Each week our minister will put up a “Word for the Week” that we hope you will find thought-provoking and/or helpful… even if not overtly “religious”.
Please remember to check back to catch the new ones or scroll through some of the earlier ones.
Friday 1st October 2021
On keeping one’s perspective…
“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire – then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy…a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One should learn the difference.”
American author and Unitarian minister
Friday 24th September 2021
“Moments of guilt, moments of contrition, moments when we are lacking in self-esteem, moments when we are bearing the trial of being displeasing to ourselves, are essential to our growth.”
M. Scott Peck
American psychiatrist and writer
Friday 17th September 2021
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; it is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
Friday 10th September 2021
“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.”
Friday 3rd September 2021
“A sense of humour is a sense of proportion.”
Lebanese poet, artist and mystic
Friday 27th August 2021
“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I’m in, therein to be content.”
Permanently lost her sight and hearing at the age of nineteen months
American writer and lecturer
Friday 20th August 2021
“Be gentle with yourself. If you will not be your own unconditional friend, who will be? If you are always playing an opponent, and you are also playing yourself – you are going to be outnumbered.”
Friday 13th August 2021
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
Philosopher, speaker & writer
1895 – 1986
Friday 6th August 2021
“And the day came when the risk to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”
Friday 30th July 2021
“The trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”
American novelist and poet
Friday 23rd July 2021
“Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health, and is as friendly to the mind as to the body.”
Friday 16th July 2021
“How can you say that luck and chance are the same thing? Chance is the first step you take; luck is what comes afterwards.”
Friday 9th July 2021
“Knowledge and understanding are life’s faithful companions, who will never be untrue to you. For knowledge is your crown, and understanding your staff; and when they are with you, you can possess no greater treasures.”
Lebanese poet, artist and mystic.
Friday 2nd July 2021
“Fear is a reaction.
Courage is a decision.”
Friday 25th June 2021
We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price. But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.
Friday 18th June 2021
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 – 1882
Friday 11th June 2021
“Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined
Martin Luther King Jr
Friday 4th June 2021
“Let’s nurture the nature so that we can have a better future.”
Friday 28th May 2021
“To be content, look backward on those who possess less than yourself, not forward on those who possess more.”
American statesman and scientist
Friday 21st May 2021
“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it!”
English-born Canadian Economist and Humourist
Friday 14th May 2021
On chance and luck…
“Luck is preparedness encountering opportunity.”
Friday 7th May 2021
Lean on each other’s strengths.
Forgive each other’s weaknesses.
Friday 30th April 2021
“Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good; try to use ordinary situations.”
Jean Paul Richter
Friday 23rd April 2021
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”
Amelia Mary Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and author. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences, and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.
Friday 16th April 2021
To love a person is to know the song in their heart, and sing it to them when they have forgotten the words.
Friday, 26th March 2021
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
American writer and humourist
Friday, 19th March 2021
“A wise person makes more opportunities than they find.”
Friday, 12th March 2021
“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your growth. You have to fail in order to practise being brave.”
Mary Tyler Moore
Friday, 5th March 2021
Once in Persia reigned a king,
Who upon his signet ring
Graved a maxim true and wise,
Which, if held before his eyes,
Gave him counsel at a glance
Fit for every change and chance.
Solemn words, and these are they,
“Even this shall pass away.”
(The King’s Ring – Theodore Tilton, 1867)
On this third Sunday of Lent, we continue our major theme “A Vision of a World Resurrected” with the sub-theme this week being that of impermanence.
When we are young, it seems that everything takes, well, you know, forever! It’s like everything is static! It’s just not happening!
Are we there yet?! How much longer, Mummy?! How far away is Christmas?! I can’t wait until I can go to school.
Later, we realise that we needn’t have been in such a rush. Looking back, from the perspective of advancing years, events come and go all too quickly. Life has not been static, permanent, unchanging, but instead a dynamic and ever-changing flux.
This child-like perception of the passage of time and events is by no means the only illusion of permanence to which we may fall prey. Some illusions of permanence we can take with us to the grave.
How might our experience of life, and how might our engagement with life, with others, with God, be different if we were to deeply internalise the reality of impermanence? We will explore these questions this Sunday.
Friday, 26th February 2021
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein, condolence letter to Norman Salit, March 4, 1950. Reprinted in The New York Times, March 29, 1972.
Friday, 19th February 2021
Friday, 12th February 2021
Friday, 5th February 2021
“There are risks and costs to
a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”
John F. Kennedy
President of the United States
Friday, 18th December 2020
“Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.”
Friday, 11th December 2020
“We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and our relationship to humanity.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr.
