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The Science of Fear

'The Science of Fear' by Daniel Gardner (ISBN 0452295467) Confirmation bias leads us to accept more readily perceived facts that keep to our existing worldview more willingly than objectively considering all of the evidence. Many corporate leaders leverage disruptive change by making targeted, courageous moves toward new market opportunities. Many companies face up to risk with a strategic framework based on extenuating and managing the probable consequences but that line of attack might build bigger protective walls without guarding against the greatest risks—the ones that are unidentified. The uncertainty advantage is something different: an approach that compels managers to recognize the unknown as a market differentiator and an opportunity to give a free rein to innovative solutions that appeal to customers, investors, strategic partners, regulators, and competitors. Concisely, it is an opportunity to go well beyond the characteristic meaning of risk management—that is, seeking ways to achieve the best of the worst outcomes—to create new and sustainable value out of confusion.

In his book, The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulate Brain, New York Times bestselling author Daniel Gardner describes some of our pitfalls when it comes to framing risk properly:

Once a belief is in place, we screen what we see and hear in a biased way that ensures our beliefs are “proven” correct. Psychologists have also discovered that people are vulnerable to something called group polarization—which means that when people who share beliefs get together in groups, they become more convinced that their beliefs are right and they become more extreme in their views. Put confirmation bias, group polarization, and culture together, and we start to understand why people can come to completely different views about which risks are frightening and which aren’t worth a second thought.

It’s also much easier to simply be afraid of that with which we can easily recall to memory. Gardner uses Daniel Kahneman’s two systems of thought to explain:

You may have just watched the evening news and seen a shocking report about someone like you being attacked in a quiet neighborhood at midday in Dallas. That crime may have been in another city in another state. It may have been a very unusual, even bizarre crime—the very qualities that got it on the evening news across the country. And it may be that if you think about this a little—if you get System Two involved—you would agree that this example really doesn’t tell you much about your chance of being attacked, which, according to the statistics, is incredibly tiny. But none of that matters. All that System One knows is that the example was recalled easily. Based on that alone, it concludes that risk is high and it triggers the alarm—and you feel afraid when you really shouldn’t.

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Posted in Investing and Finance Philosophy and Wisdom

Knowledge is Never Really Acquired

A portrait statue of Socrates The famous statement, “All I know is that I do not know,” is attributed-questionably, according to some scholars-to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (c. 470-399 BCE), based on two dialogues written by his disciple Plato (c. 424-c. 348 BCE).

In The Republic (c. 360 BCE), Socrates concludes a discussion with Thrasymachus on “justice” by saying, “the result of the discussion, as far as I’m concerned, is that I know nothing, for when I don’t know what justice is, I’ll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.”

In The Apology (399 BCE), Socrates says of a well-respected politician that “he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know.” The resulting slogan was adopted by later thinkers and incorporated into the tradition that became known as “Academic Skepticism.” Rather than believing that it is impossible to know anything, Academic Skeptics actually claim only that we can know very little about reality—namely, truths of logic and mathematics. This contrasts with Pyrrhonian skepticism, which involves an attitude of doubting every positive judgment, including logic and mathematics.

A serious problem with Socrates’s statements is that he seems committed to an incoherent position. If he truly does not know anything, then it is false that he knows that; but if he does know he does not know anything, then it is false that he does not know anything. Thus, the claim “I know that I do not know” is self-defeating (resulting in the statement also being known as the Socratic paradox). In response, many scholars argue that this is an uncharitable reading of Plato. They contend that Socrates’s claims are expressed in a particular context, referring only to specific concepts and not to knowledge generally (“Justice” in The Republic, and “beauty” and “goodness” in The Apology).

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Posted in Education and Career Philosophy and Wisdom

