The Institute For Living

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Endless Potential

by on Mar.02, 2010, under Politics/Economics, Relationships

The other day, some friends introduced me to their newborn baby. The experience opened my eyes anew to the wonder of human growth and potential. Our futures are not set in stone.

A newborn baby certainly has encoded characteristics such as the physical aspects of race. The child’s genetics and prenatal experiences will influence personality and health. Nationality, family and birth order are already determined.

To a newborn baby, however, none of these characteristics has any meaning. Physical characteristics such as gender and eye color have no context in which to operate. Social connections and position do not yet exist to someone who cannot yet recognize a face. There is no wealth, no power and only the barest, early traces of personality in a newborn. Everything else is still raw, unshaped potential.

As we grow from infancy to adult, it is the interaction of genetics and circumstances that determines how our human potential develops. These interactions are all shaped and governed by people. At first, our families are the ones who influence and provide meaning to our lives. They provide for or fail to provide for our needs. They teach us what it means to be human, they distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and they provide us with a foundation on how to interact with other people. Over time, the family’s role in shaping us fades more into the background as the rest of society takes an increasing role. Teachers, religious institutions, the media and peers all contend with parents for influence in shaping our lives, until we ourselves as adolescents emerge as individuals and begin truly to make decisions for ourselves. It is this capacity to make one’s own decisions on values and behavior that separates adults from children, and it is how we make those decisions that reveals our character.

What we tend to forget, however, is that we are always still that newborn baby, consisting of nothing but potential. Yes, we have characteristics because of our pasts and our DNA, but those only have meaning if we give it to them. We always have the option to be reborn – to set aside the teachings and determinations provided by parents and culture, and to find new ways to interpret the circumstances of our lives. We do not have to be who others say we are; as adults, we have the power to make our own decisions. We do not have to follow the paths provided to us; we can go in new directions and can establish new paths for others to follow.

In more pragmatic terms, as adults, we have the power to look at the institutions and attitudes in our lives, and to either accept them, reject them, change them or replace them. In fact, if we live in a free and open society, we have the responsibility to examine these systems and to adjust them as necessary. As adults, we decide the values we hold, and we choose how to express those values in our businesses, our government, our religious practices and our arts. We do not have to mimic what we have inherited from our parents; we have the ability and power to build new ways of living that are more true to our chosen values. We are adults. We make our own decisions. We are born with endless potential, and that potential is still here. We can become whomever we want to be.

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Love and Its Opposite

by on Feb.09, 2010, under Core Values, Relationships, Spirituality

Many people think that the opposite of love is hatred, for hatred seeks to harm the one whom love would uplift. Others say that the opposite of love is indifference, for indifference ignores the other person altogether. While it is true that both hatred and indifference oppose love, they are each too small in scale to serve as love’s polar opposite. The true force that opposes love is self-centeredness.

It is self-centeredness that responds with hatred when another person hurts us or seems different from us. It is self-centeredness that responds with indifference toward those who cannot or will not benefit us. One may look at each of the “seven deadly sins”, and each of them is rooted in selfishness: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath. All things that stand against love are rooted in selfishness. All things founded in love require the taming of one’s own self-centeredness.

If we wish to become better human beings, then, our most essential task is to learn to get over ourselves. We need to truly get into our hearts that the world does not and should not revolve around us. The Golden Rule is a good starting place; when we manage to treat others the way we wish to be treated, we greatly improve our lives and the lives of those around us. The greater challenge, however, is to internalize that rule, to love others the way we wish to be loved. That is the true key to reaching our human potential.

When we do learn to live in love, amazing results can happen. People like Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Jesus all show the power of a life dedicated to love. While most of us are unlikely ever to attain that level of achievement in the area of love, we do have the ability to change our own corners of the world for the better. By tempering our own egos and developing our capacities for compassion, we can build stronger families, more productive workplaces, and healthier communities. It’s all a matter of love.

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Free Services against Economic Predators

by on Jan.19, 2010, under News Commentary, Politics/Economics

With the sheer volume of open greed that infests our society, each of us must educate ourselves in order to avoid the criminal and “barely legal” behavior of those who seek to take our wealth and names.  If you live in the U.S., a good place to look for guidelines and advice is your state attorney general’s office.  Our Google search of ten state attorney general offices (“[state] attorney general consumer”) found that each state had a web site full of consumer information.  They provided information on current scams and how to avoid them, accurate information on how to protect against identity theft, guidelines on what rights we have when faced with aggressive businesses, and instructions on what to do if we suspect theft or fraud.  Two of the states we examined, New York and Ohio, also offer free workshops to interested groups, and many counties offer similar programs through their sheriff’s departments.  Most states provide free brochures on a variety of fraud prevention topics.