American civil rights leader and minister
Friday, 4th December 2020
“Guard within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness. Know how to replace in your heart, by the happiness of those you love, the happiness that may be wanting in yourself.”
Friday, 27th November 2020
“Laughter has something in it in common with the ancient winds of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes people forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves; something that they cannot resist.”
English novelist and critic
Friday. 20th November 2020
“We shrink from change, yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does nature hold dearer or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless the firewood underwent some change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary, to nature?”
Roman Emperor and philosopher
Friday, 13th November 2020
“The best portion of a person’s life are their little nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”
Friday, 6th November 2020
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires can alone achieve peace; not the person who strives to satisfy such desires.”
Often referred to as the Gita, it is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata, commonly dated to the second century BCE
Friday, 30th October 2020
“The roots of education are bitter; but the fruit is sweet.”
Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece.
Friday, 23rd October 2020
“Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us daily.”
Friday, 16th October 2020
“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Friday 9th October 2020
“Hope…must spring to life spontaneously in every generous spirit faced by the task that awaits us; and it’s also the essential impulse, without which nothing can be done. A passionate longing to grow, to be, is what we need. Life is ceaseless discovery. Life is movement.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit Catholic priest
who trained as a palaeontologist and geologist and took part
in the discovery of the Peking Man.
Friday 25th September 2020
“For the person who sees nothing at the end of the world, nothing higher that themselves, daily life can only be filled with pettiness and boredom. So much fruitless effort, so many wasted moments! But to those who see the synthesis of the Spirit continuing on earth beyond their own brief existence, every act and event is charged with interest and promise.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit Catholic priest who trained as a palaeontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of the Peking Man.
Friday 11th September 2020
“Based on our understanding of spacetime, there seems to be no getting around the idea that events in spacetime have a permanence to them that cannot be taken away. Once an event occurs, it in essence becomes part of the fabric of our universe. Your life is a series of events, and this means that when you put them all together, you are creating your own indelible mark on the universe. Perhaps if everyone understood that, we might all be a little more careful to make sure that the mark we leave is one that we are proud of.”
What is Relativity?
Jeffrey Bennett is an astrophysicist by training and a science educator, having written many books on developing literacy in astronomy, physics, mathematics and climate science.
Friday 4th September 2020
“Death signifies nothing…the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Written about a month before his death in 1955
Friday 28th August 2020
“Whoever retains the natural curiosity of childhood is never bored or dull.”
Friday 21st August 2020
“Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me, I know nothing but miracles. To me, every hour of night and day is a miracle; every cubic inch of space a miracle.”
Friday 14th August 2020
“The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.”
A Bengali poet, writer, composer, and painter. He reshaped Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author of the “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse” of Gitanjali, he became in 1913 the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature
Friday 7th August 2020
“Anyone who does not know how to make the most of his own luck has no right to complain if it passes him by.”
Miguel de Cervantes
Friday 31st July 2020
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr
Friday 24th July 2020
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury; and refinement rather than fashion…to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.
William Ellery Channing
Friday 17th July 2020
“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly.”
Friday 10th July 2020
“Laughter can relieve tension, soothe the pain of disappointment, and strengthen the spirit for the formidable tasks that always lie ahead.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
President of the United States of America
Friday 3rd July 2020
“The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall. He frees himself and shows the way to others. Freedom and slavery are mental states.”
Indian teacher, moral leader and reformer
Friday 26th June 2020
I’ve found that worry and irritation vanish into thin air the moment I open my mind to the many blessings I possess.
American motivational writer and lecturer
Friday 19th June 2020
There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
Friday 12th June 2020
Curiosity is a gift, a capacity for pleasure in knowing, which, if you destroy, you make yourself cold and dull.
English author and art critic
Friday 5th June 2020
“The supreme end of education is expert discernment in all things – the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and genuine to the bad and counterfeit.”
English lexicographer, critic, and writer
In these days of ‘fake news’ – what a wonderful skill to seek to acquire!
…the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit
Friday 29th May 2020
“I have spent most of my life worrying about things that never happened.”
American Writer and Humourist
Friday 15th May 2020
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Friday 15th May 2020
“To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”
Friday 8th May 2020
“I am an optimist, unrepentant and militant.
After all, in order not to be a fool, an optimist must know how sad a place the world can be. It is only the pessimist who finds this out anew every day.”
