The Best Teachers

“…the best teachers are people you have difficulty with, because they teach you important things about yourself”

I have found this to be very true.

My Legacy, True Grit

I was thinking about the legacy we leave our children. Not the type that is made up of stocks or bonds, or houses, but the kind that is a result of the DNA we passed to them and that more esoteric kind of legacy made up of passing on who we are. Some of my children want little that represents what I’m made of, and some highly regard it. But highly regard it or no, it is passed on to them in measures not of my making. Perhaps little of their making, for we do not choose what makes us, how we are arranged together or who we come from.

God makes all those choices and we can grow into what we are meant to be, called to be, best fitted for in life. I say that because another unchosen condition is the time and situation of the world we live within.

But of the qualities that I pass to my children, one of the foremost is my ability to withstand pain and endure. Built into me somewhere is the stubbornness and bravery of Scottish Highlanders and Hungarian Hussars. Faces of flint when needed. It sounds like a good thing until you realize one of the hardest things for such people is to remain open to others, especially those who seem bent on hurting and using you. I struggle to stay the course with people.

Grit is great sanding material, but not so good to get in your shoe in a long journey. A little oil of joy doesn’t hurt, and likely is necessary. I am learning to value joy for that reason.

I am courageous. I am a lightning rod.

I draw trouble and the wrath of the oppressor. It makes me a bit oppressive, myself.

I am giving and have a deep vein of compassion, but it is tempered with hard lessons.

I am easily misunderstood and most of the time I really don’t care about that.

I listen to my own inner convictions and keep my own counsel. It makes me strong, but also makes my mistakes big ones. I don’t have much emotional intelligence at times.

I feel others pain. Sometimes I find it crippling. Sometimes I am paralyzed by the sight of the consequences they must face.

I often want to give up and can’t. I don’t know if it is Sisu or just inflexibility.

I second-guess, and switch gears all too often. I lack consistency.

I have trouble being positive and affirming, and have all too often been in the habit of looking for the problems and faults. I am something of a control freak with a crushing sense of over responsibility which -oddly enough- contributes to the fact that I can be undependable.

I am firm in my convictions because it took me hard work to get there and lots of testing of the thinking and the truth of them. It is hard to convince me, and harder to make me let go of what I have become convinced of. The one place I am dependable, consistent, and steadfast is in standing in those convictions. A good thing for being the ballast in my relationships, because I don’t tend to trust people easily, but I will stand by them because it is the right thing to do. Some would say of my trust level in people, “not at all”. I am convinced of the depravity of man.

So it won’t surprise me how bad you are. And it is likewise the basis for my knowledge that I could just as easily be just as bad- or worse.

I keep turning towards God no matter how little I understand why things are the way they are and how difficult and fearful the choice looks. I stopped looking for other answers. What is clear to me might make it hard for me to see why you have your questions. But I don’t begrudge you your questions.

These are a few things I have passed on to my children by way of experiences, upbringing, relationship with them.
My language of love is more tough, pick yourself up, and learn to be self sufficient.

You can see how I am easily misunderstood (insert a laugh track here…cause no one is going to laugh at this “joke”).

But I love in a way that has your back even when I don’t believe in what you are doing or I see trouble in your chosen path. I’m good when all your fair weather friends have deserted you.

I don’t need you to tell me how “good…nice…wonderful” I am.

But I do need connection even when I don’t think so.

And this is all a part of my legacy to my children. Who I am, the impact and influence I leave, and how much I love them.

whether they like that or not.
funky white boy

January Character Trait: Grit

Inspired by a site I found last year, In Character -which has ceased publishing, I thought I would add some character-related posts this year. In the olden days when my children were little, I used to pick character traits to emphasize for the homeschool curriculum; and that seems a good idea to resurrect for 2011.

January will start out with “Grit” because it is so à propos to the overall theme and title of the blog. Grit is a very Midwestern trait, although the movie “True Grit” took place in the Western states, and sort of parodied both the trait and the iconic original actor, John Wayne.

What someone had to say about that….