Please use the information available to you to protect your name and livelihood; a small investment of your time today may make a vast difference in your future.  Please also use what workshops and brochures are available in your area to educate others, particularly the elderly, the poor, and children, so that those who prey upon others will have fewer victims to claim.  An economic crisis tends to bring out both the best and the worst in us.  Let us work together in compassion to limit the damage done by our baser natures during these trying times.

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Handbook 2010

by on Jan.19, 2010, under Relationships, Spirituality

We at the IFL received the following text in an email, and we were invited to forward it.  Although the advice is very general, it contains great wisdom.

Another year is upon us. 

 

                                  Let’s get ready for “2010″ !!!!

 

                                              HANDBOOK 2010

 

        Health:

         1.       Drink plenty of water.

         2.       Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a  prince

                   and dinner like a beggar.

         3.       Eat more foods that grow on trees and 

                   plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants..

         4.       Live with the 3 E’s — Energy,   and Empathy Enthusiasm

         5.       Make time to pray.

         6.       Play more games

         7.       Read more books than you did in 2009 .

         8.       Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes  each day

         9.       Sleep for 7 hours.

        10.      Take a  10-30 minutes walk daily.

                    And while you walk, smile.

 

        Personality:

        11.      Don’t  compare your life to others.

                   You have no idea what their journey is all about.

        12.      Don’t have  negative thoughts or things

                    you cannot control.

                    invest your energy in  the positive present moment.

        13.      Don’t over do. Keep your limits.

        14.      Don’t take  yourself so seriously. No one else does.

        15.      Don’t waste  your precious energy on gossip.

        16.      Dream more while you are awake

        17.      Envy is a  waste of time. You already have all you need..

        18.      Forget  issues of the past.

                   Don’t remind your partner with

                   His/Her mistakes of the past. 

                       That will ruin your present happiness.

        19.      Life is too  short to waste time hating anyone.

                   Don’t hate others.

        20.     Make peace  with your past so it won’t spoil the present.

        21.     No one is  in charge of your happiness except you.

        22.     Realize  that life is a school and you are here to learn.   

        23.     Smile and laugh more.

        24.     You don’t  have to win every argument. Agree to disagree

                  Problems are simply part  of the curriculum that appear

                  and fade away like algebra class…..

                  but the lessons  you learn will last a lifetime.

 

        Society:

        25.     Call your  family often.

        26.     Each day give something good to others.

        27.     Forgive  everyone for everything..

        28.     Spend time w/ people over the age of 70

                   & under the  age of  6.

        29.     Try to make at least three people smile each day.

        30.     What other  people think of you is none of your business.

        31.     Your job  won’t take care of you when you are sick. 

                   Your friends will. Stay in touch.

        Life:

        32.    Do the  right thing!

        33.    Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or  joyful.

        34.    GOD  heals everything.

        35.    However good or bad a situation is, it will change..

        36.    No matter  how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

        37.    The best is  yet to come..

        38.    When you awake alive in the morning, thank GOD for it.

        39.    Your Inner  most is always happy. So, be happy.

 

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The Illusion of Race

by on Jan.12, 2010, under Core Values, Relationships

Race is an omnipresent factor in our society.  It shapes how we see ourselves and is a primary way in which we classify other people.  We view race as essentially tied to social class, education, culture, income and a host of personality traits.  Race is so powerful in shaping our perceptions that it is difficult to imagine a “colorless” world.

What may be surprising is that race as we currently understand it is a very new concept.  For most of human history and across most cultures, racial characteristics have been seen as interesting, but irrelevant.  People knew that foreigners had different coloration, facial features and hair textures, but no special significance was attached to these differences.  To the Romans, for instance, a citizen was a citizen, whether born in Italy or Nubia.  The ancient Greeks believed that racial differences were entirely environmental in origin, so that a person who spent enough years in a foreign land would take on the appearance and temperament of that land’s people.  Early writers would occasionally hurl racial epithets at their enemies, and every people saw themselves as more beautiful than anyone else, but there was no real sense of racial identity beyond the local tribe.  The differences we now categorize as racial were simply the external features that indicate an exotic origin.  If someone with foreign features became part of “our tribe”, then having a different coloration became irrelevant for that person.  They were one of “us”.

It was only within the past few hundred years, when Europeans conquered and colonized the rest of the world, that the idea of race as we now understand it developed.  Europeans created this new notion of race to justify their economic exploitation of others, especially in the slave trade.  When Europeans arrived in a new land, they justified their conquests by claiming that they were bringing Christianity to an ignorant people.  The problem was that once the indigenous people were converted, there was no longer any rationale for the Europeans’ continued abuses.  The idea of race was therefore invented to create an excuse for continued exploitation.  If local people were somehow intrinsically unable to govern themselves, then Europeans were justified in staying and maintaining control.  If people from Sub-Saharan Africa were not truly human, then it would be morally acceptable to treat them as livestock.  Race became a way to define non-Europeans as less than human, so that European imperialism and exploitation could be justified.  It allowed Europeans to sleep at night because the people they were abusing were not recognized as human.