English writer, actor and dramatist
Friday 1st May 2020
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Friday 24th April 2020
“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
German poet and writer
Friday 17th April 2020
“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”
Lyndon B. Johnson
An American politician who served as the 36th president of the United States from 1963 to 1969. Formerly the 37th vice president from 1961 to 1963, he assumed the presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A Democrat from Texas, Johnson also served as a United States Representative and as the Majority Leader in the United States Senate. Johnson is one of only four people who have served in all four federal elected positions.
Friday 3rd April 2020
“The world is but canvas to our imagination.”
Henry David Thoreau
American Essayist and Social Critic
Friday 27th March 2020
The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is to live inside that hope; not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.
Friday 20th March 2020
“However much I am at the mercy of the world, I never let myself get lost by brooding over its misery. I hold firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of that misery to an end.”
French Philosopher and Physician
Albert Schweitzer was a person of extraordinarily diverse interests and abilities. Amongst other things, he was a theologian, organist, writer, humanitarian, philosopher, and physician. He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life”, becoming the eighth Frenchman to be awarded that prize. His philosophy was expressed in many ways, but most famously in founding and sustaining the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, in the part of French Equatorial Africa which is now Gabon.
Friday 13th March 2020
“I am only one.
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”
American Writer and Lecturer
Stricken by an illness at the age of 2, Hellen Keller was left blind and deaf. Beginning in 1887, Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, helped her make tremendous progress with her ability to communicate, and Keller went on to college, graduating in 1904. During her lifetime, she received many honours in recognition of her accomplishments, becoming an educator and humanitarian. In 1915, along with renowned city planner George Kessler, she co-founded Helen Keller International to combat the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union.
Friday 6th March 2020
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
Friday 28th February 2020
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
Friday 14th February 2020
“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices; and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word and thought throughout our lifetime.”
Swiss-born American Psychiatrist
Friday 7th February 2020
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Friday 31st January 2020
“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
[Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She is an author and poet who is famous for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a story of her early life, a story filled with challenges but also of discovery and survival.]
Friday 20th December 2019
“I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.”
Leo Calvin Rosten (April 11, 1908 – February 19, 1997) was an American humourist in the fields of scriptwriting, story writing, journalism, and Yiddish lexicography. He was also a political scientist interested especially in the relationship of politics and the media.
Friday 13th December 2019
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Friday 29th November 2019
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better, in prayer, to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.
Friday 22nd November 2019
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
Friday 15th November 2019
“To conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer thousands in a battle”
Friday 8th November 2019
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever.”
“The weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
Friday 3rd November 2019
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Friday 25th October 2019
“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Friday 18th October 2019
Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words.
Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions.
Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits.
Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values.
Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.
Friday 11th October 2019
Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, survived the horrors of Auschwitz. He describes the power of humour in enduring the unendurable…
“I practically trained a friend of mine who worked next to me on the building site to develop a sense of humour. I suggested to him that we would promise each other to invent at least one amusing story daily, about some incident that could happen one day after our liberation. He was a surgeon and had been an assistant on the staff of a large hospital. So I once tried to get him to smile by describing to him how he would be unable to lose the habits of camp life when he returned to his former work. On the building site (especially when the supervisor made his tour of inspection) the foreman encouraged us to work faster by shouting: “Action! Action!” I told my friend, “One day you will be back in the operating room, performing a big abdominal operation. Suddenly an orderly will rush in announcing the arrival of the senior surgeon by shouting, ‘Action! Action!’””
Brain Pickings website (article entitled “Viktor Frankl on Humor as a Lifeline to Sanity and Survival”)
Friday 27th September 2019
“We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.”
Friday 20th September 2019
SHAKESPEARE on short-term gratification and its perils…
“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?”
William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece
Friday 13th September 2019
“The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centred to the activity-centred orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.”
Friday 30th August 2019
“If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. But if we overestimate him … we promote him to what he really can be. So we have to be idealists, in a way — because then we wind up as the true, the real realists.”
Friday 23rd August 2019
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin in. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Friday 16th August 2019
Real wisdom is not the knowledge of everything, but the knowledge of which things in life are necessary, which are less necessary, and which are completely unnecessary to know. Among the most necessary knowledge is the knowledge of how to live well, that is, how to produce the least possible evil and the greatest goodness in one’s life. At present, people study useless sciences, but forget to study this, the most important knowledge.
Jean Jaques Rousseau
Friday 9th August 2019
Einstein on affirming our interdependence as human beings, as well as the criticality of cultural and scientific transmission across the generations…
“When we survey our lives and endeavours we soon observe that almost the whole of our actions and desires are bound up with the existence of other human beings. We see that our whole nature resembles that of the social animals. We eat food that others have grown, wear clothes that others have made, live in houses that others have built. The greater part of our knowledge and beliefs has been communicated to us by other people through the medium of a language which others have created. Without language, our mental capacities would be poor indeed, comparable to those of the higher animals. We have, therefore, to admit that we owe our principal advantage over the beasts to the fact of living in human society. The individual, if left alone from birth, would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.”
