Monday, December 30, 2013

The Warrior within Us: Learning to Fight and Choose Our Battles

This holiday I have been reading Steven Pressfield’s “The Warrior Ethos”. It has caused me to reflect on my own experiences with conflict and how we each deal with it differently. A majority of people in the world are quite passive in the way they live out their lives. Most go along with the cultures, religions and traditions they grew up in.  Very few are able to step out of their “roots”, learn to take risks or follow up on their whims for adventure.

As a student of history, it has been obvious to me that the “movers and shakers” of the world have generally been “warriors”.  These are people who are willing to lead or fight for change that they want…both for themselves personally and in order to effectively change a world they find unsatisfactory. From the early Viking explorers to Alexander the Great to American expansionism in the “New World”, it takes a culture or attitude of being a warrior to move peoples and cultures to change. To a large degree, the warrior ethos is what drives evolution and “survival of the fittest”.

While military people and their codes of honor tend to drive the warrior spirit in our cultures…I think most anyone who is successful or a “self-made” person has called upon an innate spirit of warrior mentality to get where they are. Life is a constant battle to impose self over the many powers and influences who strive to minimize individualism.  Change is the enemy of Statism and institutions.  It is individual minds, ambitions and actions that initiate change, therefore the constant pressures of these institutions to compel individuals to compromise and/or conform is understandable.

Warriors tend to band with other warriors…or find themselves in direct conflict with other warriors.  We see the manipulation of masses by “warriors” who want to enlist the power of the weak to reach their own ambitions. There are very few “benevolent” leaders or warriors though it might be a higher calling to be desired. Yet, most of us warriors are quite self-absorbed on how we apply that warrior spirit within us.

Wonder if you are a warrior…or not? I think there are a few basic questions to ask yourself.

· Do you like to lead or prefer to follow?
· Are you independent or a “team” player? (Do you like individual or team sports?)
· Do you blame others… or yourself… for shortcomings or failures?
· Do you have personal pride in your accomplishments or do you tend to give others the credit?
· Do you live with more pride… or guilt?
· Do you have more questions or answers about your future goals and ambitions?

I think there are successful and unsuccessful warriors. Successful warriors tend to have good causes that the masses will embrace and follow.  They always battle for a reason…not just spoiling for a fight.  They choose their battles carefully…aligning their emotions to their reasoning minds.  Bravado itself may win a battle, but hardly ever wins a war.  A successful warrior uses brain more than brawn…and understands his limits when it comes to resources or preparedness for a fight.  He will wait until the odds are in his favor.

Unsuccessful warriors tend to overestimate their own strength or underestimate the opposition. They are controlled by emotions, bravado and a certain amount of narcissism. They live battle to battle instead of having long term strategies or objectives.  They focus on the “trees instead of the forests”. Often times there is no purpose to their conflict beyond the drive to “win at all cost”.  It is ego before reason.  These negative principles are the foundation of all failed empires or poor leadership.

I think it is healthy to develop positive warrior archetypes within our families and cultures.  We often do so through athletic competition and development.  It is important for humans to develop their physical capabilities, coordination and confidence.  It is part of “natural selection”.  Normal people appreciate perfection and accomplishment and tend to despise weakness and fear.  Weakness and fear are not the code of survival or being a warrior.

Being a warrior is not only physical. Mental preparedness and education are equally or more important to developing a successful warrior ethos.  Steven Hawkins is a modern day example of exemplifying a warrior spirit mentally while being a quadriplegic bound in a wheelchair.  He has not shied away from taking contrary views about religion, science and culture while not being able to physically fight for his ideals and beliefs.  There are also too many examples of perfect physical specimens of humanity who seem to have no intelligence or mental prowess. Those who are lucky enough to combine the two often fall into lazy habits of taking their advantage for granted and do not retain their competitive edge in life because “things have come too easy for them”.  Complacency and too much success too soon can become the enemy of a successful warrior.

Ultimately, the successful warrior is able to apply lessons in battle to all areas of their life. It is interesting to observe how some military warriors leave the battlefield in “defeat” or at least not clear cut victory…and then live out that defeat in all other areas of their lives. Some warriors have come back from the battlefield missing limbs and still find ways to fight and win in all future phases of their lives.  Others come back never having been wounded, but mentally retain a defeatist or fatalistic view of their future lives.  I have seen many of these former soldiers living homeless and penniless in American streets.  It is to me the saddest example of warriors who have lost a cause to battle for. They tend to escape to various substances instead of determining to turn their failures into victories.  It is a given that this is a very hard thing to do…take failure in stride and not count on others to lift us to a level of self-acceptance or dominance.