Today, while the theory behind race continues to be false, the experience of race is real.  It is no longer purely a European phenomenon; all racial groups are complicit in maintaining the notion of race, for each benefits from it.  Those of “dominant” races use race to define their own way of life as superior, requiring always that others adapt to their way of doing things and never the other way around.  Minority races use race to claim victim status, which may then be used used to justify and motivate everything from greater personal drive to calls for entitlement or violence.  All racial groups have political and religious leaders who solidify their own power by directing fear and hatred toward other groups.  In the end, race is a concept that comforts us with real feelings of self-righteousness, but those feelings are based upon smoke and mirrors.

The reality is that race does not exist except in our minds.  It only has power because we have given power to it; there is no factual basis to our racial categories.  Even the most race-obsessed societies, such as Nazi Germany and the pre-Civil War U.S. South, could not create uniform and sensible ways of classifying people by race.  A global map showing each place’s dominant skin color would not show a world of “red and yellow, black and white”, but a broad and softly varying spectrum of earth tones.  The variations between us are too gradual to fit into the racial categories we have created.  The only scientifically sound racial group is the human race.  All others are illusions.

Perhaps it is time to return to the ancient understanding that race is simply the physical features that indicate a person’s land of origin.  These features may be distinctive, but they have no inherent value.  If we let go of our obsession over race, we will lose some of our own sense of self-righteousness, but in the end, we will become stronger by unifying as one people.  Given the global nature of the challenges we now face, we need to get beyond the artificial divisions that separate us.  The illusion of race only hinders us from building a better future.

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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

by on Jan.01, 2010, under Core Values, Politics/Economics

When J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattann Project, first witnessed the destructive power of the atomic bomb he helped to create, his reaction was a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”  Following the war, he worked tirelessly to limit the scope and spread of nuclear weapons.  Oppenheimer recognized that humanity’s progress in his discipline of physics had gotten far ahead of our development in ethics, and until we had created an ethical framework that could cope with our new found ability to exterminate ourselves, we were all in terrible danger.  The rarefied world of theoretical physics suddenly had to deal with the responsibility of how the technology it produces could be used.

In a similar way, the discipline of biology was both excited and nervous when Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996.  That breakthrough and the initial release of data from the Human Genome Project in 2000 has caused scientists in the field of genetics to face a time of ethical soul-searching that is similar to what the physicists dealt with in the mid-1900′s.  We now have the ability to genetically manipulate ourselves and the creatures around us; to what extent should we allow this manipulation to occur?  Both the benefits and the risks potentially affect all of life.  The scientific community and legislative bodies have therefore created rules to govern this new responsibility.

As technology continues to advance at faster and faster rates, many disciplines have had to face the ethical implications of their work.  Medicine has many ongoing ethical issues, such as abortion, euthanasia and health care availability.  Computer science struggles with issues of privacy and dehumanization.  Applied sciences such as agriculture and manufacturing must now consider the environmental and safety implications of their processes.  Educators and social agencies must consider how their projects will affect all categories of people.

What unites these threads together is the recognition (in the words of Stan Lee) that with great power comes great responsibility.  In a world where knowledge is power, where innovation can have a profound impact on millions or billions of lives, it is absolutely imperative for every discipline to undergo periods of ethical review.  We need to understand how our new capabilities affect humanity as a whole, and we must intentionally decide as a people whether the benefits of a new technology outweigh its risks.  For disciplines that affect us all, there need to be both internal standards and external supervision and regulation.

Recently, Columbia University professor Bruce Kogut proposed that those who create financial innovations must accept responsibility for the results of their creations.  This is a radically new idea in the world of finance, built upon a foundation laid by scientists over the past sixty-five years.  It is the same thought that ran through Oppenheimer’s mind when he realized the destructive potential of his creation.  It is no longer possible to pretend that our financial system exists in some kind of ethical vacuum.  Like Oppenheimer’s bomb, it has the demonstrated ability to harm millions or billions of people.  In fact, it is designed for the express purpose of benefiting a small group of people who understand the technology at the expense of the majority who do not understand it.  It is time for those who understand the financial system to deal with the ethical questions of how and when their creation should be used to benefit humanity as a whole.  It is also time for society at large, through our governments, to set clear and reasonable boundaries for how financial innovations may be employed.  We should allow financial innovators to benefit from their inventions, but not at the expense of the rest of humanity.  With great power comes great responsibility.

