Living Well

March 29, 2010

The Power of Mercy

Power is bestowed in a plethora of ways, including many symbols.  In ancient Rome, the encompassing symbol of power for the king was called the imperium.  This conferred ‘oath’ gave emperors and senators the right of power over wealth, military control, and issues regarding justice.  Under this mantel of power, kings, emperors, and counsels could grant life or death, freedom or slavery, fortune or famine to individuals and society.  Unfortunately for the Roman Empire and its later history, the imperium mantel made numerous men singularly self-serving to the detriment and destruction of those they led.

William Shakespeare wrote in “Measure for Measure” (1604), “No ceremony that to great one’s long, Not the king’s crown, not the deputed sword, The marshal’s truncheon, not the judge’s robe, Become them with one half so good as grace as mercy does.”  Great ones, glimpsed Shakespeare, long not for external mantels or symbols of power, but for a power that changes both the giver and receiver both internally and externally.  Mercy is a becoming quality that is powerful and captivating.  No outward symbol, no matter how elegantly embroidered or crafted, comes close to matching the transforming power of mercy.

Power resides in mercy.  The giver of mercy, by its own definition, must have some form of power over another.  Whether the giver has been offended by deed or word or injured physically by the one seeking mercy, the holder of mercy has a decision to make regarding healing or harming, restoring or rejecting, because they have the power over the seeker.

Mercy is our willingness—a deliberate personal choice—to forebear an injury from another and not treat the offender as severely as is rightly deserved.  It is a kindness or favor beyond what can rightly be claimed by a person who may have harmed or injured in either word or deed.

Being merciful does not always mean that consequences of the offender are ignored.  Sometimes those decisions are outside the mercy holder’s sphere of power or ability to alter.  Yet mercy is a willingness to choose not to treat a person “as severely as deserved” even if the consequences cannot be changed.  A merciful act could override consequences deserved in favor of restitution or wholeness of the receiver.  To make another person whole by merciful acts may be the greatest empowerment which a person can receive.  Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th Century, is a powerful testimony to what mercy and grace can do to alter life.

The Bard also noted “the quality of mercy is twice blessed.  It blesses him that gives and him that takes.”  We are never obligated to display mercy.  It is ultimately a free will offering of ourselves because we desire to bring prosperity, wholeness, and redemption instead of retribution and retaliation.  Mercy is a gracious matter that re-forms the human spirit, both in the giver and the receiver.  It may be one of the most blessed acts of being human. 

What about you?  Have you ever received a free gift of mercy from another, even though you deserved punishment?  How did it feel?  How did you feel restored, not only in your heart but with the other person?  Giving that same experience of restoration to another is freedom—both for those who give and those who receive.

Blessings for you today as you use your personal power in whatever situation you find yourself for mercy and restoration and redemption.  Grace and peace.

David Neidert

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March 27, 2010

Kindness can change everything

Filed under: character,Personal Leadership — dlneidert @ 10:48 am
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Connoisseurs of fine wine tell me there is a significant difference between an expensive aged wine and a lesser, bottom of the shelf grade vino.  The difference is a fine wine is smooth, fragrant, and robust, while its distant cousin is at times bitter and never very full bodied.

Kindness is like a fine aged wine.  It is mellow and helping, not sharp or bitter.  The Greeks thought of kindness like wine, in that as wine was purified, it became flavorful and mature.  And just like wine becomes robust through the aging process, so we become kind by being kind to others.  Philosopher Eric Hoeffer said it this way, “It is futile to judge a kind deed by its motives.  Kindness can become its own motive.  We are made kind by being kind.”

Kindness can be expressed in our tone of voice, facial expressions, and overall actions as we encounter and interact with others.  Being kind is a choice we make, no matter the exchange.  As I said, it can come even in the tone of our voice. 

A while back, I received a telephone call from a person conducting a survey.  I receive many of these calls in the course of my work assignment, so I have a fair understanding of how long they take and the flow of a good interview.  But during this particular survey, I knew it was not going well after just a few minutes.  I could tell the person conducting the survey was older, as she labored through every question.  She often repeated the questions, asking me to restate my answers two or three times.  Internally I was becoming annoyed, with my mind often wandering toward work stacked on my desk.  But I had agreed to the survey, so I answered the question asked of me respectfully as the survey taker painfully proceeded through twenty-five minutes of questions.

