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Deep thought for the day:

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.

~Richard Buckminster Fuller

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Photo credit: speech path girl

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Graciousness is more than knowing a set rules from a book of manners; it’s about heart and compassion.

I first learned this with a story I read in grade school.  I think it was part of a reading and comprehension test in the 60s, and online sources say it was contributed by Cori Connors to Guideposts in March 1997.  The story is told by a woman named Lizzy whose father was generous and kind, known to invite wandering hobos in for a meal. One night her father invited in a man named Henry, who spoke little English. Here the rest of the story:

“When dinner was ready Henry stood until we were all seated, then gently perched on the edge of his chair, his head bowed and his hat in his lap. The blessing was said and dishes were passed from hand to hand.

“We all waited, as was proper, for our guest to take the first bite. Henry must have been so hungry he didn’t notice us watching him as he grabbed his knife. Carefully he slid the blade into the pile of peas before him, and then lifted a quivering row to his mouth without spilling a single pea. He was eating with his knife! I looked at my sister May and we covered our mouths to muffle our snickers. Henry took another knife full, and then another.

“My father, taking note of the glances we were exchanging, firmly set down his fork. He looked me in the eye, then took his knife and thrust it into the peas on his plate. Most of them fell off as he attempted to lift them to his mouth, but he continued until all the peas were gone.

“Dad never did use his fork that evening, because Henry didn’t. It was one of my father’s silent lessons in acceptance. He understood the need for this man to maintain his dignity, to feel comfortable in a strange place with people of different customs. Even at my young age I understood the greatness of my father’s simple act …”

Coming from a family where eating peas with a knife would have been outrageous bad manners, I marveled at this thought:

Breaking the rules can be way to show kindness.

As I spanned the years into adulthood, I realized graciousness:

  • Is more about compassion than demonstrating decorum
  • Is better explained by Do no harm rather than Be correct
  • Comes from a heart willing to go the extra mile instead of feel entitled

Gracious people have a different perspective on life. They embody gentleness of spirit and strength of character, able to balance healthy self respect with the ability to sacrifice ego so they can provide comfort to others.

Gracious people are are soft caring words to a battered soul and strong comfort to heavy hearts:

  • They give up their seat or place in line to their elders or to others in more need.
  • They understand that you cannot honor one person by dishonoring another, such as the smear campaigns of political opposition.
  • The most gracious people I know notice the little things — not to be nosy, but because they are less self absorbed.
  • They realize hospitality is an ever open door or a ready invitation to conversation over coffee.
  • They can give a smile, a hug, or a warm hello because it comes from a positive place of joy in their hearts.

I’ve always appreciated gracious people. It’s hard to be one, though. It is a goal I’m still striving to attain.

Was there a time in your life when an act of graciousness affected you profoundly?

Have you ever been successful at being gracious to the truly ungracious?

Photo credit: speech path girl

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A story from the teachings of Buddha that asks, “Who are you really?”

Once there lived a housewife named Vedehika who had a reputation for gentleness, modesty, and courtesy. She had a housemaid named Kali who was efficient and industrious and who managed her work well.

Then it occurred to Kali the housemaid, “My mistress has a very good reputation; I wonder whether she is good by nature, or is good because my work, being well-managed, makes her surroundings pleasant. What if I were to test my mistress?”

The following morning Kali got up late. Then Vedehika shouted at her maid, “Hey, Kali!”

“Yes, madam?”

“What makes you get up late?”

“Nothing in particular, madam.”

“Nothing in particular, eh, naughty maid, and you get up late?” And being angry and offended, she frowned.

Then it occurred to Kali, “Apparently, my mistress does have a temper inwardly, though she does not show it because my work is well-managed. What if I were to test her further?” Then she got up later again.

Thereupon Vedehika shouted at her maid, “Hey, Kali, why do you get up late?”

“No particular reason, madam.”

“No particular reason, eh, and you are up late?” she angrily hurled at her words of indignation, and she angrily took up the bolt of the door-bar and hit her on the head, cutting it.