So it was in True Grit (1969), in which a spunky, sexy preadolescent teaches the aging John Wayne a lesson or two about grit. It was also Henry Hathaway’s last movie. A young Roger Ebert’s review describes a Western from which grit has passed. To compensate, Ebert offers aesthetic knowingness (wonderful in a Chicago newspaper movie reviewer, I thought at the time) and a sense of superiority, deeply unearned, to what we see:

Director Henry Hathaway pulls his telephoto lens high up in the sky, and we see the meadow isolated there, dreamlike and fantastic. And then we’re back down on the ground, and with a growl Wayne puts his horse’s reins in his teeth, takes his rifle in one of his hands and a six-shooter in the other, and charges those bad guys with all barrels blazing. As a scene, it is not meant to be taken seriously. The night I saw a sneak preview, the audience laughed and even applauded. This was the essence of Wayne, the distillation.

Even forty years ago, Ebert was wrong. True Grit wasn’t the essence of Wayne — it was a ghost. In True Grit, Wayne ended his cowboy career by clowning about something he once took seriously enough to teach his audience. The laughter and applause Ebert heard marked the sound of grit departing from the world.

I default to the more parochial understanding of the trait.

There is a new remake of that movie this season, True Grit with Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role.

Grit

What is this “grit”? It is something which gives traction in the old adage, “try, try, again” and a basic part of the recipe of Finnish style “Sisu. Inner determination to make something work, get accomplished, or just generally stick it out against opposition. It is a rough sort of quality and the physical counterparts are those little bits of broken rock that are bigger than sand but smaller than pebbles. An irritating thing on the soft fleshy parts of your feet.

It doesn’t sound very desirable, but if you have ever gotten stuck, you know that grit can be just what you need. If you need to grind down or smooth out something rough, grit is your friend. And so it is in the more abstract sense of the meaning. Personal grit is the ability the face opposition without crumbling, and work on through difficulty without giving up. It is the ability to garner inward strength and determination to continue through to accomplish tasks and commitments.

Grit is persistence.
Grit is endurance.
Grit operates by patience.
Grit has resolve.

Grit and Resolutions

Have you ever asked yourself why so many people give up on their New Year “resolutions” so easily that it has become a cultural given, and a cliché to express abandonment of one’s good intentions? Perhaps it is because we not only see few examples of steadfast commitment to task, but in our society we disassociate from the idea of duty. We have little experience of sticking anything out, and on the most serious level of duty there is a blank space. Individually there are definitions penciled in, and you can find the occasional gritty individual or two, but it isn’t a quality that is given much space in our consensus of good personality traits.

Look at that root word of resolution, resolve, … because once you resolve, the quality of grit would enter when the resolve gets tested.

“to come to a determination; make up one’s mind; determine” -verb
‘firmness of purpose or intent; determination. ” -noun

So, did you firmly determine that something was important to you this year? Dig into that and you will find that grit is created in your character when you keep at it,

even -when you don’t feel like it -when there are strong temptations to break your resolve -when other choices arrive on the scene -when it is harder than it first seemed.

You might fail in the face of any of those challenges, but failure doesn’t matter in the creation of grit. What matters is that you pick yourself up and try once again. Too many are discouraged by initial failures, which they probably didn’t expect, or in some cases expected with far too much weight given to their appearance. You failed. So what? Look at the situation, adjust, and attempt to follow through on something that you have decided is of prime import for you.

Keep trying until either you succeed or you firmly decide that you want to take a different track. It is OK, to give up if that is the best alternative. Grit all by itself is not the quality we should seek. Villains can have grit as well…. What behooves this characteristics of grit is to partner it with wisdom and faith.

But Grit is a great quality to cultivate.

Love this idea

“We see the value of working with people we know, like, and trust.” Liz Strauss

So why don’t more Christians do this with each other? Shouldn’t that be natural to Christian fellowship?

…or is the green monster of envy eating all the good will? OR maybe we don’t like each other all that well?
What gives?

When Does Character Start?

From Anti-Choice to Pro-Abortion: A Startling Teen Transformation

Note the decision making process in this fifteen year-old’s story:

1. I am against abortion.
2. My family is against abortion.
3. I got pregnant.
4. My boyfriend pressures me to have an abortion.
5. I get mad at him.
6. After a few weeks dealing with the difficulties of pregnancy, I choose to get an abortion.
7. The abortion is uncomfortable but now I feel fine.
8. Now I am “all for abortions.”