50 Inspirational Quotes for Mothers’ Day

50 Inspirational Quotes for Mothers' Day

  • A Jewish proverb says, “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.”
  • John Erskine said, “Woman in the home has not yet lost her dignity, in spite of Mother’s Day, with its offensive implication that our love needs an annual nudging, like our enthusiasm for the battle of Bunker Hill.”
  • Golda Meir said, “At work, you think of the children you have left at home. At home, you think of the work you’ve left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself. Your heart is rent.”
  • Sam Levenson said, “Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children.”
  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”
  • Abraham Lincoln said, “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”
  • Gregory Nunn said, “Anyone who doesn’t miss the past never had a mother.”
  • Tenneva Jordan said, “A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”
  • James Joyce said, “Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.”
  • Germaine Greer said, “All that remains to the mother in modern consumer society is the role of scapegoat; psychoanalysis uses huge amounts of money and time to persuade analysis and to foist their problems on to the absent mother, who has no opportunity to utter a word in her own defense. Hostility to the mother in our societies is an index of mental health.”
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher said, “A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.”
  • Barbara Kingsolver said, “It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn’t.”
  • Chinese Proverb says, “There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it.”
  • Peter De Vries said, “A suburban mother’s role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after.”
  • Mildred B. Vermont said, “Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs… since the payment is pure love.”
  • William Feather said, “Setting a good example for your children takes all the fun out of middle age.”
  • Helen Hunt Jackson said, “Motherhood is priced; Of God, at price no man may dare/To lessen or misunderstand.”
  • Aristotle said, “Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own.”
  • Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to Sophia: “I love everything about you. I love that you want to wear jeans under a bridesmaid dress. I love that you are competitive yet kind. I love that you have friendships that will last a lifetime, and one day I hope you count me as one. Your independence shines through everything. And even though I am biased, I believe you will be a leader. Your life is just getting started. I am so excited to see where you go and what you do. I hope when you read this letter, you don’t turn your nose up and think it’s too sappy. I know I embarrass you all too frequently these days. But know it’s because I am so proud you are my daughter.”
  • Elizabeth Stone said, “Making a decision to have a child–it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
  • Florida Scott-Maxwell said, “No matter how old a mother is, she watches her middle-aged children for signs of improvement.”
  • Henry Ward Beecher said, “We never know the love of the parent until we become parents ourselves.”
  • Lin Yutang said, “Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother.”
  • Rajneesh said, “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”
  • Sophia Loren said, “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”
  • Ezekiel 16:4 says, “As is the mother, so is her daughter.”
  • James Fenton said, “The lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint.”
  • Businesswoman and Philanthropist Ivanka Trump to Arabella, Joseph and Theodore: “Arabella, when I started my company I thought of you. I considered the opportunities available to women in my generation, and I knew that I had a role to play in continuing to push the needle further. … There will be lots of things I’ll teach you in the years to come-some you’ll remember, some you’ll dismiss. But I hope that in my leading by example, you’ll each make your own decisions and chart your own course. Take nothing for granted. Know that in life, the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.”
  • Ali Wentworth (writer, comedian, and wife of ABC News’George Stephanopoulos) to Elliott and Harper: “You were born with determination, fierceness and the kind of inner strength that moves mountains. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t. People say, “Carpe diem.” But I say, don’t seize only the day, seize the life-“Carpe vitam!”
  • Elaine Heffner said, “Women do not have to sacrifice personhood if they are mothers. They do not have to sacrifice motherhood in order to be persons. Liberation was meant to expand women’s opportunities, not to limit them. The self-esteem that has been found in new pursuits can also be found in mothering.”
  • Oscar Wilde said, “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
  • Actor and film historian Debbie Reynolds to Carrie and Todd: “our life continues to be a terrific adventure. You make me proud on Mother’s Day and every other day. I love you more than words can ever say.”
  • An unknown author said, “All mothers are working mothers.”
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class.”
  • Henry Ward Beecher said, “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.”
  • Lawrence Housman said, “If nature had arranged that husbands and wives should have children alternatively, there would never be more than three in a family.”
  • Henry Bickersteth said, “If the whole world were put into one scale, and my mother in the other, the whole world would kick the beam.”
  • T. DeWitt Talmage said, “Mother – that was the bank where we deposited all our hurts and worries.”
  • Zora Neale Hurston said, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”
  • Pop singer Britney Spears to Jayden and Preston ‘God always comes to us in tiny whispers. I pray you always find his whisper and follow your inner voice as well.”
  • Retired professional boxer Laila Ali to Sydney and Curtis: “i love you when you win, i love you when you lose.i love you no matter what, because you can’t make mommy stop loving you.”
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Men are what their mothers made them.”
  • Nancy Thayer said, “Who is getting more pleasure from this rocking, the baby or me?”
  • Betty Rollin said, “Biological possibility and desire are not the same as biological need. Women have childbearing equipment. For them to choose not to use the equipment is no more blocking what is instinctive than it is for a man who, muscles or no, chooses not to be a weightlifter.”
  • Jill Bennett said, “Never marry a man who hates his mother, because he’ll end up hating you.”
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “Most mothers are instinctive philosophers.”
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men – from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms.”
  • Spanish Proverb said, “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.”
  • James Russell Lowell said, “That best academy, a mother’s knee.”
  • Honore de Balzac said, “The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”
  • W. Somerset Maugham said, “Few misfortunes can befall a boy which brings worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother.”

