Water Under the Bridge

Mindless comments hurt.

Yet how many stories do we hear about people who haven’t spoken to each other for years, but they cannot remember why. 

Water under the bridge. It’s gone. And half our lives have gone, too. And the quarrel is forgotten. But the pain remains. 

Like the river bank, worn away, by the water under the bridge. 

Let it go. 

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Losing Everything

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I watched as a pigeon landed nearby with a piece of bread, far too big to eat. He started to wrestle with it, his beak shaking it about trying to break it into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

All this activity did not go unnoticed. Another pigeon saw the commotion and flew in to investigate. Seeing such a grand feast, he challenged for possession.

The defendant dropped the bread and stood his ground. But the challenger was intent on getting the prize. He moved in, aggressively. A fight ensued, with both pigeons slugging it out, beak to beak. No quarter was asked, and no quarter was given.

The two antagonists kept up the fracas for a short while, making lots of movement and a great deal of loud noise.

But the fight was being observed from on high. At the opportune moment, a seagull swooped in, his great beak aiming at the target. He landed, gulped the bread down, and left, just as quickly as he had appeared; all in one smooth movement.

The antagonists looked on, stunned, and went on their way, hungry.

Watching this drama unfold, I realised that whenever we focus on our disagreements, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

And we risk losing everything.

Talent? What Talent?

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Watching a talent show, you wonder what the family are thinking when they allow their son, daughter, or whatever, to subject themselves to such public humiliation.

Most of us sing, from time to time; usually for one of two reasons. Either we feel happy, and burst into song, or we want to distract ourselves or others from what is going on around us. Lullabies are a classic example of the latter; a concerned parent tries to distract their child from pain, or send him to sleep, despite the excitement all around. Or a child will sing in a disruptive manner when she doesn’t get the attention she thinks she deserves.

Yet, how many of us really believe that we could make it as the next big pop star? No. We keep our singing to ourselves.

OK. Let’s put this in perspective. There was an advertisement for a famous chocolate bar, many years ago, that showed a new group auditioning with a record producer. During a break for refreshments, the producer says, “Can’t play. Can’t sing. You look awful. (Pause for advertised product.) You’ll go a long way.” Now, that was meant as sarcasm. But it seems that many of the people entering talent competitions, especially the televised versions, think it works. And I often wonder, “Do their families really hate them so much that they would allow them to go through such public humiliation?”

So why does it happen?

1. Hatred. There are several reasons, and overt family hatred is not among them, most of the time. Only the most perverse parent would want to humiliate their child in such a public fashion. Mind you, that doesn’t stop many parents from shouting derogatory comments at their child in public.

2. Don’t Upset Him. One reason is that people don’t want to upset their child, parent, or sibling. So, rather than cause upset in the family, they say nothing, or even encourage the foolish attempt to make it in show business, art, or the chosen talent. Maybe the would-be artist believes he has a great voice, but he also has a bit of a temper. So no one wants to upset him. They forget that he’s going to be upset, anyway, when the discerning public humiliate him.

3. Hatred Disguised as Love. Yet a far more insidious form of hatred is disguised as love. The current trend in parenting says that we should not provide a child with a negative view of himself; always try to find something good to say about his efforts. As commendable as such sentiments may be, do they really help to prepare the child for life? Self esteem is important. But to be valuable it has to be realistic. I once read a comment by a father who said, “If you present a bad report at the office, your boss isn’t going to say, ‘Hey, I like the color paper you chose.'”

Nurturing a positive view of one’s self without good cause is not loving. It is a form of hateful abuse. By nurturing the view that a child can do no wrong, a parent is setting the child up for failure. Children need to learn to be self-critical, not in the negative, self-harming sense, but in the way of having a realistic view of their own abilities and achievements. They need to identify when they got it wrong so that they can have the pleasure of problem solving without recourse to a parent masking the child’s failure. They need to learn to reason on their own work, find the mistakes, and fix them on their own.

The same is true of talent. When a parent, or other significant family member, presents an unrealistically positive view, they are doing their child a huge disservice. Protecting a child from harm includes protection from self-inflicted abuse caused by an unrealistic view of your own abilities. And that can only be achieved by being tactfully truthful.

Children need to learn that the universe does not revolve around them. They need to learn that they can’t be right, all the time. They need to learn that they will make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that their life is over. The safest place to learn this is in the warm, loving environment of a warm, loving family, with parents who care enough to point out the failings in a gentle, loving way. They need parents who help them to identify and correct mistakes, rather than hiding the child from the consequences of their actions.

While it is important to encourage a child’s self esteem, failing to identify their weaknesses is failing to be a good parent. It produces children who greedily assume that the world owes them a living, and that they don’t have to do anything to deserve it.

Would it not be better to give the child a balanced, realistic view of himself. Maybe, then, they can become better parents, when it’s their turn.

Innocent

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“Sometimes a man is innocent, but the circumstances make it appear otherwise.”
Oliver Lacon in John LeCarré’s Smiley’s People (or was it Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)

It’s one of my favourite quotations. I may not have it exactly right. But I think the sentiment is important.

Over the years, I have come across people who were only trying to do their best, but their motives were questioned to the point where they appeared to be in the wrong. They, however, knew that the best way to deal with such allegations is to ignore them . . . and let the results speak on their behalf. Invariably, they were justified without saying a word.

I have also come across people who managed to hide their wrongs behind a façade of bravado, usually accompanied by vociferous false allegations against even those who had their best interests at heart. Invariably, they suffered. Their health deteriorated, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And once again, the results spoke for themselves. And once again, the innocents who tried to save them were justified.

