Tag Archives: decision making

Do You Ever Wonder Why We Had to Study History?

History. Why bother with it? Is it merely to delight in and be inspired by true-to-life stories or be disgusted by past practices and ideas? Studying history for amusement is fine. But can or should it be more?

Do You Ever Wonder Why We Had to Study History?

Into my third decade as a lay historian, I am much better able to contextualize my life. Along with my values, when making a decision history gives me insight into the possible outcome of my choice.

Viewed in this way, learning about momentous events turns out to be less important. But understanding people and the way they lived their day-to-day lives becomes a valuable tool for self-improvement. An excellent resource is ABC-Clio/Greenwood’s series of books that examine daily life in many countries and time periods.

One of my goals with these posts is to discuss historic events or aspects of life and relate them to contemporary life. Knowing from where we came can only improve our choices of where we want to go.

Question – In what areas of your life would you like to know if history has some guidance?

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Here’s a Sure Path for Handling Life’s Setbacks

Are you struggling through life? Have you lost your job? Are going through a divorce? Is a highly significant person no longer in your life? What do you do?Here’s a Sure Path for Handling Life’s Setbacks

Even the most motivated, positive person faces reversals in life. As I approach one year since the death of my beloved dog, Jiggers, the answer to the question “what do you do” has become personal. In my work as a chaplain I see people take three approaches:

  1. Stay in the state of pain. Unfortunately for some people, the pain of loss is preferable to the thought or fear that without it they will feel nothing at all. As a result, they nurture their heartache. They live the Ray Charles song If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck, I Wouldn’t Have No Luck at All. Inevitably what began as just a belief becomes a reality from which they cannot escape.
  2. Ignore the pain. People who are busy and motivated often choose this route. Typically justified by a lack of time or pressing commitments they put their distress in a box, emotionally lock it, and throw away the key. Sometimes they use unhealthy behavior to proactively anesthetize potential pain. Often this method will work for a while. But it also has a tendency to ambush people when they are struck with another emotionally distressing event. Then the cumulative anguish becomes overwhelming and is even more difficult to work through.
  3. Embrace the pain and work to move on. People most successful at resolving setbacks and grief are those who initially and intentionally accept heartbreak. They work to experience the relevant emotions that often accompany such events. One model, described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, is: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. By intentionally immersing in physical, mental, and spiritual grief these people typically emerge from upheaval more resilient in all three areas of their lives.

The process I describe in number 3 is not linear. It begins with planning time periods to grieve over your misfortune, letting your emotions freely flow out. During this time you may experience some or all of the emotional states in no discernible order. A week of such intentional sessions may be enough.

When you begin to feel emotionally spent you are probably ready to proceed with making a plan for moving beyond the incident. As your grief abates ask: what lessons have I learned? How will my life direction change? Which goals need to be altered or discarded? Create a new or revised life plan. Initially take small steps toward fulfilling it.

This process will not have a predictable ending time. However, it will substantially reduce the chances you will be caught unaware or unprepared to handle the aftermath of a loss or setback. As well, it can prevent the numbness that may lead to the permanent acceptance of pain as a way of life.

Just like you need to be intentional about planning for success, so too you need to build a backstop against the inevitable misfortunes and reversals in life. Understanding and practicing the process I have outlined on smaller hurdles will prepare you for greater challenges.

Question – What is your process for working through life’s ordeals?

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But Will It Enhance Our Lives?

Let’s play word association. If I say “new” what word do you think of? Did you say improved? Madison Avenue hopes so. But is it right? Are new and improved inseparable?

But Will It Enhance Our Lives?

About a year ago The Wall Street Journal reported “It's Alive! Vinyl Makes a Comeback.” Many musicians and audiophiles acknowledge the superior sound quality of records. Digital recording allows endless copying without incremental deterioration, but it does not capture the excellence of the original. Compact discs and MP3s were a quantitative improvement, less costly to produce and taking up less storage space, but a qualitative retrogression.

Many people feel Blu-rays are a qualitative improvement with more vivid images and better sound. However, they cost more than DVDs.

The paradigm is New Coke. It tasted worse than original Coke yet cost the same.

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Americans have long been captivated by what is new. A rallying cry of the 1960s was not to trust anyone over 30. Now that many of us are beyond this age do we still think it is good to discard those who have had the chance to gain wisdom? Social media gurus exhort us to throw out the old and embrace change, typically with at best a superficial analysis of the benefits and no thought to the unintended consequences.

New is not always improved. As noted above, negative aspects often counterbalance positive ones. Perhaps it is time to end the equivalency of new with improved and acknowledge such changes for what they are: different. Examined from this viewpoint we are more likely to make an objective decision about whether the change will improve our lives.

