Monday, March 31, 2008

Anatomy of a Winner

Winners are not people who never lose, for winners can lose but are never lost.
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Winners will decide to enter the arena of conflict by exercising courage. They have a worldview that does not allow them to sit in the arena and contemplate how outnumbered they are. They don’t focus on what could go wrong; they focus on the objective. The sole objective is ‘What is required here to succeed?’
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Winners embrace the struggle and, in their heart of hearts, believe that they will win. They expect to win, and because they expect to win, they often do. And even if they don’t win the particular struggle, they will see themselves as winners for simply having had the courage to walk into the arena against such odds. To lose is simply “research” to a winner. It’s one way tried that won’t work that can now be eliminated from their list of procedures to win. At each juncture it is about the positive, optimistic approach that turns likely failure into success.
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Some people believe it is dangerous to teach teenagers to expect the best out of life; and to ensure they don’t dream too high or hope too much. The fact is it’s boldness that is necessary for a full life. “Who dares wins” is the old catchcry. Some people will say, ‘what if I fail?’; ‘what if people laugh at me?’; ‘what if I make a fool of myself?’; you only make a fool of yourself by not believing in yourself.
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This brings in with it the key part of the anatomy of the winner; the mind. We need to get our young people to dig deeper than a superficial commitment to good and teach them how to ‘swim out into their destinies by confronting the deep issues of their thinking.’ It takes courage to do that. Courage that must come from hope, and that is possible through faith and love.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Acknowledgement to Pastor Chris Hill’s book Grace-Based Youth Ministry.

Your Winning Teen: Happiness Ahead

The vast majority of teens think they’re losers. This is reinforced in them in schools, and in homes, and each place in between. This is what Chris Hill believes in his book, Grace-Based Youth Ministry. The giveaway indication of the ‘loser’ self-image is paradoxically bravado… a false bravado.
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If you’re a parent or a loved-one of a teen, this is likely to either ring true for you, or disturb you; perhaps both. We need desperately to do something to turn this around or we face yet another lost generation; a generation that knows not to love. Each life needs love to learn how to love. It’s a very simple concept. “Losers” are only that because they’ve not been truly loved. We see it all around us in society; young lives off the rails all because parents and adult role models have failed (to love) them. It’s a human tragedy of leviathan proportions.
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False bravado is a response to fear. It’s an ‘I don’t like myself, so I’ll make out I’m someone different,’ sort of attitude. All teens/people seem to have it at one time or other; some always seem to have it, and ironically it may be when they’re around their peers it’s most apparent. Becoming an adult is confusing and plain hard work. Questions like, ‘Do I like myself?’ and even ‘Do I like my parents?’ seem to prevail.
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Chris Hill says the winning feeling is the subjective level of personal achievement that can only be ascertained by spiritual contemplation and introspection. Let’s tease that apart to work out what he’s saying:
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- Feeling like a winner is a subjective thing. No one can gauge what it is; it’s a feeling, and it has nothing to do with what you own or have done. The good thing is anyone can claim the winning perspective. Simply help your teen be proud of what they’ve achieved. They did it. They earned it.
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- To feel successful requires reflection and contemplation. Encourage your teen to do this particular after success. Always praise them for their effort and achievements; never undermine them as a person.
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We replay ‘mental tapes’ of the feedback we got from important people. Ensure your teen has the right ‘tapes’ to begin with; only entrust them with trustworthy, positive adults.
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‘Tapes’ are either power for life and joy, or, for sadness and destruction.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Are You Sick of Chaotic Life?

We see it all too often these days. People doing absurdly high levels of activity in their striving to either simply keep up with life or, in their pursuit of achievement, i.e. ambition. It’s being driven; up to and beyond our capability and capacity. It’s not always a personal choice—some are merely employed and have to operate this way due to poorly structured work systems—and even when it is personal choice, many are not even aware of the potential damage the chaotic life brings to one’s health and relationships with others, certainly loved ones. It’s folly personified to function in this ‘panicked’ state for an extended time.
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Many organisations in today’s society think that it is acceptable business practice to run short-staffed and load increasing pressure onto their staff. This is a conventional wisdom that believes what you can ‘get away with’ by skimping to the minimum is good. But it squeezes even more out of a tired and already stressed system. This thinking is not only disrespectful and anti-loving, it’s dangerous! Yet more and more organisations, executives, and senior managers are settling for this insanity; it’s becoming more the norm than the exception. It’s cowardly and hypocritical.
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I was in a McDonalds store recently when I got to see the effects of this style of management first hand. They were one staff member short and still the local management intended on running the operation as normal. Everyone was pulling that much more extra weight, and it had a dramatic effect on customer service. It’s okay to operate this way for one day, but do it week in, week out and it destroys the peace within. Most of us run our lives in this reckless fashion. Stress and anxiety are insidious; they attack and eat away at the fabric of our resilience, affecting our peace and creating a vicious cycle of ‘dis-ease’. Why do we allow this to happen?!!
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What if you could just say to the world—STOP! ‘World, deal with me on my terms—terms that consider and accept me, and the best I can diligently and realistically offer, and that’s it.’ This is not an “opt-out-of-life” strategy. It’s about the restoration of a fair balance. Try these things:
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- Take a ‘total rest’ day off at least once a month. Do nothing on this day;
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- Consider your values, goals, roles and priorities and say NO to other things that don’t align with these—this takes courage;
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- Skilfully direct your efforts and energy to those who really need you i.e. those you love; and,
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- Don’t allow unscrupulous employers (and other organisations) to unreasonably ‘load you up’.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Father of two teenagers

I'M BLESSED and there's no other way of seeing it from my view of things. I have three daughters and now two in their teens. These two older daughters have progressed through childhood. And now, whilst they are still children, and in some senses will always be (particularly my) "children," they're firmly positioned now as adolescents. Wow, that sounds scary! But, it is not... the journey continues and I love being friends with my children. Our relationships are enriched with age and time together.
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Zoe's birthday brings with it an opportunity for reflection. I recall her birth. The umbilical cord around her neck five times. The fact that a C-Section birth probably saved her life. The fact that she struggled to thrive, and at six months was sent to Princess Margaret Hospital to find out why. The little girl who was always so happy and always had such a lovely grin. Amy's little sister loved to dance and made more than one solo appearance on dance stages in the area. The big sister for Rhiannon also; always there for her, and always full of kindness and generosity with everyone.
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How could a father not be full of good pride on a day like this? I love it how God helps me to fall in love with my daughters afresh every day. If anyone is to be served by me, they get served first. They're not pampered. They're served for the future; their self-esteem is within my sphere of influence; their growth and development in emotional intelligence is my goal. For them to see the joy of life and to live the 'wise way' is my dream. One day I hope they make a great contribution to their own families and to God, in their own way.
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Wow, God, how wonderful you are to have given (and trusted) ME (with) three such wonderful children; human beings each with a soul; entrusted to me to oversee their development; development balanced in grace and truth (which equal love - the greatest thing of all).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Unconventional Wisdom Wins Hands Down

IF YOU WANT a management initiative that affects people to actually work, take a moment and read this. It could truly save you a lot of wasted effort. I don’t say this for any other reason but it makes excellent, 100 percent common sense!
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‘People management’ initiatives more often than not fail. They fail for the very reason that the wisdom used sounds good but in fact it’s so frequently devoid of the critical human element abiding in ‘values.’ In essence, what is said is rarely actually backed up by what is done. It is that simple. The rubber hits the road and the initiative loses steam – it atrophy’s. The early momentum is lost and it doesn’t recover. It may sound pessimistic but it’s true. It becomes bureaucratic. Bureaucracy is enemy number one in culture change. There are the ‘catchy’ phrases that sound like clich├ęs... these turn real people off.
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There are a couple of things to note here; even then the subject’s not exhausted. First, we must at times learn to ignore conventional wisdom. This is what the “From Good to Great” companies did; each one of them aligned values with reality and that alone succeeded.[1] They found a way to align values with passion,[2] and passion can take you anywhere, but without it you’ll never get where you want to go and stay there.[3] This is about ‘staying power,’ and is what separates the leaders from the also-rans.
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Part of the problem is bastardisation of good theory and so there is a departure from real wisdom, as the wisdom of men and women is thought best, but often revealed as folly.
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There is also a scriptural parallel. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he skilfully uses “rhetoric to denounce abuse of rhetoric.”[4] More human beings will have a problem with this next statement than won’t; “what appears foolish to the wisest humans [senior managers and executives perhaps?] may be the deeper, inscrutable wisdom of God.”[5] Now, this sort of wisdom is not visible to all.
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The fact is people can see right through catchy programs and they don’t buy them. Design your people management initiative with the people in mind; to aid them and not to hinder them. Only the organisation leader who can see the true issues will be able to discern what’s required, and I believe that this is exactly what Paul was talking about. Wisdom that works each and every time, and backs people up and inspires, is simply divine, in the truest sense. Integrity lasts.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Acknowledgement to Dr. Dawn Darlaston-Jones of Notre Dame University, Fremantle, Australia.
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[1] Collins, J.C., Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), see pages 5 and 22.
[2] Collins, Ibid, p. 96.
[3] Collins, Ibid, p. 97.
[4] Keener, C.S., 1-2 Corinthians, NCBC Series (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 27. We could bridge contexts and read ‘rhetoric’ as ‘bureaucracy’ in this situation.
[5] Keener, Ibid, p. 27.

