Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Power of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches

If you can listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech and your soul is not stirred and your eyes are dry, you may want to take a long look at the (wo)man in the mirror. I only single out that speech of his because it is well-known. I could say the same thing about any other speech or sermon of his that I am aware of. Since early childhood, I have known about the speech, and since the very first time I heard it, it has always uplifted me, given me hope, and empowered me at the deepest level. For most of my life, I never really understood why. I just knew what it did to me. There are some songs like this, that we always are drawn to, but we really don't question why. Major portions of the speech were originally from Archibald Carey Jr.'s 1952 Republican Convention speech, but that fact does not diminish the power of the words. (,_Jr.). Only recently have I truly discovered why the speech is so powerful. Before I get into my new understanding of the speech, let us remember Martin Luther King's background.

Dr. Martin Luther King was a prodigy. He became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama at twenty five years old, in 1954. He then "began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. degree on June 5, 1955, with a dissertation on 'A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman'."
(,_Jr.)(Again, BU found plagiarism in major portions of this work as well). These lofty accomplishments in his early twenties pale in comparison to what he would ultimately accomplish. It is important to remember the depth of his Christian roots when listening to his speeches.

When Dr. King speaks, there is absolutely no doubt that he is 100% committed to his words. This strength of conviction cannot come from empty faith, self-aggrandizing oration, or academic speechwriting. It comes from a wellspring of spirit far deeper. When a person like me who did not grow up religious, and had little exposure to this wellspring is showered in it, we try to attribute it to the person producing it, mistaking the map for the territory it describes. Recently, I have come closer to understanding that wellspring, and this speech points the way to it.

The primary "soul force" that Dr. King speaks of comes from his multiple biblical references in his incredible speech. It continues to stir today, because it contains the living word of God. Having heard this speech so many times in my life, I immediately found familiarity when I happened to open my bible to Isaiah 40:4-5:

(KJV): “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain….”

It all became clear at that moment. The power of the entire non-violent civil rights movement was because it's heart and acts were directly rooted in biblical commandment and faith. If you need any more convincing of why this speech is powerful to you, here are some more biblical references in this speech:

If you are not a believer, you may find it remarkable, even "unbelievable" that Christians like Dr. Martin Luther king risk their lives in conviction for living and speaking the words of God every day. Whether you are an Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Wiccan or whatever, we can all agree that this speech is a powerful, powerful force for good right? Your job is to make sure that Dr. King's dream comes true. If not you, who?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Would Make This The Best Day Of Your Life?

As I was on my morning walk through a local park, I pondered the question "What would have to be true in order for this to be the best day of my life?" and various thoughts popped in about tropical beaches, being with my family, etc. etc. and then it hit me. What would have to be true for *this* day to be the best day of my life, would be that I would need to be asking "What would have to be true in order for this to be the best day of my life?"! I thought about this for a few moments, and was hit by the epiphany. The fact that I am asking the question means that I have jumped onto a path, that if continuously followed, would cause every day to be the best possible day. I guess that I could start mincing words and ask what "best" really means, and there are days that can never be topped, like the day your kid is born and all that, but I guess what the properly worded version of the question would be is "What would have to be true in order for my actions on this day to be perfectly aligned with my values". Yeah, I think that is better - and it demands that you have already clarified your values and the obligations that you have to fulfill to be true to those values. If you value something, but you do not enjoy the obligations to support that value, then perhaps you need to question the value. For example, if  I value having a beautiful home, but while I am cleaning, I am grumbling the whole time, then if I remember what I value, suddenly the cleaning becomes like a meditation. Everything is aligned. I value a clean house, therefore, I am performing exactly the action that is required in order to be true to my value. Ok, where was I...oh, best day of my life, yeah yeah - ok, so if you have clarified your values, then you can clarify the obligations you have to be true to those values. If you have clarified your obligations, then as long as you are engaging in those obligations, every day of your life will be as close as possible to the best day of your life. Now, here is something interesting that happens - when we start to write down what we value, we find that our values tend to be "good". ie: it is highly unlikely that you will write down "I value being drunk". Then, the next time you are drunk, you can look at your values and feel the cognitive dissonance between your values and your inability to fulfill the obligations to them due to your inebriated state. boy, I am far afield here. That's enough.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Is Sympathy Even The Right Approach?