The Tao of Gratitude to a Mother

'The Taoism Reader' by Thomas Cleary (ISBN 1590309502) Per Thomas Cleary’s handy The Taoism Reader, Lu Yen, more commonly known as Ancestor Lu, who lived during the Tang Dynasty, reminds that one cannot thank one’s mother enough:

A woman carries a child in the womb for ten months, then gives birth in pain. Breast-feeding for three years, she watches over the infant with great care, aware of when it is sick, in pain, uncomfortable, itching. Whatever she does, even when she is not there, she always thinks of the baby. She is happy when she sees it laugh and worries when it cries. Seeing it stand and walk, she is at once anxious and exhilarated. She will go hungry to feed the child, she will freeze to clothe it. She watches, worries, and works, all for the child’s future. How can one ever repay the debt one owes to one’s mother?

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How to Create a Personal Leadership Brand

How to Create a Personal Leadership Brand The pressures of work are constant. In a world of discombobulated messaging, you can communicate with more impact and integrity by engendering a personal leadership brand. Personal branding can increment mindshare among audiences as much as branding for products can increment market share.

What rate of return do your speeches, interviews, and visits with customers and partners generate? What impact do these efforts have on your bottom line? A high Return on Communication means that with every interaction, you meet one or more strategic objectives, deliver clear messages that people understand and remember, and enhance your brand and the company’s brand. Executive branding ensures that the time and money you spend on communication translate into desired business outcomes.

Senior executives often communicate without making much of an impression. Either they don’t say anything memorable, or they are remembered for all the wrong reasons-a bad media quote, poor slides, annoying body language. Worst case: their communication is mistrusted and misinterpreted, achieving exactly the opposite of what they intend. High turnover rates and a paucity of effective leaders suggest either that there’s no correlation between studying leadership and leading or that the scientific approach could benefit from a bit more art.

Personal Branding Building a brand is about creating value for other people. The business reasons for executive branding are pellucid: the CEO’s reputation accounts for about a moiety of the reputation of the company; the CEO’s personal brand impacts employee allegiance and resilience; and a brand is the premium that shareholders are disposed to pay for the stock or the product. No bellwether can leave to chance the way that he or she is perceived.

While many leaders know how to brand companies and products, few know how to brand themselves. Why go to the trouble? Let’s look at what personal branding can do for you:

  • Differentiation: A personal brand differentiates you from others, enabling you to stand out and be memorable.
  • Consistency: A personal brand ensures that you are consistent-reliably the same in situations, which creates trust. People know what to expect of you, and you communicate from the same platform, whether announcing good news or bad news.
  • Clarity: When you have a brand, you stand for something. Your brand leverages the power of clear non-verbal messages, and helps determine the verbal messages you want to convey.
  • Authenticity: Personal branding allows you to speak with authenticity. Your brand communicates who you are. When leaders speak with sincerity, they are much more persuasive than when they speak the party line.

There’s been an increased interest in leadership presence over the last few years, perhaps because simply being present has become one of the chief executive obstacles in our highly distracting 24/7 culture. The spread of highly injuctively authorizing, even invasive, technologies is no doubt partly to inculpate. But many organizational cultures have in effect become toxic, which is a designator of pristinely human failure. If we can’t muster up the presence of mind to recognize this state of affairs, we have little chance of learning better leadership.

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Posted in Education and Career Philosophy and Wisdom

Determinism

Determinism is the view that all events occur as a result of prior events and the laws governing reality.

Although determinism does not entail naturalism (the view that there are no extra- or supernatural causes), it is usually defined in terms of natural laws and events.

Determinism should be distinguished from fatalism, which is the view that some future events will occur regardless of what happens between the present and that future time. Determinism is fatalistic, in the sense that the current state of events and the laws of nature entail that certain events will occur rather than others. But it is not identical to fatalism, which holds that these events will occur regardless of other occurrences.

The earliest version of determinism is probably best associated with the views of the atomists, Leucippus (early fifth century BCE) and Democritus (c. 460-c. 370 BCE), although Leucippus seems to allow that, in rare cases, atoms may “swerve” unaccountably. Determinism was popular with Roman stoics and found support in the physics of Sir Isaac Newton. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.”

Determinism is significant in the history of thought primarily in its relationship to the “free will problem,” that is, the question of what sort of freedom is required for morally responsible agency. If responsibility demands that agents be free to choose among a variety of options at the moment of decision making, then determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility. And even the sort of indeterministic luck highlighted by Leucippus’s swerving atoms may be incompatible with moral responsibility. However, if responsibility is a matter of internal dispositions toward actions, or “reactive attitudes,” determinism may be compatible with moral responsibility.

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Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Objectivism and Humanism

The Religion and Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), encompassed her ideas of rationalism, individualism, and capitalism within a dystopian United States.

Ayn Rand fled Bolshevik-controlled Russia in 1926 to live where her ideas could breathe and thrive: in America. Her philosophy slowly took shape in the form of novels: We the Living (1936), Anthem (1938), and The Fountainhead (1943.)

