Standing in the flickering glow of my twilight years I find myself spending more and more time wandering around my past. I suppose it’s a natural inclination of aging to re-trace the footsteps of one’s existence and perhaps try to validate one’s life as having been worth living. As I sorted my way through the blur of days, months, and years of a randomly unfolding series of experiences—good and bad, happy and sad, triumph and tragedy, love and hate, beauty and ugliness—I wondered if there was something I should make of it that might be useful to family, friends, and acquaintances who will survive me, particularly my children and grandchildren. I wondered whether anything I’ve learned over the years is worth sharing.
Being a student of Polynesian seafaring and way-finding, I think of my life’s journey as having been a navigational challenge. Navigating life is like navigating the world’s oceans. It’s about steering a course through unpredictable seas. In both cases it helps to have a navigation system in place that can guide you through the daily drama of finding your way. This article provides a few aids to navigating life. It is a toolkit of compass and sextant and satellite weather broadcasts to guide you. It’s not about providing you with answers, but with tools that can produce answers and directional signs that point you toward where you need (not necessarily want) to go.
Conditions of Existence
Each generation has what I term its conditions of existence. Each generation is presented with new and more complex challenges than the previous generation. The conditions of life they have to navigate get more complicated as the world gets smaller. We find ourselves invading each other’s spaces as technology creates fast moving treadmills of daily life with no way to get off. News, mostly bad, travels as fast as it happens and we are subject to every horror of man’s inhumanity to man every day, all day long, from every part of the earth. I’ve often thought that if I were made an offer to access a fountain of youth to be physically recalibrated and returned to a state of resurrection to start life over again, I would be hard pressed to want to do it. It’s a cruel world out there.
The conditions of existence in this early 21st century have changed so dramatically in the past 100 years that much of the world would be unrecognizable to those of that age. Journeys that used to take several months to get from one part of world to another can now be made within the rise and fall of the sun in one day. In fact, we can transport millions of people to the remotest places on earth, feed them, house them, entertain them, and get them on their way to the next place in a matter of hours. Information travels at the speed of light and staggering amounts of information move from one desk to another instantaneously. People live so much longer now and it’s not unusual to have five generations of people (traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, generation Y, millennials) working in the same company. A shrinking world featuring transient population shifts finds new inter-racial, inter-cultural, global communities springing up everywhere. A shrinking world also sets the stage for cultural lifestyle clashes as we struggle to exist in shrinking spaces. With less space to share, the world has become a more dangerous place as violence too often becomes the option of first choice in resolving conflict. Planet-threatening challenges of global warming create doomsday headlines. Governments in their failure to govern are being replaced by multi-national corporations that define quality of life and growth over huge sections of the globe. The new globalized economies result in the loss of local control over community and neighborhood growth. The profound impact of all of this is a feeling of helplessness. These conditions of existence become personal, hanging over some of us like a cloud. Relief is elusive.
The only thing we can control is ourselves. For many of us, getting ourselves from one day to another is a challenge. But we can take action to pave ourselves a more deliberate and predictable path that at least diminishes that helpless feeling and puts the steering wheel in our hands. First is to face the reality that we can only control ourselves. Second, we need to understand the conditions of the day, the time and place we are navigating, and how to guide ourselves through or around the challenges that we face, taking one day at a time. Third, we must know who we are and where we came from. We need to pause and dwell a little on our family history, our heritage, our ancestry, our growing up experiences. If we do, we will make better decisions on where we want to be, who we want to be, who we want to be with, and what we need to do to get there.
Each day make yourself the center of the universe! Let the world turn around you! You are special. There is only one you.
Here are 12 Universal Truths I’ve assembled over the years. These universal truth statements are not devised by me, but rather, are ideas and concepts that have reappeared in my life time and again, drifting across my existence like tumbleweed. Here, I’ve simply pulled them out of the wind and examined them for what they are. These are truths that have universal application no matter what culture, religion, political party, or other persuasions you have adopted as being important to your life’s philosophy. These are but simple truths. No more, no less.
- Life is not fair—get over it.
The condition that life is not fair is a truth of our existence. We cannot possibly shield ourselves from every circumstance that finds us victims of life-wrenching experiences. Feeling we were treated unfairly always gives us reason to be angry and can leave us despondent. No matter if the injury is something only we perceive and others see it differently. A perceived injury is an injury whether physical, an injury to our spirit, or both. Fairness in life is not something over which we have much control.
What’s important is what we do to recover from these setbacks, whether it’s being unfairly blamed for what someone else has done or simply being unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting caught in a bad situation over which we have no control. The first step to recovery is to understand that we have to extract ourselves from the circumstances of injury and move on. Don’t waste a lot of time crying about how unfairly you’ve been treated. Don’t get bogged down feeling sorry for yourself. You have not been singled out as the only person in all of mankind to take a hit. Stuff happens to the best and the last time was probably not the last. Get over it and move on.
- For every choice there is a consequence.