It was the end of the interview that startled me.  It was the final encounter with the survey taker, who was on the other end of a twisted pair of copper cable in a telephone conversation, that made me aware our words and tone of voice matter.  In a slowly delivered statement, this older sounding woman said, “Sir, thank you for being so nice to me.  This is my first interview on the telephone.  Your kind response has given me confidence to keep doing this job.”  Needless to say, I was humbled and somewhat ashamed that I had not been undividedly attentive to her every word.

Sir Humphrey Davy summaries the real essence of kindness when he writes, “Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things in which smiles and kindness and small obligations given habitually are what win and preserve the heart and secure comfort.”  It is the smile in our voices, over a telephone line to a person we will never see or meet, that can demonstrate our kindness.

Wine was an important ancient commodity.  The presence of wine at festivals and social gatherings was a sign of bounty and blessing.  Kindness, too, is a blessing and a sign of the bountiful goodness that is resident in our character.

Blessings to you today as you give kindness to someone you encounter.  Grace and peace.

David Neidert

March 16, 2010

Do your words cut like a knife?

Filed under: character,Personal Leadership — dlneidert @ 8:54 am
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The adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me” is a lie.  There is a commercial I see occasionally on television.  It never ceases to capture my attention and make my heart race.  The commercial shows only a mouth speaking phrases like, “You’re stupid;” “You’ll never amount to anything;” “I don’t know why I bother with you;” “I wish you were never born….”  Words, careless words do in fact injure and wound people just as sticks and stones do break bones.  The problem is you cannot see the broken “bones” of the spirit caused by this constant battering.  Cher’s pop song, “If I Could Turn Back Time,” blasts a melody that should remind us of our speech when she sings, “Words are like weapons, they wound some times.”  So while the bruises from sticks and stones may heal over a few weeks, careless and harsh words can cause a person to bleed internally for a lifetime.

The way we speak reveals a good deal about us personally.  While we may not talk or comment in the ways seen on the commercial I described, we may do just as much damage if we share in gossip, rumors, or regularly engage in conversations that continue stereotypes of gender, race or ethnicity.  The tone of one’s voice, clothed in sarcasm or mocking is like a weapon….it carries a barb that deeply pierces another person’s soul.

Jesus challenged a crowd that gathered near him by observing, “Out of the same mouth come both blessings and curses.  It should not be so.”  The Proverbs writer also instructs “reckless words pierce like a sword.”  The careless word is like an uncontrolled missile.  Its power is devastating, inflicting pain and suffering on everyone near its point of impact.

Jesus also said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  What if you were on trial for your life solely on the basis of what you said to or about others?  How would you survive a trial for your life if it was based on your words alone, spoken to those around you or who are in relationship to you?  If we were on trial for our lives by what we said, I believe we would surely think before we open our mouths in hurt, gossip, rumor, or other ways that inflict pain on others. 

Today challenge yourself to think about how you normally respond to those closest to you, like colleagues, neighbors, friends, and loved family members.  Do you support them, encourage them, and give a healing word or are their encounters with you full of venom, sarcasm, and deflecting the weapons of hurtful words?

Blessings for you today…”May the words of your mouth be pleasing….” Grace and peace.

David Neidert

March 10, 2010

Living with Conquering Patience

Filed under: character,Personal Leadership — dlneidert @ 11:27 am
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Conquering patience.  That is the description of the ancient Romans as empire builders.  Never conceding defeat, even in defeat, the ancient Romans patiently waited for their opportunity to become masters of their world.  By the year 140, this watchful and enduring patience grew an empire encompassing 1.7 million square miles, while spanning Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Patience is a virtue, particularly in a world that wants everything instantly. Today, waiting 30 seconds for the microwave to cook a meal seems an eternity.  Similarly, our impatience causes us to amass instant credit to own everything now or consume bottles of diet pills for looking good now.  We want all of it now instead of developing a conquering patience that will actually provide better results in the long run.  We want instant credit, yet do not consider that at 23% interest it will take us 30 years to pay off debts.  We want to look good instantly, yet do not consider all the medical facts that overwhelmingly show that exercise and diet every day changes us for a lifetime.  Patience now takes a good deal of energy, commitment, focus and delayed gratification in order to reap the best dividends in the future.  And not only the best future but a future that is freer.  The German proverb sums it up well, “Patience is a bitter plant, but it has sweet fruit.”