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Question of the Week – Self Worth

by on Dec.08, 2009, under Question of the Week, Spirituality

We live in a materialistic society, where we often confuse a person’s net worth in the human sense with his or her net worth in the financial sense.  We therefore feel a never-satisfied drive always to gather more goods, a better job title and more friends, thinking that such possessions will increase our overall value.  Ultimately, this way of thinking makes our feelings of self worth dependent upon forces that we do not control, and when the inevitable tough times in life arrive, we are shaken to the core.

The alternate way of thinking is to evaluate self worth based upon the living of trascendent values, such as love, peace or humility.  This way of life sometimes lacks the comfortable trappings of material wealth, but it does not depend upon those same trappings to sustain itself.  Each person’s value is determined only by his or her own deeds.

To what extent do you determine your self worth in terms of material goods, social status or interpersonal relationships?  How has your sense of worth been affected by uncontrollable events or the behaviors of others?  To what extent do you base your self worth upon the values you live?  What values best indicate your true worth?

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Question of the Week – Loneliness

by on Dec.04, 2009, under Question of the Week, Relationships

We humans have a fundamental need to belong; we need to feel emotionally connected to others.  When we do not experience enough human contact in our lives, we feel lonely.  Loneliness is especially common following the death of a loved one or the ending of a relationship, or when a person spends much of his or her time at home.  Loneliness may be spiritually enlightening, but it could also lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of depression.  That is why it is essential for those who do feel loved to seek out and extend a hand to those who are becoming disconnected.  A little bit of human kindness and compassion may prevent a great deal of anguish.

What elements in your life distract you from noticing those with social needs?  When you do notice someone who might be lonely, what fears cause you to hesitate in engaging him or her?  How valid are those fears?  When you begin to feel lonely, does receiving a phone call, a visit from a friend or a pleasant conversation make a difference?  Who do you know right now who could use some extra support?

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Thanks for the Pain

by on Nov.25, 2009, under Core Values, Spirituality

Tomorrow, people across the U.S. will gather together for Thanksgiving Day.  Most of us will reflect upon the good things and good people that have been in our lives for the past year, and we will express our gratitude to the One who provides these gifts to us.  It is a day of gratefulness and appreciation.

This year, as you count your blessings, remember to include the painful elements of life.

I know that it sounds a bit odd, but remember to give thanks for the unpleasant times you have had along with the pleasant ones; show appreciation for your painful experiences along with the joyful ones.  Good times and pleasant people are easy to appreciate because they give us happy feelings, but bad times and dificult experiences are also vital to our health, for they compel us to grow.

For instance, what are the possible end results when a romantic relationship passes through a difficult stretch?  Either the couple will stay together through the ordeal and find their love for one another deepened through the shared experience, or they will realize that the relationship has no staying power, and each will go his or her own way.  Is not either outcome preferable to a shallow, stagnant relationship?  Or think about difficult economic times.  While we prefer the ease and comfort of wealth, it is when we financially struggle that we learn to appreciate what we have.  Rough economic times force us honestly to sort through our priorities as we stretch our resources, and having less money available to run all around town means that we end up spending more quality time with our families.

The same kinds of blessings may be found in any type of hardship.  In losing those things and people that made us comfortable, we begin a journey into the unknown that provides us with freedom, growth and change.  Entering into new life is difficult and painful, but it is good for us; it grants us wisdom and understanding and experience, all of which help us to become better people.  Profound insights emerge from the depths of despair, if we are open to them.

This Thanksgiving, as you list the blessings in your life, remember to give thanks for your sorrows.  They may not be pleasant to experience, but if you have the wisdom to learn, they are shaping you into a better human being.

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Question of the Week – Family

by on Nov.13, 2009, under Question of the Week, Relationships

Our eighth Question of the Week is on the topic of family.  Fee free to discuss other aspects of the topic that you feel are relevant.

Over the past 50 years, the structures of American families have changed profoundly.  Relocating for jobs has spread families over large areas, diminishing the presence and influence of extended families.  Higher divorce rates and lower worker incomes (when adjusted for inflation) have pressured all adults to enter the workforce.  Some people have responded to these changes by demonstrating their love for their families through spending money rather than time on their families.  These families live in large houses, have many things and activities in their lives, but they have relatively little personal interaction.  Other people have chosen to stay at home to provide personal care and to teach personal values, but they may have had to accept social scorn and a lower financial standard of living as a result.  A third group of people strive for some sort of middle ground through part time or work-from-home employment.

How do you determine how much of your time is spent maintaining and growing your family’s income, and how much time is used as “face time” with your family?  What do your choices teach children about your values?

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