The quality of your life condition is determined by the many choices you make every day of your life. You are in charge of the cause and effect of your choices so you had better think through each choice and make sure you understand what the consequences can be. Whether the choice you make leads to a good or bad result is beside the point. The point is that you understand that two and two make four and not five, so don’t be in denial about where your choice will lead—but be prepared to accept the consequences. Too many of us make bad choices, get ourselves in deep trouble, and then play the “poor me, I’m a victim” card. Wrong.
- As I associate so I become.
This is the simplest of lessons. Hang out with bad people and you will become a bad person too. Hang out with good people and chances are you’ll be like them. Pick friends and associates that you want to be like and you will become like them. Remember Rule 2: “For every choice there is a consequence.” Gravitate toward success and happiness and it will likely rub off on you. Gravitate toward failure, chaos, and desperate people and it will become a lifestyle. It’s not rocket science!
- You are who you believe you are. (Wherever the head goes—the body follows.)
Too many people don’t understand the power they have within themselves to be whoever it is they want to be. We don’t end up being who we are by accident. We have to see ourselves as what we want to be and then work toward becoming that person, first by believing it. For example, if you are one of those unfortunate people who suffer from low self-esteem then you will behave like a person of low self-esteem and become a willing victim of people who take advantage of you. Understand that they are not the cause of your circumstance. You will live the life of the person you are convinced you are. Believe in yourself and imagine that you are the person you want to be and you are on the road to being that person. It’s pretty simple.
- You have the power to make or break someone’s day.
Think about it: one person in a group can have an attitude that ruins everybody’s day. We each have tremendous personal power which we can exercise to either make or break a person’s day. But we don’t think about how much power we have over other people and the way they feel. Try it today. Pick someone and think of something you can do to make their day. Then do it!
- Show respect to get respect.
Respect does not come with titles. It is earned by first showing respect for others and acting it out in deeds. There is no such thing as an unimportant person. We are, each of us, a person. We all deserve to be respected for who we are, even if we sometimes may not agree with each other. Acknowledge others’ ideas, their dreams, and their individuality, and you will strengthen your own existence by gaining the respect of those who surround you. Aloha aku, aloha mai—-aloha given and aloha returned.
- Helping others succeed helps you succeed.
In our individualistic society we sometimes exercise restraint toward helping other people because we often see ourselves as competing with them. Yet it doesn’t really work that way. The more we open our hearts and help others to succeed the more success will come our way. We reap what we sow. Sow success in others and the harvest will be yours. This is a life truth.
- Take a time out.
The world we live in today is on fast forward, especially in the cities where the daily rhythms of existence seem to hum along like a high speed train. From the minute we leave home, we step out into a sea of people darting here and there, cars whizzing by in every direction. We are assaulted by information from road signs, billboards, radios, and television. Information comes flooding into our computers faster than we can keep up and spills over into every corner of our brains. The human brain was not meant to withstand such a relentless 360 degree bombardment. To cope, one has to deliberately step away by calling a time out on the world. Shut down the systems. Take five minutes. Get yourself quieted down. Take deep breaths. Think of nice things. Smile. Take a break. Schedule these time outs a few times a day and your ability to cope with your daily stress levels will improve dramatically. So will your blood pressure.
- Your quality of life is directly proportionate to your ability to process information.
We live in the age of information. The whole world turns on processing information quickly and accurately. Millions of decisions are made based on how one retrieves, receives, and processes information. The very act of where to find information affects how well a person can cope with life’s challenges. Retrieving, receiving, and processing information is fundamental to making good decisions. Managing information is a skill set that is not optional if you wish to maximize the quality of your life.
- Use it or lose it.
Health and physical fitness is a lifestyle choice. Cardio is not enough. Resistance training, particularly for the lower extremities (lower back, abdomen, legs, feet) is a must. What good is it to be lucky enough to live a long life but then not be able to enjoy it? Use it or lose it. Many people tend to pay a lot of attention to their upper body as the more glamorous part of the human anatomy and neglect the part that gets us around – the lower half!
- Broken promises signal a broken person.
There is no better way to measure the character of a person than by how well they keep a promise. Only humans can make promises. A promise is a solemn pledge. A promise cuts to the heart of a person’s behavior system. Keeping or breaking a promise is a matter of personal honor and dignity. Broken promises are the causes of wars, divorces, failed friendships, business disasters—the list goes on. Any time a promise is made it puts both the receiver and maker of the promise at risk—at risk of the consequences of an unkept promise which can be disastrous for both. Before making a promise think about Rule 2: “For every choice there is a consequence.” Don’t make a promise unless you fully grasp the consequence of not keeping it.
- If you are not living with aloha, you are under-performing.
Aloha is an overarching Hawaiian value that calls up the whole range of universal values that result in a personal behavioral system that determines your quality of life, particularly in your relationships with colleagues, family, friends, mother earth, and your inner spirit. Aloha speaks of trust, friendship, compassion, loyalty, respect, responsibility, leadership, and making the world a better place for everyone. Aloha is a way of life. To live aloha is to move yourself to the top tier of humanity’s existence. While it is not a religion in the traditional sense, it is a personal belief system that is as spiritually validating. If you are not living your life with aloha, you are underperforming.