Patience is a persisting spirit, one geared toward achieving long term goals or dreams.  The patient person knows they will reap lasting rewards and successes from their efforts if they can stay focused through the disappointments or impatience of current situations or circumstances.  Patience and delaying gratification now allows us to taste ‘sweet fruit’ in the future.  Patience additionally breeds personal growth and wisdom as we work through the trials that come our way.  Our conquering patience also produces hope.  This hope is grounded in our belief that we will overcome the present trials or setbacks to achieve enduring benefits.

As I write this, I have been enduring over two months of recovery from a badly broken leg and surgery.  I also have a way to go. But patience has been an important part of my recovery.  Patience in the use of a walker.  Patience in doing the exercises given by my doctor. Patience in watching the progression of the healing.  I know that it will take time; this is a moment that requires my conquering patience. 

Patience is often associated with the acquisition of goals, but it is also essential for our personal relationships.  A nuance of the concept of patience is related to forbearance.  Forbearance means to express “restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish.”  Are we willing to forbear with others, even when we may be at odds with them either because of disagreement or their behaviors toward us?

Conquering patience.  The Romans changed history and the world with this powerful concept.  What might this do in our own lives if we were willing to forbear and be patient in our circumstances; eating a bitter plant now for the sweet fruit that lasts a lifetime?  What rewards might we reap in the future if we were willing to be patient now, putting in the hard work needed for lasting benefits, health and welfare?

Blessings as you live well this day; grace and peace as you live patiently in a world focused on instant success and gratification.

David Neidert

March 3, 2010

How Brave are You?

Filed under: character,Personal Leadership — dlneidert @ 9:13 am
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During a recent time of recovery from a surgery, I had hours to watch many news casts.  In addition, I am a news hound reading and listening to what is happening in the world.  I am regularly reminded of a war raging inside every person.  From criminals to politicians to corporate CEOs to those involved in all kinds of civic projects, I am reminded of the internal battle over our personal, often selfish, desires.

Aristotle wrote, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.”  The Apostle Paul captures the ultimate essence of this in the book of Romans when he wrote, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  This internal collision, where self discipline and the ache for living out our personal desires intersect, is common to us all no matter our heritage, background or culture.  This intimate battlefield is a battlefield we all have to engage during our lives.

Aristotle pointed to one fact that we must never ignore; we are separated from the animal kingdom by reason and our ability for mastering our desires.  This mastery is not a simple war to wage. Yet if won, it moves us closer to being other focused and living effectively in the day to day.  If we are not able to master ourselves, the desires and pleasures we seek will control us, living little room for valuing people or situations as nothing more than a means to our personal end.  We are more like animals if we follow our instincts only. 

I am not saying we can win all these internal battles by shear willpower.  There are many battles that take trained professionals and advocates to help us make progress and find victory.  We need them to confront us and help us work through sometimes what we cannot overcome alone.

Yet, for many, Aristotle names people brave that seek self-control.  He may be right that those courageous enough to strive against personal desires and self gratification as our highest good are the most valiant warriors.  The consequence of not facing ourselves and controlling emotions and desires in our life can exact a heavy toll on us as well as others.  When our unchecked actions seek to fulfill our desires over the welfare of others, we are apt to leave carnage not only now, but possibly for generations to come.

So we might wonder, “What might be the consequences in my life (and for others) if I am not willing to have some self control?” “What good or bad might be the result of my living without self control?”  “What good, rewards, or benefits might come if I could have victory over selfish ambitions or desires?”  Not easy questions to undertake, yet the reward for having acknowledged and fought them may bring well being and living well now and in the future.

Blessings to you for this day and in this engagement.  Grace and peace.

David Neidert

March 2, 2010

Storing Goodness

Filed under: character,Personal Leadership — dlneidert @ 7:56 pm
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We easily recognize most fruit trees.  Apple, orange, and pear trees are quickly categorized by the fruit hanging from their branches.  Whether we live in the United States, Europe or the Far East, we can spot an apple tree when it is laden with fruit. I have traveled into the rural areas of India and can tell when I see an orange tree because I am familiar with the fruit; I recognize its outward sign that this tree is an orange bearing tree and not an apple tree.