There are some things in the physical world that we cannot wrap our heads around. We know that the universe is really, really large and we know that quantum mechanics deals with things that are really, really small. We know the double-slit experiment is mystifying. But the pain felt by a parent's loss of a child is so much more incomprehensible than anything. People close to someone going through this are completely ill-equipped to even know what needs to be provided, let alone having the ability to provide it. Recently a family member received the paralyzing phone call in wee hours of the morning that their 19 year old son had died in a car accident. I had witnessed this happening to a mother and father once before in my life, and the experience after the countless hours huddled in a hospital waiting room until the doctor finally "called it" is scorched into my memory as a feeling of complete entrapment and helplessness. You no longer exist in the world, you are enveloped by it. The amplitude and quantity of raw emotion produced by the realization of what has happened, even for a friend of the family requires every synapse and neuron in a body to process. Attempting to even describe this experience with words like Tsunami, Flood, Avalanche, or the like is not even approaching the feeling because it implies that there is still an earth to stand on underneath these events.

Although my wife and I sense that the only real power that we have is to "be there" and provide a spiritual energy field to capture pain waves emitted from the family, we also feel that we should send *something* physical across the country along with our daughter, whose boyfriend's brother has just died. This is where my adventure in the "Sympathy" section of the greeting card rack begins.

In the car on the way to the store, my wife reminded me about the type of card that I should be looking for, to which I responded "I think I can handle this one." then shot a testosterone ray at the dashboard,  vaporizing the GPS and powered through to the store. I picked up the first card that looked, for whatever reason, like it might be the card that would provide the needed "Sympathy".

I opened it.

Although I held no criteria for judging which card would be the correct one, I had a jolting feeling of the supreme inadequacy that what I was holding in my hand would improve whatever thing I can't understand that I sensed they needed assistance improving. It was so painfully obvious that this was not working that I had to shake my head. There is no section in the card rack for "Loss of a Child" so I entirely blame myself for trying to use simple arithmetic to do string theory. However, I decided to press on.

"You need..."? What chutzpah this grand poo-bah of consolation, "The sympathy card" has to tell someone in mourning what they need! This is like sending Steve Balmer from Microsoft to barge through their front door. No. This will never do. I began to realize that there is only one criterion - the card with the fewest words. I was looking for a card that would draw their attention, but nothing else. It would not command, suggest, uplift, commiserate, or...sympathize.

It most certainly would not provide an emotional forecast.

At about this time, my 7 year old son provided his choice for consolation.

Who am I to ignore an opportunity to enjoy my child's innocence considering the existential void that is being suffered by these parents? "Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each sensation a little bit stronger." - (Time Stand Still by Rush). May God bless you Neil Peart. Everything helps right now, especially from a father with...experience. I focused my attention back on the rack, and noticed that I was impregnating every attribute of each card with hope that it would provide some sort of positive indicator that it will provide...something positive. The typeface. The color. The texture. The image, embroidery, layout, content. Each became a metric in this impossible pursuit. Until I finally accepted that the impedance mismatch between the solution domain and the problem domain was irreconcilable. For the first time ever my wife was right, and I was wrong: I *couldn't* handle this. Meeting me at the card rack, ostensibly to figure out what was taking me so long, she reached in and plucked one out and walked to the register as if she already understood the meaninglessness of the content of any selected card. Something that I had been discovering for the past 15 minutes. 

So, there it is. The least ineffective of them all.