Values: A Commodity That Makes the World Work

Values make the world work! And not only that – they’re a key to our survival; our survival relies on values. What are the values we all need to survive? Many people, leaders, groups, teams, executives, and organisations have sought an answer to this question. Another question: do our basic human values ever change, like from generation to generation?
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An answer...
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“Despite views about changing values, there is a common set of basic values which all human beings share and which is the foundation of social cohesion.”
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This quotation indicates that we (our basic values) never really change, and that the same innate values are as relevant today as they always were. It means we should still be a pretty predictable lot (we homo sapiens) in the next millennium.
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The basic set of values is considered to be:
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TRUST—FAIRNESS—COURAGE—HONESTY—LOVE—DIGNITY
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“For groups or societies to exist over time, members must be seen to be trustworthy, fair, courageous, honest, and treat people with care (love) and dignity. It is hard to see a group continue if one or more of these values is absent.”
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Conflicting (secondary and tertiary) values are the root of all problems of social cohesion from the lack of communication at a personal relational level to the most massive Global and cultural issues. Wars are fought over values; conflict creates wars but it also creates growth; it depends on whether one is looking negatively or positively. Conflict is not bad; the lack of understanding and alignment with common (secondary and tertiary) values is bad.
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“The values which are fundamental to the existence of human social groups are essential to human survival.”
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These values are more important than we think. We don’t give values credence but they’re our principles and rules of engagement, yet we don’t seek to align our conscious awareness to these basic (virtuous) values anywhere near enough. If we can’t do it on a personal and interpersonal level, what chance have we in more complex situations. It bears thinking about: values alignment in communication and relationships.
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J.T. Ralph (CRA Organisation, 1993) said, “Achieving continuous improvement starts, essentially, with a state of mind that accepts that there are always better ways of doing things and that there is always room to improve everything we do. It means avoiding complacency and positively going about searching for and implementing better ways of doing things and eliminating waste and improving quality.”
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The basis of continuous improvement, growth, indeed survival, is the basic values.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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[Inspiration and quotations (apart from J.T. Ralph’s) for this article are from “Leadership: A New Direction”: British Army Review, December 1989, by I. Macdonald, R. Macdonald, K.W. Stewart.]

Meeting a Great Australian - John Longley

PROJECT MANAGER and crew member of Australia II during the America's Cup conquest in 1983, and present Fremantle Chamber of Commerce CEO, John Longley is a fascinating bloke to meet and listen to. I had the pleasure of meeting John yesterday with a couple of work colleagues for the planning of some work we're doing for the Chamber.
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I must admit to not knowing much about him before meeting him and I vaguely thought, 'is he Luc Longley's dad?' Everyone seemed to be in slight awe about him.
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Having done a little more research on him, his accomplishments, and Fremantle First etc, I can now feel a little more at ease working with him for the workshop I'm assisting with.
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You know it is such a thrill to meet icons. Justin Langer a couple of weeks ago, and now John Longley... meeting ordinary people who've lived extraordinary lives; it's nothing short of fascinating!!
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[Some links to the articles I researched on John Longley]
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http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/wa/content/2003/s950836.htm - Stateline Interview on the 20-Year Anniversary of the 1983 America's Cup victory. (22/9/03)
http://www.claxtonspeakers.com.au/speakers_profile/741 - John's Claxton Speakers biography.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lifelong Learning – Secret to a Privileged Life

A lack of knowledge is a great disadvantage in life. It means we don’t get opportunities, can’t be trusted, and need to be ‘looked after,’ reminding us of when we were children. Knowing what is needed to succeed in life and having the ability to get there is crucial in avoiding frustration, which is commonly defined as having our goals or aspirations blocked or unsatisfied. No one wants to be frustrated. A commitment to lifelong learning and the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom is the secret to a privileged life few end up living.
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Some people simply ‘don’t know what they don’t know.’ It’s called unconscious incompetence. They’re ignorant and it’s not a very powerful position to be in. We’d surely not want this result personally or for any of our dear family or friends, yet we persist in our ignorance so often by not engaging in the learning process. There are a thousand learning opportunities every day – are you being at least somewhat attentive to them?
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We need to make it our business to know things that affect our lives, and seek to know the truth and common sense of reality. We need to know in diligence what we must do and what we must not do in order to succeed in life.
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Ignorant behaviour harms others as well as you. Anyone you rely upon will ultimately suffer because of your lack of knowledge. Commit yourself to becoming a life learner. You could try some of these things:
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- Take a course; anything from a short-term course to a degree.
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- Ask people questions about things you’re curious about. Curiosity is endearing and you will find people seeing you as more attractive purely because you are seen as a ‘humble learner.’
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- Set some goals on learning. Set them high. Ten years from now you could have a Master’s degree or doctorate. You might simply want to broaden your life experience.
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- Read books. Get involved in the history of the world for instance... it’s a fascinating place, the world, with many fascinating people who’ve lived over the course of history.
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- Limit the amount of useless information you take in. i.e. television, magazines, some newspapers, tacky/tabloid media etc.
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- Exercise discernment in which people you speak and listen to. Find good role models and model their desirable behaviours onto yourself.
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- Keep a journal and make regular, in not daily, entries. Take time to reflect on what you’ve learned each day. This has the effect of deepening the experience, making it more meaningful.
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Lifelong learners think more and as a result have more joy in life. They have more personal power and are naturally endearing people. Socially speaking, they’re also interesting to be around. One of best advantages however is the legacy you leave to your children and grandchildren; of knowledge and its acquisition.
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Finally, focus not just on acquiring information but also focus on developing your character; that is, become a better person, morally. Now that’s the epitome of learning!
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Do You Know Someone Out Of Control?

There's physical evidence of it. You observe a person walking towards you and you see they have lost control of the life force within them; they no longer look after themselves; they appear confused and rushed most of the time; they're not happy. Chances are they are also not happy with the way they look. But, one thing is for sure, they have lost control of the ability to reign themselves in.
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Another sad thing about this picture is the kids with parents like this; it isn't fair for kids to have parents who're disempowered and de-motivated. It's even worse when the child's parent is in denial - and this appears to be the chief problem, especially in our society where there are traps everywhere for the person 'out of control.'
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I praise God that in him I have more control (empowerment) every day. This is a statement of personal fact and of personal experience. This is what it feels like to be growing. It is a growing joy knowing less fear each day. This is not to say it is a life of utter fulfilment and endless joy. There are troughs. These troughs however should be there so I can honestly experience the depths and then claw my way out of them. This is emotional resilience.
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The typical person who's out of control does the following: they eat lots of fast food; they'll spend most of their money on takeaway; they waste money; they think spontaneously and often not about consequences; their mouths are undisciplined; they take on job after job when they have no time for it, showing their poor judgment; they're ignorant to their state; and principally, they're into denial.
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They're not a good person to know because they are entrenched in this pattern and are oblivious to its effects. They won't be any good for you, their kids, or themselves. Their denial is very dangerous to their health. They do not realise it but they're living in earthly hell. It is chaos way out of control. It is an unhealthy chaos.
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My prayer is: Lord, help me deny nothing. For you, if you feel out of control, my prayer is you'll seek whatever help you need. Don't be afraid. Your life is at stake here. Take the plunge and get the help you need.
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© 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

When it’s time to move on...

It’s important to know when to go, when the right time has come to say goodbye, perhaps to a person, to a group or people, an organisation, or a situation. Perhaps the season and time for this has come and you’re getting ‘itchy feet.’
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I remember working with a gifted actress—she was in an accounts role—definitely not her “thing.” It’s not that she wasn’t very good at her job, and she was universally liked, but I always felt that this sort of thing wasn’t really for her. She successfully applied to complete the degree she’d started, that, by the way, was in a totally unrelated field to accounts.
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I too remember a time working in an emergency service organisation (response team) and feeling the time was right to say goodbye and move on. The draw to be part of this team had waned; the interest level was not there anymore. I felt there was no more learning to be done in that environment.
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Another time I felt the pull away in a different way. It was a situation where I felt no bond with the others in this particular team. I felt like the black sheep. I was on a different page compared with the others and therefore I no longer fitted. Circumstances ‘squeezed’ me out and I received that as gracefully as I could at the time.
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In all these situations it takes courage to either take the leap or accept what’s coming or being forced upon us. It’s not easy, but change, at least in this way, brings something new and as they say, ‘as one door slams shut, another opens up.’ It can be an incredibly freeing experience to finally walk out of that door to a yet unknown future, with the faith that all will be okay.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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[Addendum: this article had 278 reads on day one of approval on EzineArticles. What does that say?]