Stand To Reason blog author “Steve” reported on this and in his post asked many questions dealing with character. The assumption being that our view of character would influence our view of the proper actions in this scenario. If we are ‘pro-choice’ we ought to see the illogical decision making process; if we are concerned for the girl, that we recognize the damage to her future character and functioning; if we have other concerns …the coulda’ shoulda’ woulda’. It’s a reasonable perspective to take.

We could answer “yes” to all of Steve’s questions, though, and still come no closer to the resolution of the problem we face within the abortion issue. It is not a matter of finessing the reason… it is a stark case of building the case for right and wrong, for building the standard and the character within to abide by that standard.

If we do not do this we will see the slippery slope as the favored way of escape for one very elemental explanation: we are human. Somehow, all the other answers want to recognize human reasoning without our propensity to fail in reason and default to what is easiest for our short term feelings.

I think we have to work further back in the equation of what moderates our actions. Part of the character building in our children has to go beyond a set of rules that ‘our side’ abides by, even beyond an accepted overall ‘world view’. There have to be critical thinking processes put into place, and an embedded reverance for human life. Even a reverance for all life is in order.

And then there are the good old facts of life. The REAL ones. Like how sex between a male and female can result in pregnancy. No modifications to that , because birth control is only so effective as a preventative, and never 100%. Like how babies are people and what the development of a human life consists of in utero…none of that “it’s only tissue like muscle tissue or organ tissue”. A baby is more than a gall bladder. Get these facts through. In bolded emphasis.

Stop paying into systems that divide young women from those responsible for them, from systems that make the will and the decisions of the boyfriend more important than the views of the parents and Church. There is just something very wrong with that whole picture.

We keep thinking we can subscribe to the inundations of the culture, the media, and the school systems on what constitutes morality and duty, and then wonder why a girl undergoing pressures to have sex or those inherent in an unwed pregnancy would suddenly shift gears.

Enough years in the classroom of relativistic me-first philosophy will produce a lifestyle of expediency. And that means that ethical concerns will be the first ones down the drain.

This is more than one girl having an abortion. It is whether our society will remain ethically responsible and hold the integrity of human dignity, or not.

Character starts the moment our baby arrives. Our taking on the full spectrum of raising a human being who is loved and knows how to love others, one who is aware of their responsibility to others, including those children they reproduce after them….

We are one another’s keeper, and we need to implement that thinking.

It isn’t sides, or issues…it is us. Our character is who we are, and how we treat each other. Maybe we should start talking in those terms to our children.

Sisu

The quality of character ‘sisu’, mentioned in the “learning things” post, is among the things that fascinate me about the human spirit. I have many little theories about cultures, etc. One of those is that when God created Adam in His own image He included all the facets that we sometimes see as high points in certain cultures. Like the manifestations of hybrids – the qualities are all there in the DNA, but specific circumstances bring them into high relief.

Sisu is probably one to meditate on, as it is one of those qualities you especially need when working through adversity, but also in helping others. It was described as a reserve, but it is not a holding back type of reserve, but one of ‘tapping into’. I think it is most defined by the word ‘focus’. Like the response of the human body to extreme cold, sisu is concentrating on the core to move forward and to finish the course which must be finished.

That is sort of a play on words, as the original term is Finnish. I don’t know too many Finnish people (except one in our family- we have about one of anything! Exaggeration there, but you would think it from the times I am able to say that). But my dad,who grew up and worked along the Lakes in the early part of his life, lived among a large number of Finn culture. He often remarked that Finns were the toughest people he knew. That was someone of Scots heritage- who are pretty tough, as tough goes. ‘Tough’ as in hard edged and able to work against odds. Get the job done. “Come hell or high water” type of people. But he wondered at the Finns for their hard work and their endurance.

That is ‘sisu’ in action. I think it exemplifies the inner reserve that God has placed in us all. The Finns just get to exemplify it in character and in history. And one of the best ways to learn character is to see it worked out in people’s lives. They say a picture paints a thousand words, and I’d say a life lived out is a work of art. It paints those words in detail and with a finesse that drives the message home, and inspires the understanding.