Monday, March 18, 2013

How Temptations Are Taught

Today I watched a very good documentary on Netflix called "The Buddha". Feeling all free flowing and stuff, I walked into the kitchen to get some water. Staring at me from a bowl was a cornucopia of "Big Texas" danishes. In my relaxed and vulnerable state, I just let myself go with the flow, and grabbed one, ripped it open, and enjoyed it. As I was consuming the empty calories, I thought about how important environment is. If that danish was not there, I never would have desired it. When I noticed it, I could have resisted, but I don't like resisting things. That takes effort. Isn't it better to just not have the temptation there in the first place? I don't know...on the one hand, learning to resist temptation is an important discipline, because, well, it teaches us discipline which enables us to expend effort, which is the only method to acquire happiness. On the other hand, if you live in a world of constant temptation it has a coarsening effect on life. The resistance that you build up in order to protect yourself from constantly falling prey to temptation spills over into areas of life where resisting diminishes your enjoyment and ability to show true compassion. So as I wiped the sticky goodness from my fingers, I re-affirmed the importance of environment. The physical things we surround ourselves with need to be chosen very carefully, so that we can feel comfortable that some pop-tart is not going to be lurking around the corner waiting to tempt us. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happiness is a consequence

It's the early 1940's. A train rattles its way northward through southern Poland along tracks barely able to hold the weight of the "passengers" above. The mass of flesh mashed into the cattle car contained a young Psychlogist named Viktor Frankl. As suddenly as each member of this transport was plucked from whatever amount of freedom they enjoyed before, all hope of their fate faded when a passenger caught a glimpse of their destination..."Auschwitz".

Viktor Frankl was admitted to the concentration camp, and during his imprisonment, every aspect of his life was controlled. He was told when to eat. When to Sleep (or more often when not to), when to go to the bathroom. His name had been reduced to a number, yet even in this environment, he maintained control of one thing. His ability to choose how he reacted to these physical horrors.

I know that you must be thinking that I chose the wrong title for this post - What does a Nazi concentration camp have to do with Happiness? Well, the very thing that kept Viktor Frankl alive is capable of keeping us happy. You see, happiness actually has very little to do with your life situation. The way you react to your life situation is a far greater factor in determining whether you will have happiness or not. I use a working definition of happiness that may be different than what you are used to. Happiness usually conjures up images of smiling faces, uplifting personalities, and joyful occasions. But I believe that happiness represents something more enduring - A result of some key behaviors.

The first behavior that I believe produces happiness in great measure is self-control. We all need to have self-control in order to live within our society. Dr. Stephen Marmer said that a key component of maturity which comes as a result of self-control is what he describes as capacitance. This means the ability or capacity to endure discomforts, and challenging life situations. If you have children, you have no doubt experienced a child's lack of capacitance. For example, when a young child is tired, they may whine excessively over having to walk back to the car from dinner. Self-control is a major value that parents are required to teach children.

Another key element to happiness is a strong value system. What this really means is that you intuitively know what decision needs to be made without having to ponder the implications. For example, Dennis Prager often describes how broken our value system is with a simple question. "If a stranger and your beloved pet dog were both drowning, and you could only rescue one of them, which would you rescue - you know nothing about the stranger." If you have a strong value system you will know exactly what to do. Strong value systems are created when you think deeply about moral issues often. When you have this strong value system, your self-control will be even more effective at producing happiness, because you will know which obligations you have in order to be true to your values. If you have the self-control to fulfill your obligations, you will be living in alignment with your values.

Finally, gratitude is an essential component of happiness. People who cannot feel grateful to the worker at the coffee shop for making their drink limit their ability to feel happiness because they live with an expectation that they are entitled to the drink which the worker is producing. Such an expectation can cause frustration and anger if the worker fails to mix in the correct ingredients. Robert Emmons writes in his book "Thanks!" about a concept called "Glad Dependence". This idea can be very powerful in your life. The more complex that the world becomes, the more we depend upon others in order to design and maintain the things that improve our lives. For example, I am typing on a keyboard such that when a key is pressed, and electrical contact is made which sends a signal through a maze of technology that I do not fully understand, the result is data being displayed on this page and ultimately in front of you. I am grateful to the creative people who originally thought of this idea, and those who have developed and improved it throughout the years. Although gratitude is a human trait and available to all, those with a religious background tend to have deeper understanding of the importance of gratitude. It will help your happiness to seek out the institutions in your society that inculcate gratitude. Attendance of a Church, Temple, Synagogue or Mosque would likely improve your ability to feel a deeper sense of gratitude. I do not actively practice in any religion so I ache for a secular institution that promotes behavior such as saying grace before a meal.