The Biggest Secret to Obtaining Balance in Life

Balance in life is the key to real happiness at the ‘high end’. Low end happiness is about other more essential elements of life joy — like love. To be really happy and lead an optimised life we must have balance.
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Balance is a most delicate thing. It’s easy to disrupt life balance, and the more ‘noise’ we have in life, the harder it is achieve what really was always meant to be a really simple thing. Its key is simplicity; keeping things simple and remaining focused on simple, clear goals. Yet, we will still try to cram things into our lives won’t we?
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Balance is the thing that is missing in much of life today—it’s much more than simply “work/life balance.” It’s that and more. It’s also about autonomy and being (able to be kept) accountable. A balanced person uses time wisely and considers the various priorities and impacts of time; it’s a “focused life.” It’s wisdom that protects our accessibility. It’s self-empowerment to be able to do things well, basically all the time. It’s consistently high performance. It protects and enhances vitality.
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The biggest secret in achieving balance is becoming mentally tough. It’s an act of the will when it is all said and done. No amount of dreaming can do it better than the pain involved in the discipline of mental toughness.
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Two icon of mental toughness in Australian sport are John Worsfold and Steve Waugh. The former describes mental toughness as ‘a total commitment to do whatever it takes to get the job done.’ To achieve this it’s also important, the latter says, to ‘try and stay on the same emotional level wherever you can.’ Simply be reasonable, rational, responsible, realistic, and logical. You can’t achieve any goal of real significance without being mentally tough. There’s nothing like having the ‘ability to never give in to yourself.’[1]
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‘Noise’ in life or the quantity of life is an enemy of balance. It requires peace. The more complex life becomes, the harder it is to live peacefully; too many worries, cares and concerns, you see. It’s relative. The most mentally tough people can absorb a lot of chaos and noise, and no matter how complex life gets they always seem balanced. These people are admired leaders; two such people were named earlier.
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The game of balance is a saw-tooth line heading north. As more balance is demanded and then achieved, complexity is added, adding commensurately to the challenge to remain balanced. As the increased level of complexity is mastered and it is then dealt with as relative simplicity, then more balance can be achieved. It’s about growth, gradual and steady, with allowance for the odd hiccup; but it’s a growth curve that continues. The key is attaining balance despite the challenges at the time; keeping things relatively simple and being focused – through mental toughness.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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[1] All three quotes from: Langer, J.L. Seeing the Sunrise, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2008), p. 67.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hugs are good for you!

Apparently, (and we always knew this didn’t we!!) hugs are good for you. Scientific studies have shown that hugs help us. Four hugs are said to be necessary for our survival; eight are suggested as the amount needed for good maintenance, and twelve hugs are said to be the level required for growth.[1]
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Even another more recent study proved that oxytocin levels are increased through hugging, and that this is especially beneficial for women.[2] Oxytocin is a “bonding” hormone. The hugs also reduced blood pressure in this study, reducing the risk of heart disease.
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Actually, you only have to ask any woman and she will agree; most men, though not as needy for hugs, also appreciate a good 20-second hug. 20-seconds might not sound like long, but you certainly get more of a chance over that time to allow the senses of touch, smell and sight to ‘feed on’ the experience allowing this powerful elixir to pervade the being of both huggee’s!
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The concept of “cuddle parties” has been mooted as a most platonic sort of orgy that people can engage in to satisfy their need to “bond.” Just think about the possibility of being invited to a cuddle party, especially if you’re single or have a partner a long way away – could be risky for some and an opportunity for others. It seems we all need a good hug!
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Seriously though, these cuddle parties have been arranged and do appear to be above board and of great health benefit to those who partake. Provided in a safe environment, hugs can only be positive.
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It seems that like a good laugh, fish, vegetables, and sex; a good old-fashioned hug is something that is such a simple fix for the modern maladies of life. It’s ‘body ministry.’
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Who can you hug? (Make sure you have their blessing though.)
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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[1] Cited and validated by Judith Weisberg and Maxine R. Haberman, “A Therapeutic Hugging Week in a Geriatric Facility,” Journal of Gerontological Social Work 13 (1989), pp. 181-86.
[2] Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4131508.stm

Do Not Underestimate Yourself - The Utter Strength of The Human Spirit

WE ALL WEAKEN at some point don’t we? Everyone has a time and a way of succumbing to pressure and capitulating. I wonder however if you have ever thought how strong you really are, and how far you can push yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? I think you could easily surprise yourself.
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I am not saying that it is good and healthy to push yourself beyond your capacity—that is not wise—but I am suggesting that your capacity could be a lot higher than you realise.
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- Physically: I found in my early 20’s there was a way I could push myself physically that was healthy, and a way that wasn’t so healthy. I could exercise my muscles seemingly beyond endurance—I could push, push, push, and continually set the bar higher and provided I did this in a staged, incremental way, I could push upward seemingly without limit. When it became unhealthy however, was when I overtrained and didn’t get enough rest; training like this taxes your connective tissue more than your muscles.
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- Mentally: Studying cannot hurt you. In fact it is good for you. To remain mentally alert and growing we need to embrace learning throughout the lifespan. We must be careful to make sure we get enough sleep, however. Studying “past” sleep would be a good example of pushing things too far. Again, it’s about balance.
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- Emotionally: How could I push myself emotionally? Forgiveness for one. Is there an issue that might plague me in my relationship with another person? Is there something I need to forgive myself for? There is no practical limit to the power of forgiveness, or for that matter, the power of the human spirit to embrace other emotionally-charged challenges. Pain is not always the best guide of what you can endure, emotionally speaking, though we do need to listen to it and know our reasonable limit.
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- Spiritually: Pushing ourselves without a faith in God is a recipe for disaster. I say this because a faith in God is the only way I know to achieve balance in life that is backed by real purpose and meaning. The spiritual and the emotional are both intrinsically linked and joy should be the ultimate guide.
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Pushing ourselves and challenging our limits should be part of our being. It is only with a healthy push that we can hope to come anywhere near our real potential.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The “Aggressive Forgiveness” of Grace