The lesson? Don’t waste your time and energy defending petty allegations. The truth always comes out in the end.

Grandpa's Poetic Way

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I believe that I have finally sorted out the problem with my book, and it is now available for free download, this weekend.

It is available here for Amazon UK readers, and here in the US. It is available worldwide, so you should be able to find it if you search for its updated title, Grandpa’s Poetic Way.

I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you to all those who have already taken a look. If you feel moved to offer a review, that would be appreciated. If you don’t like it, then that’s okay, too.

The Imposters

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same

(If – Rudyard Kipling)

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Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, is a study in contrasts, considering many of the opposites that we encounter in daily life. He describes being able to do what others cannot; of handling situations with equanimity; of dealing with life in a balanced way.

Yet his comment, above, on the opposites, Triumph and Disaster, seems to add another dimension. Most versions of the poem capitalise the words as proper nouns, almost as if they are people, or even gods. And, in truth, many people see triumph as an idol to be worshipped at all costs.

Look again, though, at the contrast. Consider the synonymous definition of Triumph and Disaster both being imposters. How true. Triumph lasts only as long as the reward, and sometimes not even that long. When you think of the origin of the term, White Elephant, it becomes obvious that success in pleasing the monarch may be short-lived when the prize was a white elephant, which was expensive to keep, and could not be disposed of.

Most triumphs, of course, are not of that kind. We speak of exam success, sports success, job success, and so on. Yet the euphoria experienced even in these situations can be short-lived. Passing one set of exams may only lead to another set; and how many people still work in the field of their college major. A gold medal, today, is often followed by training, tomorrow, ready for the next event. And we soon lose interest in a highly sought-after job, once the day-to-day grind sets in and we get to know the faults of our colleagues; and they get to know ours!

Disasters, too, are relatively short-lived. Exam failure is often simply an incentive to study harder, next time; losing a race becomes motivation to do more and better training; and losing a job is an incentive to find a better one.

So, yes. Triumph and Disaster are imposters. They may engender strong emotions at the time, but those emotion fade and are replaced by the next big issue facing us in life.

An Alternative View

The contrasts in Kipling’s poem all relate to our own actions and attitudes. They ask us to meditate, mindfully, on how we behave and how we react (or respond) to various events and people. They encourage a balanced view of our situations and relationships. Can we talk with crowds and keep our virtue? Can we walk with kings without losing the common touch?

However, look back at the concept of Triumph and Disaster. Triumph, for one person, can mean disaster for another. Although exam success is often shared, a sports winner almost presupposes that there will be losers. Getting a new job usually means that someone else was disappointed.

It is the same with other triumphs. We need to remember that when we are successful, there may be others who have suffered a “disaster” so that we can succeed; if succeed is the right word. Keeping this in mind will help us to be balanced, both in our celebrations and in our lamentations. Why?

Have you ever watched the award ceremony of a sports final? The camera focuses on the winners; but looking deeper into the picture, we often see the sadness on faces of the losers as they sit, quietly waiting for an opportunity to slink away.

The same is true of other triumphs. Think about bidding for an item in an auction. You may be happy that you were able to watch and win the item. But how many other people were watching the same item and became sad about not winning the auction.

Feeling Empathy

So when it comes to triumphs, we need to remember that our triumph can often be someone else’s disaster. They may be severely disappointed at their loss. As we travel home with euphoria coursing through our veins, they will be going home in relative depression. Our success may even cause them a sad loss. Indeed, people tell me that driving home from an apparent triumph, they have been overwhelmed at the sense of disaster that it has caused to the other person. They have felt the loss suffered by that person, and it makes them realise that triumph really is an imposter.

Truly, Kipling’s poem is a reminder that both Triumph and Disaster are imposters. They pretend to be things that they are not. They produce feelings that do not last; and they fail to live up to the promises that they appear to have made.

So, next time you feel sad about a loss, remember that your “disaster” may have brought joy to another person. Are you able to feel good about that?

Think, too, about any positive consequences of your loss. Positive consequences? Oh yes. And if you are unable to think of these positive consequences, just spend a few moments thinking about how the outcome could have been much worse. Then you will be able to see the positive consequences as you become aware of the disastrous scope of what could have happened.

And next time you feel happy about a triumph, think about the loss suffered by the other person. Are you able to feel badly about that?

Think, too about the negative consequences of your gain. Will there be repercussions that will be difficult to deal with? Will you be expected to carry out additional duties, or provide additional funds or resources? What will this “triumph” cost you?

These balanced feelings of empathy, coupled with a realistic view of your triumphs and disasters, will help you to put life events into perspective; and they will help you to be a more balanced, more mindful person. You will develop better relations with others; and with yourself. Or, as Kipling put it, “You’ll be a Man, my son!”


Grandpa’s Poetic Way now available at Amazon

Grandpa's Way Poetry

On Thursday, I posted that I would be making my book available for free download over the weekend. Unfortunately, I appear to have confuse the Amazon system for the US website and my book failed to show up there.

Therefore, I decided to pull the promotion for this weekend so that I could re-offer it, later. I hope to get the free download available again next weekend and this time, to include my US readers in the offer.

I can only apologize for the confusion.

Meanwhile, I will just have to start work on the next volume.

Grandpa's Way Poetry

I mentioned in my previous post that I have published my first book of poetry on Amazon.

Well, I am now pleased to tell you that the book will be available for free download, this weekend, from 16th to 17th May.

Please feel free to get your copy, and, if you feel that you could write a review, then that would be much appreciated.

Once again, thank you to my readers and mentors for your help and encouragement.