Seizing the Initiative

Everything in this world conspires to put you on the defensive. At work, your superiors may want the glory for themselves and will discourage you from taking the imitative. People are constantly pushing and attacking you, keeping you in react mode. You are continually reminded of your limitations and what you cannot hope to accomplish. You are made to feel guilty for this and that. Such defensiveness on your part can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Before anything, you need to liberate yourself from this feeling. By acting boldly, before others are ready, by moving to seize the initiative, you create your own circumstances rather than simply waiting for what life brings you. Your initial push alters the situation, on your terms.

Robert Greene, 33 Strategies of War

The Advantage of Disadvantages

The big dream in our society is that if we work hard enough, we will eventually be able to experience a life without limitations or difficulties. It is also one of the biggest sources of friction in our society, creating disappointment, unnecessary suffering, and missed opportunities to live a full life. Some people spend their entire life waiting for that which will never, and can never, happen.

Limitations are not necessarily negative. In fact, I’m beginning to believe that they can give life definition, clarity and freedom. We are called to a freedom of and in limitations—not from. ...Unrestricted water is a swamp—because it lacks restriction, it also lacks depth.

The conclusion we arrive at all depends upon how we look at our limitations. Consider this late-night phone call I received one night. The voice on the other end inquired with great enthusiasm: “What does it mean for a horse to be handicapped!”

She hadn't identified herself, but I knew who it was. Leigh is a very special friend, and we’ve been through much together. She not only suffers from severe cerebral palsy, but has faced other, sometimes even more severe, difficulties- like losing her family at an age too young. Her feistiness and tenacity are not only her hallmarks, but are a contagious influence on us all.

I responded to her question, “Well, Leigh, I’m not exactly into horse racing, but as far as I understand they usually handicap the strongest horse by adding a little extra weight to make the race more fair."

"Yeah, I know!”

The she asked: “What does it mean if you handicap a golfer?”

Well, Leigh- again, I’m not really sure. But as far as I understand the rules, they handicap the best in order to make the game more exciting. The better the golfer, the larger his handicap.”

“Yeah, I know. And what does it mean when a bowler is handicapped?”

After we explored a number of sports, always reaching the same conclusion, there was a rather long pause. Then she said, with bold simplicity. “That’s it!”

That’s what, Leigh?” I replied, not understanding.

“That’s it! That’s why God gave me such a big handicap.. because I’m so special!”

It was one of the finest statement for tenacious dignity in spite of circumstance that I have ever heard.

Tim Hansel, You Gotta Keep Dancin

Necessity’s Effect on Creativity

Abundance makes us rich in dreams, for in dreams there are no limits. But it makes us poor in reality. It makes us soft and decadent, bored with what we have and in need of constant shocks to remind us that we are alive. In life you must be a warrior, and war requires realism.

While others may find beauty in endless dreams, warriors find it in reality, in awareness of limits, in making the most of what they have. They look for the perfect economy of motion and gesture – the way to give their blows the greatest force with the least expenditure of effort. Their awareness that their days are numbered – that they could die at any time- grounds them in reality.

There are things they can never do, talents they will never have, lofty goals they will never reach; that hardly bothers them. Warriors focus on what they do have, the strengths that they do possess and that they must use creatively. Knowing when to slow down, to renews, to retrench, to outlast their opponents. They play for the long term.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

when children ask why

Children not only need to hear our conclusions (Do this! Do that!) they need to know the thought process that got us to those conclusions (Here's why you should do this or that). They need context. If you only offer orders and rules, then we are not teaching, not serving them as parents. We are just pontificating.

It's hard work articulating why we believe what we believe. We may hesitate, out of fear, to tell our children the honest "whys." Perhaps if we share, they will discover our secret weaknesses or find flaws in our reasoning. But rather than hiding our imperfections, if we let them know we are fallible as they are, we share with them a common bond and a true honesty. Rather than just trying to pour truth into their heads, we can help them make the marvelous discovery that they have something to contribute to our lives as well. We are fellow struggles, learning how to live right in a confusing and challenging world.

Stephen Goforth

Get inside your box!

You probably know one of the "box people." Whenever they meet someone new, the box people try to identifying which box the person belongs inside. "What do you do?" That's the first question to determine a label. Once they know the "box" (based on class, politics, religious affiliation, etc) then they can related to the new person in the way appropriate to how they've learned to treat folks with that label.

Now, suppose they meet someone living outside the set of predetermined boxes? Well, then thefundamental box-people belief is challenged: Everyone belongs in one of the tidy little containers. This challenge will be met with greater and greater demands to "get inside a box! I don't approve of non-box-affiliated lifestyles."

Ever had that feeling? The feeling of being treated as a prepackaged echo of bias and unjust expectations.. rather than as a unique person?

Stephen Goforth