What an amazing term it is: grace. Nothing bad, The Message tells us, has any power over it. Even though it appears illogical, “grace... invites us into life.”[1] With this sort of power, and the knowledge of it, it’s only a fool who would pass it up – yet, we often don’t trust its power; we have to experience it first-hand. It’s a “what comes first: the chicken or the egg?” situation. We can’t experience grace until we take a risk with our heart and try it or see someone else give it to us; giving grace in essence is giving someone a chance they don’t deserve. Many people never actually experience this grace in a personally meaningful way, although one could argue that life itself (i.e. the provision of life) is an act of grace.
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The supreme example of grace was the Passion of Christ. The power of this salvific act was, is, and will always be, undeniable and irrefutable, as millions upon millions of human beings are given the ‘second chance’ at new life, and we might say, real life. It transformed the meaning to life by making life with God a possibility.
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Perhaps one of the better popular songs, When Love Comes to Town, describes best the effects of grace on a life; this ministry of the second chance. The lyrics below summarise what so many have experienced through the loving power and grace of God:
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Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down,
But I did what I did before love came to town.
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What is actually a gospel song sung by U2 and B.B. King soared through the charts through the world. These lyrics above describe what so many did before coming to know God. Lives punctuated by sin, both covert and overt. These lives were most often useless for anything other than self-gratification, disorder, misery, and the antithesis of real hope, as well as contradiction and hypocrisy. Only rarely did glimpses of the light of grace emanate from within this person. Then a miraculous thing happens. Love comes to the ‘town of the heart’ of that person. Grace is ‘love coming to the town’ of our hearts. It is knowing and accepting our true selves in the light of life. This love came to us; we did not go to it. The love of God that is grace seeks and finds us, and it truly finds us when we turn and look, and then it is there – and it is there to be seen! We are the ones who have to ‘see’ it.
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Here are some more lyrics from the above song that feature the theme of this ‘aggressive forgiveness’ we know as grace:
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I was there when they crucified my Lord,
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword,
I threw the dice when they pierced his side,
But I've seen love conquer the great divide.
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Theologically, these are correct statements. In essence, we killed Jesus and he, the resurrected Lord, still forgives us; further, that is precisely why he did it; so we could have a way of being set right with God, and also to facilitate the process to “make us fit for him [i.e. the Father].”[2] It is grace that made the way possible; the undeserved favour of God. It is so we could be saved from our sinful selves.
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The Greek word charis means grace. It can mean all manner of things connected with the theme of grace including: matter of approval, benefit, a charitable act, free favour, gracious provision, or simply, grace. The Bible is littered with this term as a response to the fall of humankind in the days of Adam and Eve and the serpent. Even at that point grace was evident. Grace has been and always is evident.[3] People who are grace-filled have charisma, another Greek word for someone with charm, allure, and who is persuasive; a natural and at times divine leader.
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Grace is anything that we do that we illogically forgive for. If someone harms us, slanders us or gossips about us, or doesn’t consider us, we normally have the right to defend ourselves and exact revenge – not with grace; we leave any of that justice to God, and he sorts them out, eventually! It simply doesn’t matter to the person who has grace. Grace is finding love in the heart to cover all wrongs; it may lack sense to you but until you try it you won’t know true life. To forgive someone a transgression is also about forgiving yourself, as you release all the pent-up anger in a most beautiful and safe (and graceful) way.
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Grace collides with freedom. It challenges incredibly all captivity. It’s fighting courageously for the ethical right. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 oozed grace for both his, and inevitably all, people:
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“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
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Grace is freedom for everyone. It is knowing that wrongly holding something from anyone is a bondage to one’s self too. That’s the power and allure of grace.
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Sadly, Rev. Dr. King was shot dead not quite five years later, and this is depicted in another U2 song, Pride (In the Name of Love). The lyrics of the song underscore one man’s pride for his people, and for love to win the day, through the justice and righteousness of God; of action. “Early morning, April 4, shot rings out in the Memphis sky, Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride.” Indeed, King’s ‘pride’ lives on! Now, that is descriptive of the provision and justice of grace. As powerful as grace is for the good, it also ushers in the presence of God for justice to pervade situations and groups and individuals. In this way grace is theologically both prevenient and irresistible. It is irrepressible.
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Grace is about relationship: between God and humankind. It’s knowing the joy of life. The experience of grace for Jews in Old Testament times brought about joy. Grace is not a New Testament, purely Christian concept though Christ sought to ‘finalise’ the deal by fulfilling the law and the prophets. “The ancient Israelite looked on the law not as a burden, but as a gift of grace, a delight, precisely because of the warm and personal relationship with the LORD that it enabled and expressed.”[4] The law was always a provision of grace. Covenant (the relationship) always came before the law.
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In yet another U2 song, One, what sounds like a ballad is actually a painful song of the opposite of grace within the relationship between lead singer Bono and his father. Here are some of the lyrics that allude to this sentiment:
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Did I ask too much?
More than a lot.
You gave me nothing,
Now it's all I got,
We're one,
But we're not the same
See we,
Hurt each other,
Then we do it again,
You say,
Love is a temple,
Love a higher law,
Love is a temple,
Love is a higher law,
You ask me to enter,
But then you make me crawl,
And I can't keep holding on,
To what you got,
When all you've got is hurt.
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The italicised portions of the lyrics above highlight the awkwardness seen in relationships lacking grace; for instance, where father will lord it over the child. It acknowledges that genetically for Bono and his father, ‘we’re one’ and at the same time ‘we’re not the same,’ because of this grace that is somehow missing. It highlights the hypocrisy and incongruence of the father preaching ‘love is a temple and higher law,’ and yet the same father who makes his son crawl. We see in the antithesis of grace an absence of beauty, favour and ‘way.’ It is clumsy and inelegant.
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The father who experiences no grace can issue only hurt to the life of the son or daughter whom desperately needs the father’s love. I used to know such a man; one who tried so hard to say the right things and do the right things, yet invariably when push came to shove wasn’t able to consistently offer grace. This can be for a range of reasons. For the individual who hasn’t got grace it is frustrating; it’s inexplicable. Something just isn’t right. One thing is for sure, the person who misses out on grace misses the mark in life, and so do those who rely on this person. There we have the recipe for generational cursing.
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Grace comes to us. We recognise it and respond. It is beauty and favour. If we respond the right way its beauty and favour become part of us and the way we operate and behave. Then we have ‘charisma.’ This is a spiritual word. Only when we ‘move in time’ with God can we have this charisma, which is an aggressive form of forgiveness. It’s a miraculous gift of God to have this insight and requisite character quality.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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[1] Romans 5:21 (Message).
[2] See Romans 5:1-2 (Message).
[3] Even during events like the 6th Century BCE Exile of the Israelites and the great flood (Noah’s Ark) grace was evident.
[4] Christopher J.H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, A fully revised, updated and integrated edition of Living as the People of God and Walking in the Ways of the Lord (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 317.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

“Times, Yes, They're A Changin’”

IT HITS. You are suddenly feeling all at sea with a change in your life and how it is presently affecting you; you simply can’t explain it, and for all your planning you certainly couldn’t have foreseen it was going to have this effect on you. It’s an emotional effect. It’s the effect of shaking you up in an almost unexplainable way. You struggle to discern the type and depth of emotion. You’re angry, confused, upset, and quiet all at the same time. For this day at least, you struggle with the bewilderment of life. How does everyone else seem to understand this life and yet (at least at present) you don’t? You hope it will be better tomorrow.
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You’ve actually been hit with an ordinary happening. It happens to us all many times in our lives. It’s the grieving process. It is the process of change catching up with us; it’s a reality check. It’s okay for most of us – we adjust, but it takes time. It might be tomorrow, next week, or next month, but we will adjust eventually.
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This just happened to me just now. Speechless in my emotion and awkward in my outward behaviour... this was my reaction to a critical family house move that threatens to change things permanently. I was at a loss to explain why I felt the way I felt. Words at times fail and don’t do justice to what the spirit within experiences. I wondered the effect on others in my family at this time. Some would respond better, and some would respond worse, though it’s a deeply personal experience, and no one is likely to ever know. That in itself is sad!
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The dynamics are changing. Times, yes, they’re a changin’! There’s nothing anyone can do about this change except simply accept it and wait for the process of time to alleviate the sense of discomfort, dis-ease, and in the worst cases, the pain – and wait for it to subside.
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Only today I saw a lady give a testimony in a church service where they could see God’s good hand in the death of a son, not a predicted death, but a tragic death. It was harrowing to think what these two women (mother and grandmother) were presently going through – the grieving and change processes were at an extreme for this family. Change no one ever wants to go through.
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The grief that comes with change is a horrible feeling. But that’s not where it ends. It’s only the beginning of a brilliant new reality that we cannot yet see. Soon we’ll be adjusting to ‘what is,’ now. And inevitably we will have adjusted. We have so much to gain from simply having the faith to trust. Trust that all will be well. It will work out. We’ll see.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Friday, March 21, 2008

When Is It Right To Complain?

If I think of one behaviour that epitomises the ultimate in character development it is withholding the need to complain. It is a full sense of grace pervading all life circumstances and relationships. It is the issuance of favour especially when it is undeserved. The ultimate of the ultimate is almost inconceivable: that one might never complain. How hard would that be?!
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Is this ideology realistic? The Apostle Paul certainly thought it was. He mentions in Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without complaining...” This is so we can be ‘blameless and pure... children of God.’ I wonder if sorting people out who are doing the wrong thing is ‘complaining.’ Like if there’s the need for that righteous form of anger, indignation.
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Practically speaking, there is a lot of sense in not complaining, especially over circumstances beyond our control. Most of life, and even the smaller things within it, are beyond our control. As the Serenity Prayer goes, ‘God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.’ To have serenity means we must accept things and that means not complaining, doesn’t it? This certainly applies to most things.
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I can think of some examples of times when it is right to complain. One example is if you’re living with someone, whether it is a wife or husband, a boarder, or other partner. When living space is shared, best the complaints come freely and in the right spirit; in love with truth. It’s also best that they be received in the same spirit. One of the worst things is to let the issue fester by not discussing it. On the other hand it is crucial to the relationship that it’s dealt with sensitively and correctly. This is a skill and an art form all its own – I’m certainly no expert! But I would like to become better at it.
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What we also must consider is ‘what war to wage.’ What issues are critically important and what issues can we leave alone? What are the ‘over my dead body’ matters which require immediate attention and lasting results? We can’t complain about everything or we’ll likely deserve the ‘whinger’ tag.
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We also need to take into account the personal psychological and emotional effect of the complaint. Will it ‘spoil our day’ to complain? We need to be able to complain without it then becoming the focus of our day. We need to be able to move on.
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Foci for ‘efficient’ and effective complaint:
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1. Frame the complaint as it affects objectives. If there are objectives for the relationship or situation and they’re not being achieved, there needs to a discussion about how to address the problems and find solutions that both parties can live with.
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2. State the complaint once and ensure you’ve been heard. There’s nothing worse in this sort of situation than dealing with a ‘harper’ – someone who ‘harps’ on about something. Say it enough to be understood, ideally just once. We need to seek assurance that the other party has heard us. This is where reflective listening or paraphrasing are good skills for both parties to have.
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3. Keep the complaint ‘issue-focussed’ and never attack the person. This is easier to achieve in an occupational situation than it is in a marital situation. Always keep your emotions in check and try to keep a balanced viewpoint for both parties’ sake.
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4. Design a process for the complaint. You might want to think about the likely outcome(s) before you make your complaint, and then ensure you have a method for dealing with each outcome. How will you escalate the issue if it isn’t resolved? At what result is your ‘walk away point,’ and when will you be happy to consider it ‘resolved’?
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Everyone has complaints. It’s about knowing how to make them. It’s respectfully challenging the status quo in a loving or assertive way (which simply caters for both parties’ needs) that makes the difference. To complain in the appropriate way takes courage. Courage to seek the best solutions for both parties, and a vision for a better tomorrow.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Getting That Promotion: What Compromises Are You Making? Please Consider The Narrow Way