Frustrated with her intellectual climate, novelist and lay philosopher Ayn Rand (1905–82) collected ideas from a variety of philosophers and cobbled them into a unique view that she named Objectivism. By the mid-forties, she had given her philosophy a name: objectivism. Objectivism so impassioned Rand that she ultimately gave her talent over to it. With the completion of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, she had metamorphosed from writer to philosopher. Her subsequent work focused upon creating the “new intellectuals” through objectivism.

'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand (ISBN 451191145) Rand expounded on this personal worldview in her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Rand defends Aristotle’s ideas that reality exists objectively and authoritatively, that the laws of logic guide our understanding, and that consciousness is the seat of humans’ ability to know. She defends the rationalist ideas that morality is objective and that conscious rationality bestows special moral significance. And she also defends the classical liberal idea that each person is obligated to respect every person’s right to pursue her interests, so long as those pursuits do not interfere with another person’s right to do so. Rand then argues that the only sociopolitical system consistent with these ideas is laissez-faire capitalism, that is, a free market economy.

One controversial implication is what Rand calls “the virtue of selfishness.” Since each person is intrinsically valuable, one’s primary moral obligation is to pursue one’s own interests. This pursuit is limited only by the recognition that others are also valuable, and thus no one has the right to deceive or coerce others. Selfish interests cannot conflict because it cannot be in our interests to have something to which we have no right. Although some goods may result from collective action, such goods never justify the use of force.

Many would deny that Ayn Rand was a humanist, for many have seen only the political side of her philosophy or heard only the most sensational remarks she has made. But Rand’s objectivism begs a higher level of understanding, a more holistic interpretation, which focuses not on the eccentricities of its founder but on its basic tenets. Objectivism, with humans its center and reason its instrument, in fact, rings of humanism.

Humanism is a broad term which has been applied to several disciplines—science, ethics, psychology—and no two people are likely to agree on any one interpretation. I will refer to a small number of unifying characteristics for the sake of this argument.

  • First of all, humanism is primarily concerned with humans—their self-actualization, fulfillment, and happiness on this Earth, in this life. Distinct from all other species on Earth, humans strive constantly to improve their lot herehence the term self-actualization—not simply to reproduce and exist. Humanism acknowledges humankind’s intelligence and creativity, placing the power of humans’ “destiny” in their own hands. And while humanism does not aggrandize human beings—they are but tiny specks in a small galaxy within a vast universe—they are seen as their own means and ends.
  • Humanism holds human intelligence sacrosanct; the ability to reason sets humans apart from all other life on Earth. Humanism is committed to this ability and to its nurturance and evolution. Curiosity has driven humankind to wonder about its surroundings, to ask “why” of all it experiences; humanism rewards this. Khoren Arisian, an ethics leader, recognized this distinction of humanism in his essay, “Ethics and Humanist Imagination,” when he wrote: “If Existentialism yields a timeless mood and mysticism yields a timeless psychology, then Humanism yields a timeless imagination, a universal sensibility.” It is their timeless imagination that will keep humans in search of the truth.
  • Finally, humanism abhors supernatural beliefs. Humanism sees dogma as a danger in that it tempts people to passively accept tenets without critical examination. Religion—in any form, a primitive and unscientific venture—is to be avoided. Furthermore, humanism teaches that human beings are accountable only to themselves, not to any supposed higher being. Humanity’s savior, if there could be such a thing, would be humans themselves.

'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand (ISBN 451191153) On all these points, Rand’s objectivism agrees with humanism: her view of humans and their position in the cosmos, her upholding of reason as the course humankind must take, and her opinion of religion as the course humans must obviate.

Rand was an outspoken proponent of humankind; in her philosophy and in her fiction, she portrayed humans as survivors, idealists, and heroes. The Randian hero is cooperative and aids others not simply because he or she learned to through socialization but because these characteristics are incorporated into a personal value system, a matter of personal integrity. Rand explains in The Virtue of Selfishness: For instance, if one’s friend is starving, it is not a sacrifice, but an act of integrity to give him money for food rather than buy some insignificant gadget for oneself, because his welfare is important in the scale of one’s personal values. If the gadget means more than the friend’s suffering, one had no business pretending to be his friend. Rand continues by arguing that survival, as well, is a matter of personal values: “If one values human life, one cannot value its destroyers.” Humanism, in the Randian society, would not only be taught but would be integrated into the very value system of the individual.

Rand considered herself a student of Aristotle—the only philosopher she credited for her formulation of objectivism- owing the very name of her philosophy to his quest for objective reality. Humans are gifted with reason, which enables them to understand their external world and, at the same time, their own consciousnesses. Rand saw reason as humankind’s only true knowledge and, therefore, as something which must be cultivated. According to Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness: For man, the basic means of survival is reason …. A process of thought is not automatic nor instinctive nor involuntary-nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results.