Human beings are no different.  We can identify a person in our minds and hearts by what they do.  And if we categorize a person as good, the beauty of their behavior is the trademark—the outward sign–of how we know them.  American writer, Harry Allen Overstreet said it like this, “Goodness is a special kind of truth and beauty.  It is truth and beauty in human behavior.”

Goodness is not just behavior, but a chosen life attitude.  In goodness, we work at benefiting others and our communities.  We benefit others when we promote, minister to, assist, and serve people out of deepest character and values.  Goodness does not focus on control, opposition, or obstructing another person’s path, but seeks to act in ways that will promote their welfare and prosperity.

Jesus observed, “The good person brings good things out of the good stored in them.” As Jesus said, good comes from stored good.  Stored good is an attitude, based on continuously repeated action that can be drawn out in any circumstance.  Goodness stored in our souls is accumulated over time just as small deposits placed in a bank account can produce great wealth in time.  We are then able to display goodness when we tap these reservoirs pooled at the core of our beings.  Storing goodness is like saving money—it is a choice to act regularly in ways that will benefit in the future.  

Goodness is identifiable, just like fruit, no matter where you travel.  Goodness coupled with respect could be the core of diplomacy and world citizenship if we just practiced and behaved in ways that identified this fruit purposely stored in us.  But if we haven’t been storing it, goodness will not be available when needed.  I’ve traveled enough around the globe to see goodness shared between people of different cultures; it is a language of dignity that fosters fellowship and relationship as human beings.

Blessings to you as you consciously choose to store good in your life.  May you find in it grace and peace and relationship.

David Neidert

March 1, 2010

The Color of your Character

Filed under: character,Personal Leadership — dlneidert @ 12:10 pm
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It is called inherent affinity.  This term names what professional dyers use to distinguish between a pigment and a dye.  While pigments do not attach themselves to materials without chemical agents, dyes infiltrate fabrics and become permanently a part of the fibers.  This property of dyes gives it an ability to bond molecularly at the most invisible level with the surfaces it touches.

The Greek poet and architect Heraclitus (540-480 BC) wrote that “the soul is dyed the color of its thoughts.  Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the full light of day.  The content of your character is your choice.  Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become.  Your integrity is your destiny…it is the light that guides your way.”  As Heraclitus observed, we become what we think, particularly as it relates to our character and integrity.  Our very lives are dyed the color of what we think about and act upon.  If we choose to be people of integrity in our minds, our souls will inherently bond with our thoughts.  By this infiltration, we become in time what we subject ourselves to through the repeated choices we make.

Dye has another quality that Heraclitus must have noticed.  Dyers know that the human eye can detect the smallest color differences in fabric.  It is critical to apply dyes uniformly if the product is to be of the highest quality, for even the untrained eye can detect dyes that are not uniform.

Our integrity is much like this uniformity.  If we practice integrity in some areas of our lives, but not in others, even the casual observer will detect the non-uniformity of our principles.  For example, if we are to be people of integrity, we must uniformly apply the stealing of cash from our employer to the stealing of our employer’s time.  It is in reality the same, just in different forms.  By uniformly applying integrity to all areas of our lives, we will reflect the color of principles that can bear the light of personal continuing scrutiny by others.

One attribute of dye, however, demands our attention.  The attribute is that no matter how absorbent and initially strong the dye, it can fade over time.  Washing, intense light or excessive heat can over time begin fading a dyed fabric.

The lesson here is that we are not to fade over time; we must make choices day to day to focus on integrity and principles.  Thinking about integrity now and then will not keep us colorfast, but will eventually permit us to fade when the heat is on.

What dyes are you applying to your life?  What thoughts are dying your character qualities?  Are you pursuing integrity and excellence or pursuing gain by less than honorable means?  Are you applying integrity in all areas of your life, not just some?  Are you willing to be courageous and live with integrity and character all the time, even when it is unpopular or the heat is on?

We become the quality of our thoughts.  Modern neurological and brain studies tell us this.  Yet Heraclitus, just observing the world over two millennia ago knew the same thing.

Blessings to you for this day; grace and peace.

David Neidert

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