Isn’t it weird to think no matter how much we think on the meaning to life, we still can’t quite work it out? We know the things that don’t satisfy and for most of us it’s almost all of our experience of life; things that don’t satisfy. The things that are supposed to be satisfying and fulfilling simply don’t cut it, or are just plain hard work. We can’t see the sense in them half the time.
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As people, we’re constantly trying new and different things to find the key to success and happiness; we often think that we’ll achieve it if we climb the corporate ladder or make the higher sports team or get friendly with a certain ‘click.’ We keep searching in the hope of satisfying ourselves and others who might rely on us. It’s innate.
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Some get to a point of trying so hard to do this they burn out. They push beyond their reasonable ‘safe load limit,’ selling out on sleep and eating properly and exercise, all in order to meet unreasonable expectations and flawed goals. They get trapped by their commitments knowing all along the castle that is their lives could crumble and fall at any time. It’s folly and unsustainable behaviour.
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There has to be a better way. But the better way appears so elusive. How do others get the balance right? How do others balance family responsibilities with work, with leisure, and personal development? And there are more demands – this is simply the start. How do others pay their exorbitant mortgage, and feel free at the same time?
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I don’t claim to know the answers, but what I do know it this: Life is about finding the ‘narrow way.’ It’s about finding the right balance. Being the ‘narrow way’ implies it is not easy to live. Finding balance is also not easy, and it was never actually meant to be easy. But it is attainable. It has to be! There must be a way to achieve reasonably whilst attaining life balance. It takes a continual commitment to live a courageous and disciplined life.
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The most famous and most influential person to have ever walked the earth highlighted the “two ways of life”:
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“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that find it.”[1]
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This person, Jesus, succinctly gave us the paradox of life, which is also the way to life: if you want to come first, choose last. It is the choice to give by serving, over taking and ‘being served.’
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The point at which the narrow and wide ways intersect harkens us to a decision. How are we going to live our lives? Will we simply live as the mood takes us? Or are we living deliberately and to a plan – a method of living that requires daily vigilance and maintenance, a method where there is accountability for personal growth through the lifespan? Will we be predominantly a ‘giver’ or a ‘taker’ in life?
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The wide gate and the road that is easy is the one most take in life; it’s not the right way, but still most take it. The way most do not go is life through the narrow gate and the road that’s hard. This involves loneliness, suffering, and courage, but reveals life that God predestined for us to have. This is the spiritual life. There are not even very many Christians or people professing other faiths who live this life genuinely. It’s about a life of continual repentance or a turning back to God.
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Okay, so how does this fit with your life? This is how it could work:
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There is often a price we pay for promotion, for instance. For many promotions there is a requirement to put in more hours, and more responsibility is assumed. There might be less family time—and you will never get that time back. It depends what you’re called to and what legacy you wish to leave behind that was your life.
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There is often a price we pay for the people we associate with, and the time we spend. Some people are good for us and some aren’t. Some activities we engage in are good and some are bad.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better legacy to leave behind than that of a special, loving, and committed husband and father, and secondarily a good worker. But most of all I think I would like to be remembered as someone who actually got the balance of priorities in life right, most if not all his life.
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To conclude, what separates us from the next nice and courteous person? It is a daily commitment to this ‘narrow way’ that provides life. Real life that few really experience. Why would you not want to experience it?
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Perhaps Justin Langer puts the ‘narrow way’ best in his book Seeing the Sunrise:
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It takes discipline and courage to look a man in the eyes rather than at his feet.
It takes discipline and courage to train when it is wet and cold.
It takes discipline and courage to tell the truth rather than lie.
It takes discipline and courage to keep focused on your dreams.
It takes discipline and courage to master the basics.
It takes discipline and courage to practise under pressure.
It takes discipline and courage to get out of bed early.
It takes discipline and courage to keep running when you are spent.
It takes discipline and courage to do the little things
It takes discipline and courage to watch your manners.
It takes discipline and courage to do an extra lap.
It takes discipline and courage to trust yourself.
It takes discipline and courage to guard against complacency.
It takes discipline and courage to be honest with yourself.
It takes discipline and courage to be the first on the training track.
It takes discipline and courage to choose right over wrong.
It takes discipline and courage to be on time.
It takes discipline and courage to fight back rather than quit.
It takes discipline and courage to stick to your game plan.
It takes discipline and courage to lead by example.
It takes discipline and courage to listen and learn.
It takes discipline and courage to say no.
It takes discipline and courage to make it to the top.[2]
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Not everyone wants to be a successful athlete like Justin Langer, but his recipe for success is just as applicable for any field of pursuit. Be a successful human being by making a choice for the ‘narrow way.’
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© 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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[1] Matthew 7:13-14 (NRSV).
[2] Langer, J.L. Seeing the Sunrise, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2008), p. 80.

Monday, March 17, 2008

10 Best Quotes To Direct Your Life

These would be in my opinion among the best and most influential wisdom quotes:
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1. “To communicate, put your thoughts in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce.”
-William Safire.
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• Have you ever struggled to get your message across? This simple quote is about two doing things and bearing in mind four motivations to make your communication powerful and effective. It requires planning, prudence, and savvy to employ this. It’s acknowledging that communication is also about marketing strategy.
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2. “Life is for most of us a continuous process of getting used to things we hadn’t expected.”
-Martha Lupton.
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• We often get what we don’t expect. As humans we can’t use our perception to predict everything that’s coming at us. But this reminds me of the ‘opportunity’ in the unexpected. Stephen Covey once said words to the effect, ‘To ignore the unexpected (even if that were possible) would be to live without opportunity, spontaneity, and the rich moments of which “life” is made.’ Of course, Helen Keller also said, ‘Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.’
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3. “People who know how to employ themselves, always find leisure moments, while those who do nothing are always in a hurry.”
-Jeanne-Marie Roland.

• What an irony this one is. If one is in the practice of organising themselves for work, they’ll invariably be able to organise themselves for play.
• Perhaps there is something here also for the procrastinator in each of us?
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4. “If you preach excellence but walk mediocrity, you are nothing more than a common liar.”
-Old Maxim used by Justin Langer.
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• We must endeavour to do what we say. This one is most relevant for anyone in leadership, whether that’s in a home as a parent, at work as a manager, or on a sports field. It’s about credibility and integrity. It’s about doing the difficult things well and experiencing the pain ‘with your team.’
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5. “It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterward.”
-Baltasar Gracian.
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• I’ve fallen for this one often enough to cringe. It’s about the wisdom of restraint in knowing when to delay an action that will bring pain, embarrassment, and regret. The prudent person employs this.
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6. “Sometimes we have to be silent to be heard.”
-Stanislaw J. Lee.

• I often wonder when I’m in a small group if anyone is being heard. I mean, how often are there just the flurry of voices and no one’s hearing anyone else. There’s too much of it in this day and age.
• This saying is also a communication tool. At times silence speaks louder than words.
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7. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”
-George Orwell.

• How often do people communicate and don’t think of what they’re saying. It’s just words. There’s no plan, no structure, and no way of being understood. It is harder to be understood than most think. It requires great skill.
• The key to this saying however is courage. Cowardice will win over in our speaking if we let it; for instance, we’ll flatter when we should be honestly rebuking a person. We need to have the courage to speak the truth, but do so in a loving manner. This is no easy task. It requires skill and most of all the right heart.
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8. “Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.”
-Sirach’s Ecclesiasticus 2:4-5.

• To learn and improve there’s the easy way and there’s the hard way. We need both ways. This saying speaks about the hard way. It is no less useful than the easy way, which is learning willingly.
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9. “Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations.”
-Edward De Bono.

• Let’s be realistic in life. But, for those who are ambitious this is not bad, just something to understand why they’ll be unhappy. For some, being unhappy is a good thing because they constantly drive themselves toward continual improvement in their chosen field of excellence.
• For those who simply want to be happy, be more realistic.
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10. “If we would please in society, we must be prepared to be taught many things we know already by people who do not know them.”
-Sebastien Roch Nicolas Chamfort.