Religion, and the belief in some higher being to whom humans are obligated, is the antithesis of objectivism; it is in direct opposition to humankind’s ability to reason through critical analysis. Religion teaches people to place the direction of their lives in the hands of an unseen other, to follow ancient dogma without question, and to belittle themselves in the process. “Death is the ultimate goal and standard of value,” Rand writes of religion.

“Resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates.” Religious people, forsaking themselves, live for the day when they will be reunited with their God in death; the Randian person lives the life he or she has. Humanism and objectivism seem bound by the same thread: humankind and its survival, progress, and fulfillment on this Earth. Ayn Rand may not have been a humanist per se, but the scope of her philosophy is undeniably humanistic.

Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Rand’s philosophy continues to spark controversy, especially among those who argue that some “social goods” cannot be achieved by individuals and that unacceptable economic inequalities result from unregulated trade. Though not all capitalists would call themselves Objectivists, many cite Rand as a formative influence, including economist Walter Williams (b. 1936) and politician Ron Paul (b. 1935).

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100 Best Business Books of All Time

Following years of reading, appraising, and retailing business books, 800-CEO-READ creator Jack Covert, ex-president Todd Sattersten, and present general manager Sally Haldorson have selected and appraised the one hundred greatest business titles of all time—the ones that dispense the biggest payoff for today’s occupied readers. It’s a great list, and in the vein of all lists, bound by argument and long-windedness about what is and isn’t contained in this list. Each book gets a couple of pages of outline handling.

Best Business Books on Improving Your Life

Best Business Books on Leadership

Best Business Books on Strategy

Best Business Books on Sales and Marketing

Best Business Books on Economics and Metrics

Best Business Books on Management

Best Business Biographies

Best Business Books on Entrepreneurship

Best Narratives of Fortune and Failure

Best Business Books on Innovation and Creativity

Best Books on Big Ideas About the Future of Business

Best Business Books on Management and Leadership Lessons

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Posted in Business and Strategy Leaders and Innovators Management and Leadership Mental Models and Psychology Philosophy and Wisdom

Vincent van Gogh’s First Sunday Sermon

Vincent van Gogh: Christian Missionary, Evangelist, and Visionary Painter

Vincent van Gogh Christian Missionary, Evangelist, and Visionary Painter It is difficult to comprehend the disastrous undertones of Vincent van Gogh’s lifespan and to attach the power and beauty of his work with his lethal decline into insanity and suicide. The eldest son of devout Christian parents, Van Gogh sensed a sense of familial responsibility to what he supposed were their hopes for his life.

First-time readers of Van Gogh’s letters are frequently registered by the fact that their originator possessed a keen spiritual kindliness from his earliest days— undeniably, that his initial occupational predispositions were concerning the life of missionary and evangelist.

Painting did not become his main enthusiasm until, at age 27, his discharge from the missionary society, under whose patronages he had labored, obligated him to seek another means of expression for his spiritual zeal.

In addition to his official duties at the school, Van Gogh ostensibly felt a strong responsibility to comprise himself with the local church congregations. Armed with the self-confidence that regularly comes with practice, he started to teach and to give a sermon, and the letters to his brother Theo are abounding with biblical citation and insinuation. In a heart rendering letter to Theo, Vincent wrote,

It certainly is a strange phenomenon that all artists, poets, musicians, painters, are unfortunate in material things- the happy ones as well-what you said lately about Guy de Maupassant is fresh proof of it. That brings up again the eternal question: Is the whole life visible to us, or isn’t it rather that this side of death we see only one hemisphere? Painters-to take them alone-dead and buried speak to the next generation or to several succeeding generations through their work. Is that all, or is there more to come? Perhaps death is not the hardest thing in a painter’s life. For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it, but looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. One thing undoubtedly true in this reasoning is that we cannot get to a star while we are alive, any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, gravel, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion, just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

Vincent’s conception of an “almost smiling” death reflected his fervent faith in rebirth and immortality—an idea that found early articulation in his sermon: “there is not death and no sorrow that is not mixed with hope—no despair—there is only a constantly being born again.” Vincent sought an identification with his father, and chose the profession of his father, a profession in which he could bring God close to mankind. He just wanted to be active in the profession of his father. He went to live with his uncle in Amsterdam, with the purpose of learning Latin and Greek and to prepare for the State examination. In the intervening time, he became anti-social due to all of his piousness. He composed sermons, went to church six or seven times on Sundays, and even visited the synagogue.

Insofar as it was probable to become a missionary in a very short time at the Borinage in Brussels, he decided to go there. But now, at a time when he had tumbled deeper than ever before into the well of self-absorption, he found in it a new treasure: he began to draw again, and now with his whole soul.