Question – Can you think of something that improved our lives qualitatively and quantitatively?

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How to Judge People by Standards

Standards. Are they permanent or variable? Are some the former and others the latter? How should people be held accountable to them? These are not idle philosophical questions. They get to the root of how we view the past and interact in the present.

How to Judge People by Standards


Recently I finished reading several Charlie Chan novels. One of the most famous characters in detective fiction, when I saw the book on sale for $1 I realized I had never read any of the stories or seen the movies. While reading them I kept swinging back and forth between thinking the author, Earl Derr Biggers, was quite enlightened in his attitude toward the Chinese or a racist.

Researching his life, I found that Mr. Biggers was disgusted by the bigotry toward the Chinese in California during the early decades of the 20th century. While vacationing in Hawaii, he decided to write about a Chinese professional, loosely based on a police officer he met there. In the novels, Charlie Chan takes umbrage at overtly racist attitudes by other characters. He bristles at the less obvious ones. Yet at times Mr. Biggers accords to Detective Chan what today can only be characterized as grossly stereotypical behavior.

How do we judge Mr. Biggers and his work? By the standard of his day, Mr. Biggers’s portrayal of a Chinese man was enlightened. It countered the common image of the evil, conniving Chinaman. Yet by our standards, Charlie Chan appears one-dimensional, clichéd. Is it just to hold Mr. Biggers and his writing to a standard that he knew nothing about? Should his laurels be revoked because in today’s world he would not merit such praise? Or can we justify applauding him for his enlightened views on race, perhaps not even footnoting the change in societal standards?

I maintain people should be judged in the context of their own time. Stipulations based on a change of standards should the exception.

In contemporary times the issue is more complex. First, I distinguish between a settled societal standard and a popularly espoused view. Few people would assert that randomly shooting someone to death is acceptable. But what constitutes murder is open to any number of opinions. Next, I decide which viewpoints, though I disagree, fall within an acceptable range. This is tricky since the tendency is to conclude that those who disagree with me fall outside my range. I am challenged to stretch in the interest of civility while not abandoning standards.

Question – How do you decide the standard to which you will hold someone?

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What to Do When Demands of Others Overwhelm You

The holidays are upon us, a time for focusing on others. As the demands increase do you feel resentful, often followed by a sense of guilt? Perhaps it is time to examine selflessness versus selfishness.

What to Do When Demands of Others Overwhelm You

Selflessness Leads to Selfishness

When I was deployed last year one of the most frequent reasons sailors came to see me was they were burnt out.

Maintaining and flying jets and helicopters took at least twelve hours a day. Then they had other military duties like keeping up with new information in their area of expertise and drilling at their damage control station in case the ship was attacked. Demands from friends and family back home often took several hours a day in emails and Facebooking. Throw in laundry and meals and the time usually added up to at over 20 hours, leaving just a few hours for sleep and personal hygiene. Is it any wonder they were at their rope’s end?

I asked them this question: What are you doing to take care of yourself? Almost always I got a blank stare in response.

While it is laudable that they wanted to help relieve their loved ones’ burdens, how effective could they be when they were exhausted and under pressure for the inevitable subpar work performance resulting from too little rest and exercise? For some reason, they could not see the middle ground between being selfish and selfless.

How to Take Care of Yourself

The reality is you cannot serve other people over the long term if you do not take care of yourself. How do you find balance? The Three Pillars of Fitness ™ can be your guide.

Spiritual Fitness:

  1. Do you have a relationship with a higher power? I am not pushing my faith on you, but much of my strength comes from regularly connecting with G-d.
  2. Are you clear about your values? If so, this should help you prioritize whom and how much you can help. Hopefully, you do not value impoverishing yourself to help others.
  3. What is your mission and purpose in life? Is it sustainable?

Mental Fitness:

  1. What is the quality of your relationships with friends and family? Are they mutually supportive rather than continually one-sided?
  2. In what intellectual pursuits and hobbies are you involved? If the answer is none, how do you rejuvenate yourself?
  3. How do you serve your community? Here is an opportunity to be selfless.

Physical Fitness:

  1. Are you getting enough sleep and exercise and are you eating properly?
  2. Are your finances under control? If not, why are you giving money to someone else?
  3. How do you indulge your senses? Here is another source of rejuvenation.

Self-Care Must Precede Helping Others

If you are committed to helping a friend but by doing so you are endangering your professional standing are you really helping anyone? It is not selfish to say no to a friend in order to sustain good job performance. Neither is it uncaring to insist a friend find an additional source of help so that you can get enough sleep and attend to other personal needs.

Note that service to others is only part of overall fitness. When it consumes you, your life is out of balance and eventually you will lose your ability to be helpful.

Question – How do you strike a balance between being selfless and selfish? Please respond below.


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