• How often have you made it to a high level of competence in something and then had someone quite ignorant of the fact go into great deal to “teach” you it? It happens all the time. It takes grace and humility to accept the lesson, and you never know what new insight you might get.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The Gap Between Saying and Doing

I am often perplexed at how often I still fail at the basic things. These are things I say I’m going to do but yet still I cannot do consistently. Like the day before yesterday I spent the whole day trying to work out solutions to the two areas of my life that I still fail in; serving cheerfully through what feels like constant interruptions at work, and being more tolerant in certain situations around the home. As I analyse my life, I find my other roles and other parts of my roles going really well, yet I’ve stumbled too consistently in these two areas of late.
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The Message tells me that [something] “within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”[1] (Reader: Do you relate to this in areas of your life?)
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It’s coming time for push to come to shove. I need to change. Do you ever feel this way? I’m not sure this will work but I’m trying it anyway. This is a public declaration in the desperation to finally get it right.
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I’m thinking while I’m at it, that if I experience this, then possibly you do to. Does this reading above resonate with you like it did me? Are you unable to change something in your life that exasperates you? Don’t give up. Keep trying, and keep trying new and innovative ways; something will work for you eventually, just like I know it will for me!
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My present method is this: I need to have a focused mind and a disciplined heart, and be prepared to meditate daily on the standard responses to both these issues and fix them at the ‘cause,’ not the symptom end. The problem’s with me and my response. Why am I unhappy with these things? Some of the reading I’ve done suggests that it could be due to problems with my “subjective well-being.”[2] This is an elaborate way of saying I’m unhappy with things that are in any event outside of my control. When things are beyond your control it’s somewhat impractical and illogical to get concerned about them. Yet, that’s my problem. That’s what must change. My perception of the problem; I need to accept I cannot change everything.
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My challenge is to develop mental processes to focus my mind and discipline my heart. To focus my mind, I need to control my thoughts in the moment. To discipline my heart I need to resist the temptation to stubbornness and self-pity, pure and simple.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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[1] Romans 7:18-20 (Msg).
[2] See Parrott, L & L., Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts (SYMBIS), (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995, 2006), p. 66.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Worry is Madness

Worry is madness and haste is not living in the moment. It’s all so preventable, but we are so prone to it. We need quiet each day and we need to be happy in every moment; not blissfully happy, just “content” happy. We need to centralise our lives in our values, roles, and goals. This is one way to focus on the things we can influence positively.
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Fear is behind worry. Haste is due to fear and it’s living in either the past or the future; certainly not the present. The purpose of fear is to teach us about ourselves – fear does not want to conquer us. We must meet fear head on. Fear presents us with opportunities to learn. We have to approach the cusp of fear and go over it. Only then will it disappear into oblivion. It no longer matters. We need to have the courage to find a strategy to release the fear.
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We must defeat fear by accepting the strain of the situation. Oswald Chambers has said we’re hilarious when we’re crushed with difficulties because most of these situations are ludicrously impossible to anyone by God. When we’re bold and accept the difficulty and we’re prepared to overcome it we have mighty spiritual forces suddenly coming to our aid. Even though we are so predisposed to complain we must stop, jettisoning the typical excuses we so often weaken for. Accepting the tension and strain of the situation gleefully is the tonic to all difficulty.
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One solution is living in the present moment. This is putting all or our energy into the moment, one-moment-at-a-time. We also need to be propelled in life by a purpose or a dream that gives us something to focus on that is positive; to counter the worrying thoughts that might otherwise cloud the mind. The mind is the key. We need to use the power of our minds to bring discipline, peace, and shape to our souls. We need to wary of the mind’s power to control our mental, emotional, and spiritual equilibriums. Poor self-talk and a loose mind will wreak havoc. As the Chinese proverb says, “Control your emotion or it will control you.”
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Bad thinking might not bite you right now, but it will eventually have its consequences. Positive thinking is the same; think good thoughts and eventually you’ll attract the right sort of things, the things that are good that you want.
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Don’t worry. Don’t fret. It only leads to negative consequences. It proves that you’re not living in the moment. You see, living in the present moment means you cannot worry effectively.
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© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Acknowledgement to Justin Langer’s, Seeing the Sunrise book; Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2008.

Life Meaningless?

The Teacher of the Jewish Assembly, Qoheleth, used to say "Life is meaningless, utterly meaningless!" One of the wisest sages ever, he found the meaning of life through much despairing. With access to all of what life could offer materially speaking, he was certainly qualified to advise. We don't have access to such riches, but we do have his legacy to learn from and apply.

Strolling down a shopping mall recently I heard a group of three buskers playing and singing. As I approached and passed these musicians I heard one of them say to the others, "Not a very receptive bunch today, are they?" I got to thinking. It's a pretty thankless sort of job, busking. You could add this to say, telemarketing. There are many jobs which are thankless, dire, and unsatisfactory.

'Life's not fair, is it?' The opening line in The Lion King is so true. We have these inbuilt dreams - we are born to dream of the things we want, yet how many of us achieve it? We tend to gravitate toward goals that are largely unattainable. And even if we do achieve the lofty goal, it doesn't seem worth it most of the time.

Wisdom is no stroll in the park. It's about accepting the pain of reality. "With much wisdom comes much sorrow," Qoheleth tells us. You can build things and you can count things; you can achieve everything under the sun, and it still won't get you anywhere. You still have life to live. Living is such a paradox; not many really want to die but life is drudgery, plain and simple. You can work and love your work but work won't make you happy. Nothing can make you happy in the long term. You still have to come back to the truth that we're not supposed to be easily pleased. That's life.

Is Work Good or Bad?

We tend to always vacillate between laziness and exhaustion in life. We either want to 'kick back' or take on the world. We get a kick up the behind, or we get burned out! There's no happy, middle ground where we'd be happy simply working and resting and playing appropriately. Qoheleth puts it succinctly: "The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind."[1] One handful is patience enough not to be too greedy. It's prepared to wait cheerfully. This person has an attitude of not needing to work as a way of feeling good or competing with someone else. With the attitude of competition, there's envy or ambition that drives the "diligence" of this 'two-handed' work. The Greek word zlos or zealous is used, meaning strong affection or to aspire eagerly after, and this indicates motives to work are far from pure. We need to decide to work free of other reasons. It is simply good, and it's a "gift of God," to work.[2] It is clear that we're to rejoice in our work, that it's our "lot" and our "portion." It's a secret to happiness.[3]

Is Life Really Vanity, Folly and Meaninglessness?

Many things in life simply are a waste of time. They might seem satisfying but the satisfaction is fleeting. Most of life could be described this way. It is an irony of life that the satisfaction that lasts is from nothing we can see. Spirituality is the only way to real and lasting satisfaction. Nothing materially will keep us happy for long. It's the love we feel for a family member that we can't see and can only feel that is eternal. So, most of life is vanity, folly, and ultimately meaningless.

The Septuagint[4] has the word mataiots meaning vanity or folly.[5] The Hebrew equivalent term used is hebel which means, vanity, emptiness, something transitory, and ultimately unsatisfactory. It means 'religious error' and is ethically inferior. It is ultimately foolishness to engage in vanity, whatever it might be. This theme "is on the constant horizon of Qoheleth's thought."[6]

There are various meanings for this word in various contexts throughout Ecclesiastes. For example, there is a specific example of it meaning "senselessness."[7] Paul uses the word mataiots and it is translated also as "frustration" in the NIV and TNIV.[8] So, whatever is meaningless is also frustrating - it's to be diligently avoided. It's a trap.

Wisdom is more powerful and influential than riches. Quiet words of wisdom are to be heeded in preference to the "shouts of a ruler of fools,"[9] but such a small pinch of folly will spoil what potential brilliance wisdom can create. It contaminates the situation making it useless.

Advancement in Life

There's no point in (career) advancement for advancement's sake. It only makes sense if it is part of your calling, part of your passion. How many rich and famous people have spent their entire lives striving for "the dream life" only to find out too late, they missed the point entirely? You could look at the numerous that go off the rails and either lose everything, become mentally ill, or have familial turmoil. What did they get for their goals? - Discontent and pain.

The truth is "time and chance"[10] and things of luck are available to all whether good or bad, wise or foolish, learned or ignorant, strong or weak, rich or poor. We can be trapped where we are at any time, no matter who we are or what we've done, so it's always good to expect the unexpected.