  • “You know that I go to the Methodist Chapel … every Monday night. Last night I spoke a few words on the subject ‘Nothing pleaseth me but in Jesus Christ, and in Him everything pleaseth me.'”
  • “Last Monday I was again at Richmond, and my subject was “He has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poorest but whoever wants to preach the Gospel must carry it in his own heart first. Oh! may I find it, for it is only the word spoken in earnestness and from the fullness of the heart that can bear fruit.”
  • “It is a delightful thought that in the future wherever I go, I shall preach the Gospel; to do that well, one must have the Gospel in one’s heart. May the Lord give it to me.”
  • “How difficult life must be if not strengthened and comforted by faith.”
  • “Theo, woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel- if I did not aim at that and possess faith and hope in Christ, it would be bad for me indeed; but now I have some courage.”

Vincent van Gogh’s First Sunday Sermon: 29-Oct-1876: “I Am a Stranger on the Earth”

Vincent Van Gogh's First Sunday Sermon Psalm 119:19: I am a stranger on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from me. It is an old belief and it is a good belief, that our life is a pilgrim’s progress—that we are strangers on the earth, but that though this be so, yet we are not alone for our Father is with us. We are pilgrims, our life is a long walk or journey from earth to Heaven.

The beginning of this life is this: there is only one who remembereth no more her sorrow and her anguish for joy that a man is horn into the world. She is our Mother. The end of our pilgrimage is the entering in Our Father’s house, where are many mansions, where He has gone before us to prepare a place for us. The end of this life is what we call death—it is an hour in which words are spoken, things are seen and felt, that are kept in the secret chambers of the hearts of those who stand by, —it is so that all of us have such things in our hearts or forebodings of such things. There is sorrow in the hour when a man is born into the world, but also joy, deep and unspeakable, thankfulness so great that it reaches the highest heavens. Yes the Angels of God, they smile, they hope and they rejoice when a man is born in the world. There is sorrow in the hour of death, but there is also joy unspeakable when it is the hour of death of one who has fought a good fight. There is one who has said: I am the resurrection and the life, if any man believe in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live. There was an apostle who heard a voice from heaven saying: Blessed are they that die in the Lord, for they rest from their labour and their works follow them. There is joy when a man is born in the world, but there is greater joy when a spirit has passed through great tribulation, when an angel is born in Heaven. Sorrow is better than joy—and even in mirth the heart is sad—and it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasts, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. Our nature is sorrowful, but for those who have learnt and are learning to look at Jesus Christ there is always reason to rejoice. It is a good word that of St. Paul: as being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, there is no death or sorrow that is not mixed with hope—no despair—there is only a constantly being born again, a constantly going from darkness into light. They do not mourn as those who have no hope—Christian Faith makes life to evergreen life.

We are pilgrims on the earth and strangers—we come from afar and we are going far. -The journey of our life goes from the loving breast of our Mother on earth to the arms of our Father in heaven. Everything on earth changes—we have no abiding city here—it is the experience of everybody. That it is God’s will that we should part with what is dearest on earth—we ourselves change in many respects, we are not what we once were, we shall not remain what we are now. From infancy we grow up to boys and girls—young men and women—and if God spares us and helps us, to husbands and wives, Fathers and Mothers in our turn, and then, slowly but surely the face that once had the early dew of morning, gets its wrinkles, the eyes that once beamed with youth and gladness speak of a sincere deep and earnest sadness, though they may keep the fire of Faith, Hope and Charity—though they may beam with God’s spirit. The hair turns grey or we lose it-ah-indeed we only pass through the earth, we only pass through life, we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. The world passes and all its glory. Let our later days be nearer to Thee, and therefore better than these.

Yet we may not live on casually hour by hour—no we have a strife to strive and a fight to fight. What is it we must do: we must love God with all our strength, with all our might, with all our soul, we must love our neighbours as ourselves. These two commandments we must keep, and if we follow after these, if we are devoted to this, we are not alone, for our Father in Heaven is with us, helps us and guides us, gives us strength day by day, hour by hour, and so we can do all things through Christ who gives us might. We are strangers on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from us. Open Thou our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of Thy law. Teach us to do Thy will and influence our hearts that the love of Christ may constrain us and that we may be brought to do what we must do to be saved.

On the road from earth to Heaven
Do Thou guide us with Thine eye;
We are weak but Thou art mighty,
Hold us with Thy powerful hand.

Our life, we might compare it with a journey, we go from the place where we were born to a far-off haven. Our earlier life might be compared to sailing on a river, but very soon the waves become higher, the wind more violent, we are at sea almost before we are aware of it—and the prayer from the heart ariseth to God: Protect me 0 God, for my bark is so small and Thy sea is so great. The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, its tides and its depths; it has its pearls too. The heart that seeks for God and for a Godly life has more storms than any other. Let us see how a Psalmist describes a storm at sea. He must have felt the storm in his heart to describe it so. We read in the io7th Psalm: They that go down to the sea in ships that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth and raiseth up a stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to Heaven, they go down again to the depth, their soul melteth in them because of their trouble. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He bringeth them into their desired haven.

