Thursday, February 9, 2012

Some things I have learned



[Ed. Note - I'm taking a break from my usual format this week to list some things that have been on my mind lately, not necessarily related to waiting tables. Things I've been told, things I've been shown, things I've just been lucky enough to learn; just wanted to pass them along]


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Do not say anything behind someone's back you would not say to their face. Along the same lines, do not do anything in secret that you would be embarrassed or shamed should you be found out. Life is much, much simpler this way.


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Be a man (or woman) of your word. Good intentions are meaningless without action behind them. If you doubt whether you have the time, energy, or means to follow through on a commitment, say so.


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Do not pretend to be someone you are not to be accepted by another. Even if you are successful, the person they have accepted isn't actually you, and you will end up feeling even less fulfilled and loved than before.


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Do not loan out a CD, DVD or a book if you ever intend on seeing it again. If you truly want to share a piece of art you love with someone, buy a used copy and give it to them as a present.


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By the same token, when someone wants to share a piece of art with you that is important to them or that they think you'll like, what they are really sharing with you is a piece of themselves. Take the time to honor that.


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Be skeptical, but not closed minded. Be open to the possibility that you may not have it all figured out. At the end of the day, a fundamentalist Atheist can be just as intolerant and presumptive as a the most ardent Westboro Baptist. Remember this quote from Herbert Spencer:
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”


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Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don't be mean when you say it.


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Every day we take for granted things that our ancestors would have considered miraculous. Forget smart phones, forget modern medicine, forget air travel, forget the Internet... If you are reading this, very likely you have hot water. Whenever you want. You have clean, drinkable water. Whenever you want. Your great-great-grandparents would have been blown away by that.


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When you say things like “I'd really like to do this or that,” or “I really should do that,” that thing, whatever it is (changing your diet, planning a trip, writing that novel, going out more, whatever) will most likely never, ever happen. Make a decision. When exactly are you going to do it? What exactly does that look like? What would you have to change in what you are doing right now to make sure that more important thing gets done? Unless you are very specific about how and when you are going to actually do those things you'll never live the life you want to live.


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If not now, when?


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Do not fear making mistakes, just make sure to learn from them when they (inevitably) happen. Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment.


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“If you do not like something, change it. If you can not change it, change your attitude. Do not complain.”
Maya Angelou 


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Scientists now believe that everything we consider to be the “observable” Universe (up to and including quarks and all the fun, crazy quantum stuff) is, in actuality, only about 4.6% of the actual Universe. The rest is made up of Dark Matter (23%) and Dark Energy (72%). What exactly is Dark Matter and Dark Energy? They're not really sure. I find this helpful to remember.


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The way to show appreciation for a gift is to use it. This applies just as much to whatever talents and passions your Creator has blessed you with. This applies to Life itself.


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When writing an important email, be it business or personal, save your draft, walk away from your computer to do something else, and come back to it 20 minutes later to review it before sending.


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What you consider “normal” is entirely shaped by how and where (and when) you were raised. If you were born in a small town in Kentucky, odds are very good you would be a conservative Christian. If you were born to a liberal humanist family in Chicago, odds are very good you would be a liberal humanist. If you were born in Tehran, odds are very good you would be a Muslim. The next time you find yourself in opposition with someone, try to ask yourself “If I were born to their family and raised how they were raised, what would I believe?” Most of what separates you from someone else is only a small combination of genetics and environment.


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No one wants to hear your excuses. What is impressive is the person who can admit they made a mistake, accept responsibility for it, and do what is necessary to make sure it doesn't happen again.


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Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
- Rumi


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If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always got.


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Worry is not just useless, it is legitimately harmful. All that energy spent worrying only serves to eat away at you from the inside and take energy away from acting in the present. Think of all the things you've ever worried about that never came to pass. Now think of those few things that did come to pass and how even those failed to undo you.


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Enjoy all the richness that life has to offer, but don't try to hold on to that which you cannot keep (which is to say, everything). Strive to savor, not to dwell.


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Spirituality without practicality is empty. If you can not be just as much at peace in a traffic jam as you are in a meadow, what is it really worth?


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Life is very much about perspective: in the immediacy of the moment, every setback or conflict becomes a catastrophe. In the span of eons, everything becomes meaningless. A good measuring stick seems to be one human lifespan. When judged against that, what is truly meaningful becomes clear and what is inconsequential falls away.


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The overwhelming majority of drama is, in actuality, self-created and self-sustained.


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The next time you start complaining about what a “shitty” day you had, try to keep in mind that your life as a Westerner is better, safer, and more affluent than about 99% of the people in the world. The next time you feel the need to append “FML” to a Facebook comment you are typing on your iPad, try to imagine switching places with the Chinese factory worker who built your iPad.


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If you have trouble getting places on time, start getting ready about 20 to 30 minutes before you think you actually have to. If you are a woman, 40 minutes to an hour.


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The pursuit of pleasure and the pursuit of happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is a byproduct of living the right kind of life.


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Treat yourself with the same compassion you would a loved one or a dear friend.


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Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”
- Max Ehrmann


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Despite much evidence to the contrary, people can and do change for the better. What it takes is an acknowledgment and acceptance that the way one has been doing things isn't working, a willingness to try to do things differently, and a commitment to accept the cost of following through and to do so no matter what.


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Forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not the other person.


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A negative world view is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dare to be positive, and see what happens.


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Above all, try not to take yourself so seriously. No one else does.



Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Parable: The Serpent and the Server


There was once a young handmaiden who went down to the river to wash her clothes, where she found a poisonous snake drowning. “Please,” begged the snake, “please save me, I can not swim.”
Do you think me stupid?” the maiden replied. “If I take you out of the water, you will be sure to bite me.”
No,” the snake pleaded, “You have my word I will not. Please, I beg of you, save me and I promise I will not bite you.”
The handmaiden relented and lifted the snake up out onto the banks of the river. After a few minutes, when the snake had recovered his breath, he promptly bit the handmaiden on the ankle and started to slither away.
You said you would not bite me!” gasped the handmaiden, as she lay dying.
I am a snake,” he replied. “What did you think I was going to do?”

There was once a young server who was waiting on a couple out for a date at the beginning of the dinner rush. The meal went splendidly and the couple thanked the server profusely for his wonderful service, and promised that when they returned they would ask for him again. The couple lingered over coffee and desert and the server thought nothing of it. However, the couple continued to linger long after the last cup of coffee had been drunk. As the server approached to refill their coffee once more, the guests replied that they knew they were overstaying their welcome, but that the server would be taken care of. And so the night passed; table after table was turned during the dinner rush, and still they remained. They stayed throughout the night, and were one of the very last tables in the restaurant to leave. As the server looked over his meager sales receipts, reduced severely by the loss of the table, he went to retrieve the check presenter to see what had been left him: it was $16 on $75. The server, emboldened, ran to catch up with the departing guests and asked how they could be so clueless as to think that $16 made up for the lost table the entire night. The guests paused for a moment to think about the question and replied, “We are guests. What did you think we were going to do?”