It's also important to know the same fate waits for us all - we all die, whether we've lived wisely or foolishly.[11] Does this mean we have a resignation for 'the way things are' and live a sort of hopelessness that doesn't seek for advancement, at least as far as learning wisdom goes? No, we should advance our learning, but it needs to be motivated by other things than purely advancement. There are a myriad of potential reasons to desire the learning of wisdom, like being equipped to avoid trouble, having healthy relationships, and keeping to a generally straight path, to say nothing of a healthy and inspirational legacy the wise person can leave behind after their death. How are we to be remembered in life? What did our lives stand for? As the Proverbs indicate, "The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot."[12] We could view this as a legacy to encourage us toward wisdom; true advancement.

Speaking the Truth

It's important to speak the truth as it maintains peace. If you make a promise, keep it, Qoheleth says. None of us realise how much in awe of God we really should be. What we say and do we'll have to answer for; every loose and lying word. Taking the good with the bad and being able to thank God for both is a key to reality living. Good things happen to us and so do bad things. Why should we then curse the bad?

Moreover, why get concerned when others say things about us? We know that we too have cursed others. It's rarely personal. It's not done to mortally wound; just simply a fact of life that our hearts are crooked and depraved and seek for "juicy" words to feed upon, both in speaking and listening. The challenge is to allow ourselves to be taught not to speak of others (or hear of others) in a defaming sort of way, and importantly to not practice the thinking that leads to vitriolic speech. We know how it feels to be hurt by others so why would we allow ourselves to continue doing it unchallenged? What goes around comes around. What we give has a funny way of returning to us.

We need to be painstakingly careful not to transgress people within our minds. As the passage says, "Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say."[13] How often do we say things aloud, in the privacy of our own homes and yet the neighbour knows only too well "how" we live, and what we stand for. We can compare this with what we know (or think) of regarding our own neighbours. There's not that much privacy in life.

People often fall for the trap of cursing today thinking yesterday were so much better. Those on the search for wisdom don't ask such perilous and simultaneously redundant questions. What difference do such assertions make? It doesn't benefit anyone speaking such non-truth when what lies beneath is simply anger or frustration over present challenges. It would be better to deal with the issue at hand, and not waste one's breath and energy. It is perhaps best to revert to Ecclesiastes directly: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider that God has made the one side by side with the other, so that man may not find out anything that shall be after him."[14] It's not for us to wonder about things that are none of our business. Why would we want to go down the path of misery voluntarily? It might not seem to be the likely outcome, but it invariably is! Those who complain hurt themselves.

Temperament, Worry and Health

How do you handle a tenuous situation? Thomas Jefferson would say to "remain cool and unruffled" no matter the circumstances.[15] This is where resilience and standing reliably firm is so important. Ecclesiastes tells us clearly that the anxiety of worry is again, meaningless. It brings in with it Jesus' teaching[16] about not worrying about tomorrow; that today has enough for us to be occupied with.

In the particular context of youth, it is amazing how many people spend their 'hard earned' on cosmetics to make them age supposedly more gracefully. God must wonder, "They lose their health to make money... and then lose their money to restore their health."[17] It's folly.

We know these days the effect anxiety has on our physical health, not to mention the concerns we might have about physical ailments and our diminishing ability to 'keep up' with younger ones as we grow older. We're counselled to disregard this form of worry.

Anxiety, worry and fear can make us do funny things. We act impulsively, send that email or act in the mood of the moment with little regard for the actual consequences. It's especially an issue for email as we can send them 'broadcast' and only later wish we'd 'recalled' it sooner! I heard of a manager who did this recently - he sent an end of year email congratulating his staff on their efforts, yet made some inflammatory comments about the company's management practices and he was soon 'clearing his office.'

Psalm 37 is quite targeted in highlighting the effects of worry, when the unrighteous get their way and as a result we become envious. Verse 8 in particular is pointed saying in effect: don't fret; it leads only to evil and wrongdoing. In other words, you can only harm yourself, others, and ultimately the situation if you worry, fret, and stress. We need to constantly reflect on this so it can take root in our lives. Any time we 'panic' over everyday life situations we blow our chance at giving our best. No matter what happens we must strive to remain under control and not fret. Worry, fretting, and stress consume excess energy.

Fear of the LORD

This concept is put forth as the major goal of life in Ecclesiastes; to fear God and keep his commandments.[18] In this way it follows other key Hebrew (and Christian) Scripture to a tee. Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, and Job suggest that to fear God is the basis of not only wisdom, but life.[19] It is this paradox that comes to the fore: fear God and we need fear nothing else. Do the right and fair and just thing, and we stay on a 'straight path' toward eternal living, that is both now, and also in the life to come.

This life of fearing God is nothing about drudgery; it is not burdensome; it is freedom to drink from the 'fountain of life,' which is to experience everything under the sun, within the reasonable bounds God has provided. It is only those with open eyes, ears, and ultimately an open heart who can receive such a message. God wants us to fear him for our own God, not his. We ignore this instruction to our peril. "Life, whether it be play or work, is subject to current and final reviews by God."[20]

For Love or Money

If you amass riches someone else will get it once you're dead and they'll probably squander it. It may be pessimistic but it's true. Naked we come, naked we go. Whoever loves their money will never have enough - and this is insanity. Why would you go after riches when there is "dis-ease" there? One can have only so many "toys." The more you have the more you can tend to worry about. 'Is my such-and-such safe... are my so-forth's alright?' It can create worry, anxiety, stress, and anger when your property is violated. It complicates life. If you're wise you won't fall for such folly. Wisdom is a far better goal than money. Both are a "shelter" but only wisdom "preserves the life of its possessor."[21]

This is what Dionysius the Great said of the possession of wisdom:

"Being minded, therefore, to show what kinds of possessions remain with the possessor, and continue steadily and maintain themselves for him, he adds: 'Also my wisdom remained with me.' For this alone remains, and all these other things, which he has already reckoned up, flee away and depart. Wisdom, therefore, remained with me, and I remained in virtue of it."[22]

This section juxtaposes the benefits of wisdom in warding off folly and madness, that this heavenly wisdom is truly a gift of God. And it's available to all. After all, does not Wisdom cry out aloud for all to hear?[23] Yet how many do not answer? Ignorance begets a tendency toward mental instability. We know that a lack of love can cause mental illness, so why would not a lack of wisdom also set up the 'ecosystem' where folly and madness might germinate and thrive?[24]

We're told in wisdom literature that consistency is the key. As my mother used to say, "You can't have your cake and eat it too." We can't chop and change regarding righteousness and worldliness and expect only "good" results.

A Time and A Way to Do Everything

It is of real comfort to us to know that there is a proper time and a proper way to do all things - there is a solution to every situation and problem. When we're requested to do something by a "kingly" figure we should comply with the request willingly and have the faith to know 'there is a way.' For our buskers from the beginning of the article there is a way to receive the support they required; perhaps it was just the wrong day they played or perhaps it was the wrong choice of location to play?

Given that there is a "right" way and time in every situation perhaps it's about choosing our attitude, in the moment. This is Emotional Intelligence (EI). The moment we're able to 'deduce' the exact emotional and mental response to an interpersonal or intrapersonal situation is the instant we demonstrate EI competence. This is the ability to reflect in-the-moment to change our approach or response as we do it, and not afterwards when the mistake has already been made. When we are EI competent there are less 'sorry's' because we adjusted prior to hurting someone. It is only through the use of EI competence and strategies that we can truly, consistently, and respectfully serve our fellows. For times when we are confused or don't know the right response, we need to learn how to delay, cope with, and/or shift focus and emphasis.

Wisdom's and Life's Ironies

More is often less and less is often more in this life, as the paradoxes and ironies perplex even the wisest of human beings. Our appetites can never be satisfied. Our desires need to be disciplined or they get us into trouble.

Life is short, fleeting in fact. We think we're here for ever. It's an illusion, time. Be careful, it's going quicker than you think, and a terrific irony is we wish it were over at times. How we'd rue that if it came to pass (our death) in that moment. Be grateful.

It's better and safer to find yourself in the house of mourning than that of laughter or feasting. It's better to be told off than be lied to about 'how good you are.' Wisdom living is not about personal comfort; it's about truth and reality. It's always better to finish strongly than to start well and then end poorly. We should consider wisdom an inheritance. We need to supply it to our loved ones and charge them with doing the same, carrying the message through the ages.

Nothing is New

Besides new technology, nothing is new; we only re-badge what's already been discovered. We may think we're creating something unique but it's all been done before, only in a different way with different people, in a different environment. There's nothing wrong with re-badging. We just shouldn't get too caught up in anything we're doing - it's not "ours." It's someone else's and always has been, and always will be. Don't hold on to things, ideas, concepts, visions. The treat is knowing something personally - that he (God) shared it with you in such an intimate way.

The ultimate thing that is not new is "vanity." This is to say "no single part of God's good world can unlock the meaning to life. Life, in and of itself, is unable to supply the key to the questions of identity, meaning, purpose, value, enjoyment, and destiny. Only in coming to know God can one begin to find answers to these questions."[25] [Italics added for emphasis.]