Do we not feel this sometimes on the sea of our lives?

Does not every one of you feel with me the storms of life or their forebodings or their recollections?

And now let us read a description of another storm at sea in the New Testament, as we find it in the VIth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John in the i7th to the 21st verse. “And the disciples entered into a ship and went over the sea towards Capernaum. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five-and-twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea and drawing nigh unto the ship and they were afraid. Then they willingly received Him into the ship and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” You who have experienced the great storms of life, you over whom all the waves and all the billows of the Lord have gone—have you not heard, when your heart failed for fear, the beloved well-known voice with something in its tone that reminded you of the voice that charmed your childhood—the voice of Him whose name is Saviour and Prince of Peace, saying as it were to you personally, mind to you personally: “It is I, be not afraid.” Fear not. Let not your heart be troubled. And we whose lives have been calm up till now, calm in comparison of what others have felt—let us not fear the storms of life, amidst the high waves of the sea and under the grey clouds of the sky we shall see Him approaching, for whom we have so often longed and watched, Him we need so—and we shall hear His voice: It is I, be not afraid. And if after an hour or season of anguish or distress or great difficulty or pain or sorrow we hear Him ask us: “Dost thou love me?” Then let us say: Lord Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee. And let us keep that heart full of the love of Christ and may from thence issue a life which the love of Christ constraineth, Lord Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee; when we look back on our past we feel sometimes as if we did love Thee, for whatsoever we have loved, we loved in Thy name.

Have we not often felt as a widow and an orphan—in joy and prosperity as well and even more than under grief—because of the thought of Thee.

Truly our soul waiteth for Thee more than they that watch for the morning, our eyes are up unto Thee, 0 Thou who dwellest in Heaven. In our days too there can be such a thing as seeking the Lord.

What is it we ask of God—is it a great thing? Yes, it is a great thing, peace for the ground of our heart, rest for our soul—give us that one thing and then we want not much more, then we can do without many things, then can we suffer great things for Thy name’s sake. We want to know that we are Thine and that Thou art ours, we want to be Thine—to be Christians—we want a Father, a Father’s love and a Father’s approval. May the experience of life make our eye single and fix it on Thee. May we grow better as we go on in life. We have spoken of the storms on the journey of life, but now let us speak of the calms and joys of Christian life. And yet, my dear friends, let us rather cling to the seasons of difficulty and work and sorrow, for the calms are often treacherous. The heart has its storms, has its seasons of drooping but also its calms and even its times of exaltation. There is a time of sighing and of praying, but there is also a time of answer to prayer. Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.

The heart that is fainting
May grow full to overflowing
And they that behold it
Shall wonder and know not
That God at its fountains
Far off has been raining.

My peace I leave with you—we saw how there is peace even in the storm. Thanks be to God, who has given us to be born and to live in a Christian country. Has any one of us forgotten the golden hours of our early days at home, and since we left that home—for many of us have had to leave that home and to earn their living and to make their way in the world. Has He not brought us thus far, have we lacked anything, Lord we believe help Thou our unbelief. I still feel the rapture, the thrill of joy I felt when for the first time I cast a deep look in the lives of my Parents, when I felt by instinct how much they were Christians. And I still feel that feeling of eternal youth and enthusiasm wherewith I went to God, saying: “I will be a Christian too.” Are we what we dreamt we should be? No, but still the sorrows of life, the multitude of things of daily life and of daily duties, so much more numerous than we expected, the tossing to and fro in the world, they have covered it over, but it is not dead, it sleepeth. The old eternal faith and love of Christ, it may sleep in us but it is not dead and God can revive it in us. But though to be born again to eternal life, to the life of Faith, Hope and Charity, —and to an evergreen life—to the life of a Christian and a Christian workman, be a gift of God, a work of God—and of God alone, yet let us put the hand to the plough on the field of our heart, let us cast out our net once more—let us try once more. God knows the intention of the spirit. God knows us better than we know ourselves, for He made us and not we ourselves. He knows of what things we have need. He knows what is good for us. May He give us His blessing on the seed of His word, that He has sown in our hearts. God helping us, we shall get through life. With every temptation he will give a way to escape.

Father we pray Thee not that Thou shouldest take us out of the world, but we pray Thee to keep us from evil. Give us neither poverty nor riches, feed us with bread convenient for us. And let Thy songs be our delight in the houses of our pilgrimage. God of our Fathers be our God: may their people be our people, their faith our faith. We are strangers on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from us, but may the love of Christ constrain us. Entreat us not to leave Thee or refrain from following after Thee. Thy people shall be our people. Thou shalt be our God.