In conclusion, my greatest hope for you is to improve your self-control, strengthen your values, and feel a heartfelt sense of gratitude. If you do these things, it is far more likely that happiness will result than if you are distracted by any other method to obtain happiness.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Depression Treatment - Gratitude

Before I get started, I need to tell you that I am not a medical Doctor. Any medications or treatments that you are currently using should not be stopped unless you are directed to by your physician or therapist. If you suffer from severe depression, be sure to review my technique below with your physician or therapist as a possible supplement to relieve depression symptoms.

I received the call at 7am. It was a normal school day and a normal work day and I had just dropped my daughter off at high school. There on the other end of the line was my daughter who was having a bad day. She was having issues with her friends, her schoolwork, and the impending doom of final exams and felt as though the entire weight of the world was bearing down on her. Knowing that she was not going to get anything accomplished at school, I picked her up and we went to go have a coffee and chat. So for about 15 minutes I listened attentively to what was happening in her life at that time, and many of the issues were real concerns. So at a point when she was taking a breath from her troubles, I spoke. "Christy, it sounds like you have a lot going on in your life right now. For a moment, I would like you to try something for me. Can you tell me what you are thankful for?". She paused, possibly a bit taken aback by the question, and then proceeded: "I am thankful that my parents listen to me, and understand me. I am thankful for the house that we live in. I am thankful to be able to go to such a great high school...I am thankful for our new puppy!" and at that moment a broad smile swept across her face. What did I do that enabled her to be able to change a dreary mood that had been plaguing her for hours and possibly even days in just minutes? I helped her with gratitude.

There are a few key points regarding how gratitude that will help you understand why this state of mind is so powerful. The first point is that it is one of those unique and rare states of mind that is mutually exclusive. It does not allow other negative emotions to operate simultaneously. It is possible to be happy that you are going on vacation, but sad that your grandfather just died at the same time. It is not possible to give true, deep, heartfelt appreciation that your neighbor just brought you some hand-me-down clothes for your son and at the same time feel another negative emotion. It pushes out all other feelings when you are engaged in it.

Another point to mention about gratitude is that we are all dependent upon others to have the life that we have. The computer your are reading this on right now was engineered by countless scientists all building upon those technologies developed by still more scientists. There are countless opportunities around us to practice "Glad Dependence" as coined by Robert A. Emmons in his great book that is simply titled "Thanks". This idea is profound, because it allows us to feel good about depending upon others. Now don't get me wrong. Self-sufficiency is a major factor in creating maturity which breeds happiness. However, even the most independent among us must drive a car! Ironically, it may actually be easier for the highly self-sufficient to understand Glad Dependence, as they themselves have likely produced businesses, products, and services that others rely on.

Finally, I recommend that you seek out the institutions in our society that inculcate gratitude. Although I am not a practicing Christian, I acknowledge that The Church is a major player in fostering gratitude among our citizens. I can't think of another social institution that is so tuned into how important it is to be thankful. The religious say Grace before meals, and humble themselves before God at least once a week at Church. The secular do have access to these techniques, and they are very effective. At our dinner table, we all say what we are thankful for before we eat, very much modeled after the way that Christians say grace. It is an effective technique to prevent the dinner table from becoming a complaint-fest.

In closing, I hope that you can remember to temper your bad moods with gratitude the next time you feel that the world is closing in on you.

Thank you,
Craig Glendenning

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Google Did Good today

I remember explicitly thinking last year on 9/11 why Google puts up special icons and notations on insignificant days, but on 9/11, there was no mention of 9/11 whatsoever. This year, there is a red white and blue ribbon displayed on

Thank you Google for helping us remember.