Thereupon Kali, with cut head and blood trickling down, denounced her mistress before the neighbors, saying, “Madam, look at the work of the gentle lady. Madam, look at the action of the modest lady.  Madam, look at the action of the quiet lady. Why must she get angry and offended because I got up late and hit me, her only maid, cutting me on the head?”

Thus the housewife lost her good reputation.

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It is easy to portray calm, humility, and civility when all is going our way, but when things around us start to fall apart, what do we reveal about ourselves?

My parents and grandparents taught, rather strongly, that we build character early and often so that we can withstand adversity without letting it beat us down. I grew up in a family culture based on these kinds of ideals:

  • Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.
    ~Rabindranath Tagore
  • Kites rise highest against the wind-not with it.
    ~Sir Winston Churchill
  • March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.
    ~Kahlil Gibran

And yet, for all their teaching and training, I found my relatives often burying their emotions to keep up a sense of self-mastery that actually masked great insecurity. A stiff upper lip is fine to have in an emergency situation, but having one all the time creates too much stress. I realized the payment we make for masking when I witnessed heart attacks and strokes hit a number of family members.

Determined to not go down the same path, I’ve tried to balance tough-mindedness with tender heartedness, assertiveness with compassion, and inner strength with inner peace.

How do you handle adversity? And if you grew up like I did, how do you balance those “be tough” messages with the realities of everyday life?

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Photo credit: Brian Snelson

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  • Day and night
  • Light and shadow
  • The candle and the darkness

These images of polar opposites have always acted as metaphors of good and evil. But what is good and evil? Is it really a black and white issue or are there hues in the mix?

I know some readers of mine don’t like the word “evil.” They don’t believe such an absolute exists. Little wonder, too: Is it possible for anyone to stand and define with certainty what is good and what is evil when the “good” guys often do bad things — such as sexual predators in the clergy or abusive officers in law enforcement — or when “bad” guys do good things — such as when a convicted murderer saves a child’s life?

  • Are good and evil really just different sides of the same coin?
  • Is being good just a matter of trying to “be good for goodness sake?”
  • Who gets to define it all anyway?

Most of us believe that lying, stealing, and taking someone’s life are wrong. Yes?

But …

  • If I’m threatened in a road rage situation at a parking lot, I’m may lie my head off to prevent an angry, gun-wielding driver from killing me.
  • If I’m a soldier in war who ends up behind enemy lines, I may steal food to keep myself alive.
  • If I’m facing a fellow employee who has shot six other workers, I may have to kill him before he kills me or others.

On the other hand, most of us would think love, peace, and kindness are good things to have in our lives, right?

But …

  • Aren’t there helicopter parents who smother their kids - even to adulthood — with unhealthy over-protectiveness and call it love?
  • What about an abuse victim who assumes peace at all costs will help change the situation?
  • Can a person showboat their “kind acts” more out of ego and manipulation rather than genuine concern?

Do you remember this saying from the Forrest Gump movie, “Stupid is as stupid does”? In other words, a person is judged stupid by the stupid actions he takes, so even an intelligent person can be deemed stupid, and vice versa. When it comes to good and evil, I believe it’s about either the destructive hurt or the love and healthy well-being a person creates. And I think our good or evil choices add up, too. It’s like the Biblical adage, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

For me, good and evil do exist, and I get my foundational knowledge about both in the Bible. I don’t see them as a dance of a yin and yang dialectic or as a black and white set definitions, but rather as inner motivation toward either love or destructiveness as in this proverb: “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”

We’ve all grown up with and settled on different views of this sometimes volatile subject. How do you teach good and evil to your children or how do you choose to look at it in your life?

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Photo credit: speech path girl

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The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. . . . The ordinary objects of human endeavor — property, outward success, luxury — have always seemed to me contemptible.  ~ Albert Einstein ~

In a world of sound bites, 140-character tweets, and the rush to attain at least our 15 minutes of fame, Einstein’s words call from another world, another culture, and another time to ground us in healthier ways.

A friend of mine thinks that Americans go through life like stones skipping across the surface, never truly plunging deeply into the full, robust, and meaningful depths where Truth, Goodness, and Beauty reside.

What do you think?

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Photo credit: doubledareyaa

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