You, as a singular person, might see yourself as weak, as not having the qualities of endurance that make it through hard times, but I would like to reassure you that it is not your DNA, or even your past experiences that make you all you are. You are full of the potentiality of your humanness. Within you is the reserve and the resource, that with the help of God, can get through “all things”.

You have sisu if you will tap into it. The ability to ‘get the job done’ is not in the overwhelming view of the work ahead, but the tight focus of the will within.

Using Sisu For Others

Helping people in their time of need is both something that some have more of a talent for, and something learned. Another way to say that is that we all have our own talent for contributing to the good of mankind. We do need to learn a few things on the topic, however. I always wanted to write a post on this all by itself, but it fits in with considering the nature of finding that sisu reserve. I learned a few things about giving from being on the “need of receiving” end of it at certain points in my life. One factor in truly helping is that it is not at your own convenience, but the others need that is foremost in the effort, a timeliness. The Bible says don’t tell someone to come back later when you have what they need at hand. Sometimes you need to move around your schedule and change your priorities when others needs are great or urgent.

Another is that we must consider that we all are subject to the human condition, that is that it could just as well be ourselves and our own family who are in the place of need. We should learn to give humbly, and not looking for thanks or promotion of our reputation.

And then there is the factor of sisu- sometimes it takes stretching out of our resources, our patience, our efforts, in giving to the needs and overcoming the stress of the times. Sometimes rebuilding is a slow, tough process, and must be met with determination that whatever it takes, whatever it demands, we will see the job done. We will accomplish the plan… we will see it through or die trying.

This is the way to prevail, and this is the way of excellence.

Admittedly, it takes more than our own resilience, it takes reliance upon the resources of God within and above us. But we start with where we are, who we are, and what we have at hand. We start where we are.

And it is in God’s hands where we end up. Thank God He promises it to be a good place, if we will but trust Him.

Thoughts on a Book, “Make A Name For Yourself”

At the library today I picked up a book on a whim. I often do that. Usually I get gardening books or books on a certain subject I need to study for some odd reason, but every once in a awhile an odd topic will attract my eye and I will pick up the book.

Once picked up, it is soon read.

The Book, “Make A Name For Yourself”

This particular book is called ‘Make A Name For Yourself’ by Robin Roffer.

Make a Name for Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success

Admittedly, my website endeavors are the motivation for reading this book, because face it, I am all over the place with my website subjects, style, and opinions. I am easily distracted.

So in the interest of shaping up the focus of my websites, I borrowed the book.

It turns out to be sort of a self discovery book. It asks you to think of yourself in terms of your strengths and “core” qualities. I would think that would be easy for me, but I am finding myself a little non-plussed.

Sometimes I kid about reworking the identity thing that was supposed to be resolved in one’s twenties. But it is too close to what I am actually doing. I am sometimes still asking the Who Am I? question. I find that slightly ridiculous. I’ve lived most of my life. Two-thirds with the threescore and ten measure.

But maybe I am not so much ‘reworking’ as further refining the definition. And you know how I love definition.

I must start asking those closest to me which characteristics are most definitively “me” in their estimation. I am so about “me”. But you can’t really relate to others well if you don’t have any idea what “you” are. Well. Introverts can’t, anyway.

Character Traits

Here are a few of the traits:

Personal values:

authenticity success generosity love honesty kindness loyalty community connectedness courage ethics inspiration appreciation growth warmth …. etc.

Attributes Prized in the Workplace:

accomplishment accountability ambition analytical assertiveness cheerfulness competence competitiveness cooperation creativity decisiveness dedication dependability initiative determination ….. etc “

Further, Roffer takes personalities that we see as brands, like Madoona, I mean Madonna, Martha Stewart ( pre-trial ), and Oprah and analyzes their “brand qualities”.

Applied To Me

Interesting stuff. About the only thing I have thus identified about me is ‘authenticity’, which I have incorporated into the blog here…. because that is one of my core values, to be authentic whether in a good or bad way: WYSIWYG.

I don’t much like surprises as in being disappointed that someone is not who they presented themselves to be. And I don’t like to be misrepresented, myself.

Although sometimes we accidentally do that- even when making efforts otherwise.

Anyway, I am not very far into the book, it could be enlightening or merely entertaining….. if it inspires further thought, I’ll post.

and if I get REALLY inspired I’ll create a logo 🙂

just what the world needs, eh?