Wisdom and Foolishness

Patience is superior to pride, and a tranquil spirit is for the wise. The trouble with anger is dissipation. We lose our cool and then have a heap of residual feelings and effects to deal with. The release of this type of energy is never controlled; it's never perfect. There's always fall-out.

There's a process involved in the development of foolishness. "Wickedness is folly and ... foolishness is madness."[26] It's a downward spiral toward relative insanity. The corrective is penitence; a turning from the wicked way. To discover that our hearts are the basis of the problem is freedom. At least from this viewpoint we can prevent "becoming the fool" with an act of courage to turn from the sin, provided we're at aware of this tendency toward iniquity.

One such inherent folly is to be seduced sexually. The Scriptures always discuss the young man being 'ensnared' by the adulteress, but there are cultural relevancies for both genders. I can only imagine what it is like for a more carnal man; we're all challenged by sexual appetites and desires, be they mere physical attraction or more. The wisdom approach is to run very fast the other way; it is active avoidance of any questionable contact with someone who might lead us astray. We are to maintain a straight path with God.

Righteousness is rare, perhaps one in one thousand, as the writer contends, and it is clear that we all have gone in search of many (devious) schemes. Jesus followed this sentiment in saying, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."[27] The irony is it's only when we admit this that we're open to receiving help. We disregard it to our peril. Too many "good" people think they're beyond this simple fact in their own experience. The truth is we are never beyond this; not one of us.

Furthermore, those who're engaged in sin will be trapped "in" it and those who 'lord it over' others inevitably also hurt themselves.[28] Think of any action we might take to defend ourselves or go after another for an offense committed against us. The moment we even conceive a response in the violence of anger, is the moment the brain releases chemicals into our bloodstream that are not good, especially if that is the predominant response in us. In other words, we hurt our own health when we react in anger.

To illustrate, say we're on the roadway and someone cuts us off unintentionally; it's an honest mistake. For some reason we're suddenly ropable and furious within. We've had a long, arduous day and not much has gone right, and now this 'buffoon' has shown the height of incompetence! Suddenly, we're after them. The moment we left a state of psychological homeostasis is the moment of birth of perhaps a physical action based in the violence of anger. There is such a quick, momentary transition from feeling, to thought, to action. A millisecond elapses. Thought inevitably leads to action. There is wisdom in delaying this foolish thinking, and ultimately it's wise to train ourselves away from these quick responses.

Diligence

We could be forgiven for thinking the life message according to Qoheleth is to 'eat and drink and make your soul enjoy good of its labor, for it is a gift of God.' It is after all, the refrain that's repeated no less than six times.[29] A simple message perhaps, but one that carries quite a punch; simply work and rest, and enjoy both!

To cast our bread upon the waters is to 'have a go' at life, and not be a spectator.[30] If we bow out too often in life, we'll risk missing out altogether. Bowing out is an action driven by fear. When the time has come for a thing to happen, it will happen and there is nothing that can be done other than simply prepare for it - preparation is diligence. "Luck is where opportunity meets preparation," as Denzel Washington said. Because of the uncertainty of life, we should be doubly motivated in our preparedness. Not knowing is no excuse, and throwing our hands in the air in resignation is never going to be helpful. We can't hope to know everything, and a humble acceptance that life will be as it is, is the best plan. "Be prepared," as Baden-Powell would say.

Conclusion

Throughout this text of Ecclesiastes there is at times thought that goes from one side or one extreme to the other. For instance, the day of death is said to be better than the day of birth, yet "anyone who is among the living has hope-even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!"[31] Both conditions of thought are relevant and both apply. This is a fundamental perplexion of life. Both fit, albeit situationally. God favours the living it is said. It couldn't be any better said than this then, could it?

"Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun-all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom."[32]

The last sentence tells us that there is no choice where we're going. Life is finished. We best do what we wish, for ourselves and others, while we can; work, plan, acquire knowledge and wisdom, and do it now.

Perhaps another outcome to seek after is to be grateful. This person "seldom reflects on the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart."[33] Normally we think of reflection as a good, positive activity. But we are apt to reflect on what we don't have, and what is missing in our lives so much more. To be cheerfully happy and content in the moment must be the chief goal of life.

Wisdom is a breath of fresh air bringing light to the face and gait to the step. We are freer, and ultimately more able, more responsive, and more willing to serve, and we get even more life from it, which again leads to more growth and opportunities at wisdom. It's an upward spiral. It is tremendously freeing that we can gain so much wisdom, and yet know we still can't know everything. We can know many things, but there are fewer things that we can truly comprehend.[34] This is good, because it releases us from perfection.

Ecclesiastes has its share of hyperbole, but it makes eternally salient points at every turn. It's not a good idea to dream too much. It's always a better idea to not want too much. It's better by far to stay in reality. We must surely know the end of these things - we will be judged. It is a special thing to know this and yet not be hindered by it. We are free, yet judgment will come. Accept it and move on.

It all ends as it starts and starts as it ends - that's life. Is life meaningless? Yes, of course it is. And this is precisely why God is so important. For without God life is truly meaningless; with him however, life is abundant, rich, and flowing with grace. Of all the people who insist on a 'claim to know God' but in reality never quite draw on the reality of his truth, Ecclesiastes is the enduring message. "The need is as great for many believers who are held in cultural captivity as it is for unbelievers, who likewise swim in the eddies [currents or whirlpools] of our day and pursue pagan solutions to the questions of life and truth."[35] God is the secret to life.

Perhaps there is an irony regarding our buskers we started with in the beginning of this essay. Are they perhaps the happiest of the lot? Is this the life?

© Copyright 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

ENDNOTES:
[1] Ecclesiastes 4:5-6.
[2] See Ecclesiastes 3:13. It's to "see good in [their] labour" which uses the Greek word mochthos, meaning wearisome labour, toil, travail. This is a "gift (Gk) doma of God".
[3] See Ecclesiastes 3:22. The second word (and context for) work, in its actual setting is: "to rejoice" (Gk) euphranthsetai "in work" is (Gk) poima.
[4] The Septuagint is the Greek version of the Old Testament Scriptures; it's a great accompaniment to the Hebrew Scriptures (Masoretic Text) as it is quite different in a number of areas.
[5] See for instance, Ecclesiastes 2:23 for the use of this term.
[6] Roland E. Murphy, Ecclesiastes: Word Biblical Commentary - 23B, eds. D.A. Hubbard, G.W. Baker, and J.D.W. Watts, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), p. 117.
[7] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Ecclesiastes: Total Life, (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1979), p. 48.
[8] See Romans 8:20. "For the creation was subjected to frustration." In other translations, for instance, it is "futility" (NASB and NKJV) and "God's curse" in the NLT.
[9] Ecclesiastes 9:17-18 (NIV).
[10] See Ecclesiastes 9:11-12f.
[11] Ecclesiastes 2:15-16.
[12] Proverbs 10:7 (TNIV), observation from Dionysius the Great. See footnote in reference to Ecclesiastes 2:9b.
[13] Ecclesiastes 10:20 (NIV).
[14] Ecclesiastes 7:14 (Amplified).
[15] The full quote is, "Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances." Refer to Ecclesiastes 10:4.
[16] See Matthew 6:25-34 which also reminds us of Ecclesiastes 11:10. Both speak encourage an acceptance of things beyond our control.
[17] Westerman, M., The Interview With God, (La Jolla: Get Inspired Now! Inc., 2003), pp. 11-12.
[18] See Ecclesiastes 12:13b.
[19] See Deuteronomy 4:10, 5:29 etc as indicated in Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Ibid., p. 33-4; see also Job 28:28 ('The fear of the Lord-that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'); dozens of Psalms including 34:11 (Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD); and, see also Proverbs 1:7; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:2, 16, 26, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 24:21; 28:14; 31:30, with 29:25 also showing what the opposite does i.e. fear of humankind proves to be a snare.
[20] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Ibid., p. 39.
[21] Ecclesiastes 7:12 (NIV).
[22] In reference to Ecclesiastes 2:9b see ANF06. Fathers of the Third Century: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Julius Africanus, Anatolius, and Minor Writers, Methodius, Arn. Available online at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf06.iv.iv.i.ii.html
[23] See Proverbs 8:1-11 for Wisdom's appeal to the simple and foolish alike.
[24] See Ecclesiastes 2:12 (TNIV).
[25] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Ibid., p. 17.
[26] Ecclesiastes 7:25b (NIV).
[27] John 3:19 (NIV).
[28] See for instance Ecclesiastes 8:8b.
[29] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Ibid., p. 17.
[30] Refer to Ecclesiastes 11:1-6.
[31] Ecclesiastes 9:4 (NIV).
[32] Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (NIV).
[33] Ecclesiastes 5:20 (TNIV).
[34] Ecclesiastes 8:16-17.
[35] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Ibid., p. 9.