Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Too Shall Pass

It had been a long day and we were getting a little edgy.  I had to laugh, though, when I saw my ten-year-old son had taped a sign on his shirt that read: 

“Danger, Tired Kid!!!”

I thought that was a pretty good idea, to broadcast a warning when you’re feeling irritable.  Such a caution could work both ways:  to advise others to tread lightly, and to counsel yourself to think before you act.  Then again, humor goes a long way in easing tension.

The danger sign disappeared from my son’s T-shirt by the next morning.  Storms eventually pass, often leaving behind an overarching rainbow.  This heavenly light appears after the air is cleared by a storm.  If, however, violent winds stir up more debris than the rain washes away, then the iridescent colors cannot follow—not in the air, not in the soul.  This tempering of the tempest is aided by thinking before you act.

Often, allowing passions to cool resolves the issue that created the squall. The storm blows over.  [For reasons I won’t mention, I wish I would have thought of this last week.] 

A year before Abraham Lincoln was elected President, he gave a speech which he concluded with the following story:

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations.  They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.”  How much it expresses!  How chastening in the hour of pride!  How consoling in the depths of affliction!

When life has you in turmoil, let it pass.  And if it helps, tape a sign to your shirt cautioning people to beware your stormy mood.

Abraham Lincoln
(1809 – 1865)

Lincoln is famous for his speeches, his humor, his magnanimity and his diplomacy. 
·         Through his speeches, he gave people a vision—“That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
·         Through his humor he created a bond of trust and broke down walls.
·         Through his magnanimity, he used commendation (attributing the best motives to his opponents) rather than confrontation, to point out the similarities between his aims and those of his detractors.
·         Through his diplomacy he emancipated the slaves and held the United States together.

I’d like to take a closer look at the last point: diplomacy.  In 1860, Abraham Lincoln won his party’s convention—but not until the third round of voting.  He recognized both the strength of his Republican opponents and his personal lack of experience in the White House, so he filled his cabinet with strong leaders within his party.  These men were highly experienced—enough experienced, in fact, to think they could run things better than he could.  Lincoln used diplomacy to earn their respect and keep them all working together during our nation’s most fiery crisis.

Lincoln achieved similar diplomatic success in keeping the slave states bordering the Union from seceding.  These border states were critical to the Union’s  success.  Washington D.C. would have been in the middle of hostile territory without Maryland; the South would have owned the crucial artery of the Ohio River if Kentucky were on its side.  All during the war, Lincoln had to find a delicate balance between appeasing the abolitionists of the North and the slaveholders of the border states. 

One of Lincoln's most frustrating challenges was finding a general for the Union Army who could fight a winning campaign.  His first choice, McClellan, had everything going for him with one drawback.  He didn’t want to fight.  Lincoln studied war strategy and gave McClellan, and his other generals, a lot of good advice.  Often his advice was ignored and then Lincoln would have to take the heat.  Lincoln wrote many letters with rebukes, none of which were sent to their intended recipients.  Writing the letters was enough to vent his frustrations so he didn’t have to harm his working relationships.  What he did send were letters that diplomatically expressed his concerns and requests.

As the Civil War drew to a close, instead of self-congratulations, Lincoln asked for an honest self-analysis of both sides.  He issued a call for healing and reconciliation "With malice toward none, with charity for all."  

Lincoln closed his “This too shall pass” speech with this wish:
Let us hope . . . that by the best cultivation of the physical world,
beneath and around us;
and the intellectual and moral world within us,
we shall secure . . . happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward,
and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.

Abraham Lincoln, Speech before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, September 30, 1859.
A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White, 2010.
The following works by James McPherson:  Abraham Lincoln; Tried by War:  Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief;
                 Battle Cry of Freedom.
Abraham Lincoln by Wilbur F. Gordy, 1917.
If you can tell, I have a passion for learning about Lincoln and the Civil War.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Creating Systems of Order

There is a significant percentage of people who wake up eager to face the new day.  They throw back their covers and bounce out of bed, excited to welcome the adventures the day holds for them.  It is estimated that something like 90% of this segment of the population is under the age of four.

As a nurse, I used to voluntarily work the night shift because I’d rather work all night than get up at 5:00 in the morning for the day shift.  I had such an aversion to starting a new day in the early morning hours, that I could only face hauling myself out of bed if I could “return from whence I came” and take a nap right after my morning shower (which accounts for why I needed two hours to get ready for work).
                Then a few years back I experienced a paradigm shift when I realized that “early birds” don’t necessarily HAVE to be born—they can be made.  It created a dramatic change in my life to evolve from a night owl to an early bird.  I used to think the hours from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. were my most productive hours of the day, but I realized it was not a good thing for my family so I decided to go to bed earlier.  To make up for losing those “productive hours” I was determined to get up at 5 a.m. so I could work uninterrupted from 5 – 7 in the morning.  Then I made a profound discovery: all those years I spent as a “productive” night owl, I’d been missing out on something even better.  The early morning hours are inspirational.  I learned that with a prayer and paper & pen I could receive answers that hugely affected my life in very positive ways. 

                In my last blog entry I wrote about the power of environments and relationships.  I want to follow that up with thoughts on creating effective systems to add structure to our environment. 

The way I begin my day is one of the most important systems I’ve developed. It starts with going to bed at a reasonable hour.  My system involves the use of a little alarm clock and a lot of motivation to get up so I can have those precious inspirational hours to work on my projects.  It includes exercising and envisioning how my day will unfold.

That’s just one example of a system. We use systems for everything we do whether by plan or default.  If something isn’t working, take a look at the system behind it and adjust it. What are the systems you use to arrive on time, interact well with others, nourish your family, clean your home, find joy? Creating systems that work for you can be a very powerful concept when you use it.

Marla Cilley
a.k.a. FlyLady

                Marla Cilley allowed her perfectionism to paralyze her efforts to keep an orderly home.  (When a person feels like they don’t have the time to get the job done right, it can be overwhelming to face the job at all.)  She found the “Slob Sisters” book, Side-tracked Home Executive and was inspired to create systems of order in her home.  Along the way, she learned a few things and offered tips to anyone interested. Her handle “Fly” originated from her love of flyfishing, but it was suggested by one of the women who follows her system that FLY really stands for “Finally Loving Yourself.”

                Marla mentors through where she posts resources (and daily reminders) on building effective and do-able systems.  She starts with daily tasks that can be completed in fifteen minutes.  Then she adds on weekly routines and monthly zones.  She encourages people to overcome procrastination, de-clutter, and fix finances. She is an advocate of healthy hearts through active play and nutritious meals. She understands that all this energy needs to come from somewhere so teaches to take time out to pamper yourself, enjoy family fun and renew your spirit.  Check her out at
                In an article called “Why Flylady is great for actors,” Karen Kohlhaas wrote:

Meret Oppenheim, a mother of two teenagers . . . told me about a website that was changing her life.  She said something like: “I think you’ll like this.  It seems to be about housecleaning but it’s much more than that.  I’m taking care of my daily life in ways I’ve never done before and I can’t believe it.”  . . .  Flylady's principles can work brilliantly for artists of all kinds because they are about handling unstructured time.

In other words, what works brilliantly is to create systems of order.