Our life is a pilgrim’s progress. I once saw a very beautiful picture: it was a landscape at evening. In the distance on the right-hand side a row of hills appeared blue in the evening mist. Above those hills the splendour of the sunset, the grey clouds with their linings of silver and gold and purple. The landscape is a plain or heath covered with grass and its yellow leaves, for it was in autumn. Through the landscape a road leads to a high mountain far, far away, on the top of that mountain is a city wherein the setting sun casts a glory. On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand. He has been walking for a good long while already and he is very tired. And now he meets a woman, or figure in black, that makes one think of St. Paul’s word: As being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. That Angel of God has been placed there to encourage the pilgrims and to answer their questions and the pilgrim asks her: Does the road go uphill then all the way?”

And the answer is: “Yes to the very end.”

And he asks again: “And will the journey take all day long?”

And the answer is: “From morn till night my friend.”

And the pilgrim goes on sorrowful yet always rejoicing—sorrowful because it is so far off and the road so long. Hopeful as he looks up to the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening glow and he thinks of two old sayings that he heard long ago—the one is:

“Much strife must be striven
Much suffering must be suffered
Much prayer must be prayed
And then the end will be peace.”

And the other is

“The water comes up to the lips
But higher comes it not.”

And he says: I shall be more and more tired but also nearer and nearer to Thee. Has not man a strife on earth? But there is a consolation from God in this life. An Angel of God comforting man—that is the Angel of Charity. Let us not forget her. And when each of us goes back to the daily things and daily duties let us not forget that things are not what they seem, that God by the things of daily life teacheth us higher things, that our life is a pilgrim’s progress, and that we are strangers on the earth, but that we have a God and father who preserveth strangers, —and that we are all brethren.

Amen.

And now the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us forever more.

Amen.

Reading: Psalm XCI.

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John Stuart Mill on Limitations to Individual Freedom

John Stuart Mill, English political philosopher and economist

The English political philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill stated that individual freedoms should only be limited to prevent harm to others. Mill wrote, “Over one’s mind and over one’s body the individual is sovereign.”

Philosopher and statesman John Stuart Mill (1806-73) published On Liberty in 1859 as part of his theory of utilitarianism. While Mill’s later Utilitarianism (1861-63) states that the right thing to do is what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people, On Liberty delineates the appropriate limitations of a government in enforcing this principle. Mill argues that politics is necessarily a struggle between liberty (maximizing personal freedom) and authority (maximizing safety). Too much emphasis upon the former produces anarchy, while too much of the latter results in tyranny. The balance between these two extremes is struck by following the harm principle: liberty to pursue one’s own happiness is a fundamental good for all human beings and can only be infringed upon if the exercise of one’s liberty harms other persons.

'On Liberty' by John Stuart Mill (ISBN 0486421309) A state is not justified in making paternalistic laws that restrict citizens’ freedoms for their own good. For example, while the state can ban drink driving because it harms others, it should not outlaw alcohol simply because the drug might harm its user. If the state is to err, it should do so on the side of liberty rather than authority. Mill argues that three types of liberty should always be protected by a just state:

  1. freedom of consciousness, including beliefs and speech
  2. freedom of tastes and pursuits
  3. the freedom to unite for any noninjurious purpose.

On Liberty is one of the most important treatises in the history of political philosophy. The harm principle is a cornerstone of liberal democracy and continues to be used by both lawmakers and political theorists.

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Herodotus and The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth, From mural at Manta Castle near Saluzzo, Italy

Herodotus introduced the concept of a mythological water source with the power of granting eternal youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that is supposed to have the power of prolonging or restoring the youth of those who drink from or bathe in it.

Myths of such a fountain are to be found in various cultures, particularly throughout the Middle East. The first recorded mention of it is from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-435 BCE), who recounted a claim that there was such a fountain in Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, stories about the Fountain of Youth circulated in the Islamic world and then spread to such European works as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (c. 1356).

The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote early accounts of the European exploration of the New World, reported a native story of a miraculous fountain on an island in the Gulf of Honduras, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. While the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was indeed given a charter to discover and settle a legendary island (Beniny or Beimeni), the popular idea that he sought the Fountain of Youth there seems to have been invented by the sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who maliciously added that Ponce de Leon hoped to cure his impotence.

However, the story about his search for the Fountain persists as a historical myth. Marcel Proust said in [[Remembrance of Things Past|Proust[Remembrance of Things Past, “The only bath in the Fountain of Youth would be … to possess other eyes.”

Few people take the story of the Fountain of Youth seriously today, but it remains a popular theme in literature and the arts (such as Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, 2006).

It is also inevitable as a metaphor in discussing the modern concerns of prolonging lifespan and reducing the effects of aging.

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