I think most people have some level of “warrior ethos” within them.  Unfortunately, most have not been encouraged to “fight” for who and what they wanted to become.  It is easier to let others or circumstances dictate our lot in life to us.  Some of us believe in mysticism and “luck” when it comes to our conditions in life.  Others of us believe in “cause and effect” ruling the day.

While I have never fought in the military or for a “patriotic” cause…I believe I have fought my whole life for having freedom of information, choice, integrity, and yes…paying the price or taking the credit for my failures and victories.  No one wins ALL the time.  Very few wars have been fought where one side won every battle.  The key is knowing your objectives…and realistic odds of reaching them. If we stay true to the realistic, surviving instincts within us…we can then use our warrior spirit to push ourselves forward to win the war that is our life…and take our losses in stride.

For me, “Semper Fi” begins with self before it can extend to other warriors. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Wisdom from Ray...

I continue to believe in the power and meaning of words. Reading and writing of course are our closest sources to those powers...but spoken words at the right time and place have a way of changing lives...often without the speaker being conscious of the effect their words had on the listener.

I have been fortunate in my life to be around many well spoken and thinking people.  I haven't always come out agreeing with everything some of my mentors have said or believed...but I have always thought that if someone's actions back up their words...well, that is the basis for personal integrity.

I woke up this morning remembering a "pep talk" from one of my early mentors in life, Ray Clendenan. Ray passed a couple years ago, but his daughter, Connie, continues to be a lifelong friend and their family has spent decades working with troubled teens and orphans through a valuable concept called "Teen Ranch". I have no idea how many thousands of young lives they have positively impacted with a sense of family, direction and guidance where original families or parents were incompetent or unable to provide for their offspring.

Ray was helping promote one of my traveling bands in the late 70s...and he was great for solving complicated problems with simple and solid reasoning...wisdom.  Our young band of minstrels were just starting a year long tour and already discovering the conflicts that arise when 8+ people live together on the road for long periods of time.  He observed some of these conflicts early in our tour and since I was managing this band of people, most of whom were older than me, he quietly gave me and the band some basic advise and philosophy that has periodically guided me all these decades.

Ray said (paraphrased)...
The world we live in is a beautiful place.  It feeds us, inspires us, gives us a constant diet of awe at the power of nature. Yet, as we traverse this world we constantly run into problems.  Most of those problems are caused by other people.  If it weren't for people in our way, bugging us or contradicting us...our lives would be much easier. 
Sometimes its the people closest to us who cause the most trouble or hurt us the most. If we want to succeed in this world...we have to learn how to handle people in our lives.  We have to learn how to confront without being aggressive.  We need to learn to forgive even when people don't ask for forgiveness.  If we don't do those things, people will always be causing us problems and controlling our lives and emotions. We will always be REacting to people instead of controlling our own actions. 
Yep, people are a problem...but over time I have found that a soft answer turns away anger in another person. Over time love overcomes hate. Carrying resentment against people that have hurt us just builds walls and fills our lives with negativity.  The best way to overcome our problems is to love these people that cause us problems every day.  If we love and care about them, they will soon be less problematical. People respond to whatever energy you send their way.  If you are critical and resentful, they will tend to be critical and resentful back. If you accept differences as just being the way things are and that we don't need to agree on everything in order to care or get along...these problem people will become less of a problem. 
We all are different from each other...but one of our core choices everyday in this world is whether we are going to reject each other, or reach out to each other.  The more we reach out, the less we feel alone and the more we realize how much we all have in common.  I have found that it is very few times that you reach out to help or affirm someone that they won't respond in like manner.  When we start looking at problems as opportunities to grow, reach out and understand our differences...that is when we start overcoming our problems. Our problems are based on our own limitations to reach out and affirm versus being critical and combative.  So, make your problems out to be opportunities to embrace and overcome the obstacles. If you do that, people become less of a problem...and more of an asset in your life. 

Obviously I am paraphrasing heavily from my own memory and interpretation of Ray's words so long ago...but I have often smiled at the memory of Ray's pep talk regarding "People are a problem"...and some of my greatest satisfactions in life have been when I have succeeded in making a problem into a friend, customer or confidant. The "problem" has usually started with me.