a terminal illness; a masked gunman accosts you and your friend on the street; the plane enters an electric storm, the lights flash, the oxygen masks drop, and the pilot announces engine failure.
All systems go into red alert. Suddenly, you and your precious stability are under attack. Your eyes spring open and it’s fight or flight.
In this moment, if you’re not dead yet, then you have a choice. Adrenaline turns time to molasses; in the moments before outward action is required, there’s a chance to resolve what you’ll do with your circumstances: ride them or run from them.
Instead of struggling against the wind’s attack, you can be the glorious albatross and use the same wind to “totally unfold yourself to magnificence.” You can stare the attack in the face, open your heart, and reframe the attack as an opportunity.
An opportunity to accept the natural unpredictability of life events.
An opportunity to remember how small you are in the context of nature.
An opportunity to reframe your adversarial attacker as an engaged partner.
An opportunity to turn your mirrors into windows.
An opportunity to convert headwinds into tailwinds, to spread your wings and fly.
An opportunity to wake up from wake up from delusion, release from false dependencies, and rendezvous with reality.
An opportunity to live your inner Darwin, to unleash your inner fire.
Thanks for visiting blog.tedgonder.com. This is my new page for sharing thoughts. I used to be over at tedgonder.com through a TypePad interface, but now am using a platform called Svtle, which serves my needs a little better, and is much prettier for you as the reader.
To kick things off, I've hand-picked the “best of” from my old blog and have published them as the initial crop of posts here. To “like” a post, just hover your cursor over the “kudos” button to the right.
Delayed flights. Dead cell phone batteries. Violent relationships. Unexpected responsibilities thrust upon us. Rejection. Desperation. Confusion. Frustration.
Life throws surprises at us all the time. But no matter how many times life surprises us, we never seem to get used to it. “Expecting the unexpected” is a lot easier said than done.
I believe that you can be ready for anything, but that it's pretty much impossible to be prepared for “anything.”
Preparation requires preliminary knowledge of events that are to occur. You prepare for something you know is going to happen. And if you're smart, you reverse engineer your preparation based on the specific obstacles you think you'll encounter. You can prepare for things that have certain outcomes. The problem is that this way of thinking doesn't account for surprises.
As such, it's extremely difficult to prepare for surprises unless those surprises occur within the context of the situation to which you've preliminarily tailored your preparations. This means that you can only prepare for a scenario with a finite number of variables. The problem with this is that we don't live in a vacuum; in our dynamic world, no real-life scenario has a finite number of variables. If you've prepared but you're not ready, you're complacent. And with complacency comes mindlessness and vulnerability (not the good kind). When you're complacent, you're easier to catch off guard. You're easier to surprise, and you're easier to hurt. Complacency makes life's peaks boring and life's troughs catastrophic. Basically, complency makes life suck. And without readiness, preparedness breeds only complacency.
Readiness, as opposed to preparation, is a state of mind. Preparation is something you think you've done, whereas readiness is something you actually live. Vigilance, focus, awareness, and centeredness. It's the “martial” in “martial arts.” Being mindful and aware enough that you can handle surprises as they arise. And there's little point in preparing for something if you're not first ready for it.
Readiness requires more discipline than preparedness. Readiness requires constant attention, but perhaps constant attention is a reasonable price to pay for preventing absolute disaster. Or maybe it's not a price to pay at all. We tend to think of things in terms of trade-offs, but in a paradigm where the greatest gift is the gift of giving and responsibilities are opportunities in disguise, maybe the energy it takes to maintain constant readiness isn't actually being “spent” in the way we might think. Maybe readiness is a state that fuels itself…on the condition that one is willing to embrace and relish in the ever-present, regenerative rewards of the journey.
Preparation assumes linearity along the trajectory from past to future; the destination is more important than the journey, the ends more important than the means. Readiness assumes nothing except the reality of the present moment; the journey is the destination, the means are the end.
Ultimately, life requires a synthesis of the two. It's important, however, that we don't conflate them or mistake them for one another. People trick themselves into thinking they're ready just because they've done some research and bought some equipment. Just because you're prepared does not mean that you're ready.
“Rancor is an outpouring of a feeling of inferiority.” -Ortega y Gaset
We judge others when we're insecure about ourselves. We naturally feel hatred towards those who by their very existence challenge our sense of identity. Towards those who make us doubt ourselves and think “am I as good as that?”
But we let this happen. We let ourselves fall into the trap of comparative contexts. We let this happen because even though we hate being challenged and stripped of validation by exceptional people, we like the gratification we experience when we're exceptional. We love feeling superior. We love power. Or maybe love isn't the right word. We're infatuated with these feelings of power and superiority. And infatuation is a transient and volatile emotion rooted in fear. When the expectations set by infatuation aren't met by the reality of our experience, we get disappointed. And disappointment makes us angry, fearful, insecure, desperate. We start clutching at those things we think are true, hoping to find validation. But usually if and when we find ourselves in this type of situation, there's nothing that will stop the bleeding. So we lazily reach for the band-aids: we blame and belittle others to make ourselves feel better. And it works. For now.
But eventually, the band-aids shrivel up and fall off and the scab, slightly infected and once again exposed to the trials of life, becomes vulnerable to injury. And when we're attacked the next time, and the scab gets bumped, the bleeding starts again and out pours the obviousness of our inferiority. Out pours the nasty, putrid, ugly rancor. And we're again too preoccupied with finding band-aids to notice how embarrassed we ought to be.
The very actions we think make us look cool or superior or funny or attractive or important usually don't. Most people are too worried about their own scabs to care about yours. Maybe the difference between great leaders and everyone else is that the former have the patience to let their scabs heal so they can help others' heal their own.