Friday 2nd August 2019
“Everybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of their endeavours and their judgments. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine. The ideals which have lighted me on my way and, time after time, given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with those of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty.”
Friday 28th July 2019
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
Friday 19th July 2019
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mystery of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries to comprehend only a little bit of this mystery every day.”
Friday 12th July 2019
Exploration of the full range of his one’s potentialities is not something that the self-renewing person leaves to the chances of life. It is something they pursue systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of their days. They look forward to an endless and unpredictable dialogue between their potentialities and the claims of life — not only the claims they encounter, but the claims they invent. And by potentialities I mean not just skills, but the full range of their capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding, loving, aspiring.
Social scientist John W. Gardner
Quoted on the Brain Pickings website
Friday 5th July 2019
The Gift of Friendship…
Friendship, C.S. Lewis believed, “like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself … has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
But the poetic beauty of this sentiment crumbles into untruth for anyone who has ever been buoyed from the pit of despair by the unrelenting kindness of a friend, or whose joys have been amplified by a friend’s warm willingness to bear witness.
By Maria Popova, from the BRAIN PICKINGS website:
Friday 28th June 2019
“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.”
Monday 24th June 2019
Letting go of the assumed expectations of others…
“The key to finding your purpose is finding your individual strengths, your individual skills, and focussing on what matters most to you.”
“Which brings us to another key concept of mastering stress: You have to let go of what others think. Take a moment to think honestly, truly, and reflectively about how much of the stress in your life is created by your own wants, needs and perceptions, and how much of the stress in your life is created by what you assume to be other peoples’ wants, needs and perceptions. Often our stressors are fundamentally caused by what we think others expect of us, and by our attempts to live our lives to please other people. We have to let go of that: to let go of what others expect our calling to be; to let go of what we worry others will think of what we see to be our calling; and instead live our own authentic lives.”
Kimberlee Bethany Bonura
Lecture 18: Learning from your Stress
Great Courses lecture series entitled How to Make Stress work for you.
Monday 17th June 2019
On the anxiety to please…
“All tension comes from anxiety to please, and eventually you have to come round to the view, quite simply, that what you have to offer is good enough.”
Monday 27th May 2019
A quote by George Bernard Shaw…
“This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose, recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
Between stimulus and response…
Monday 20th May 2019
A quote from an anonymous book, as reported by the author Stephen Covey…
Between stimulus and response is a space.
In this space lies our freedom to choose our response.
In these choices lie our growth and our happiness.
OPTIMISM & PESSIMISM
Monday 22nd April 2019
Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
This is the classic metaphorical question that speaks to the differing mindsets of optimism and pessimism. Optimism focusses more upon the positives in the situation, more upon the possibilities for positive change. Pessimism, in contrast, focusses more on the negatives, more upon the intractable difficulties.
None of us sees the world as it is. In a sense, it is more accurate to say that we see the world as we are. Those of a more negative and pessimistic mindset tend to ‘see’ more of the negativity in situations, in their life, in the world. In contrast, optimists ‘see’ more of the positive in situations; the world and life seems, to them, lighter and more hopeful.
“How’s that working out for you?”
This is really a better question than, “Which out of optimism and pessimism is more realistic?”
Neither optimism nor pessimism are truly ‘realistic.’
None of us have a direct interpretational access to ‘reality.’
Whether my mindset is habitually positive (optimistic) or negative (pessimistic), the key question is: “How’s that working out for me?”
If you happen to be habitually pessimistic, yet find that particular mindset empowering, enriching and life-giving, then go for it!
More often, however, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we can detect within the pessimistic mindset – and we can all be pessimistic from time to time – a strong tendency toward disempowerment and inertia. If we always see the negative in situations, then we tend to view any possible solution to the present problem in a negative light: “Why bother? That won’t work. There’s no use trying.” As pessimists, we often end up stuck, because we see no way out.
In fact, as a pessimist, I can become pretty darn pessimistic about ever becoming optimistic! I was born a pessimist, and I’m destined to die a pessimist… or am I?
THE ANTIDOTE TO PESSIMISM: POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY and ‘LEARNED OPTIMISM’ TO THE RESCUE
The psychologist, Martin Seligman, is one of the founders of the so-called ‘Positive Psychology’ movement, where the focus shifts away from the myriad psychological ‘problems’ that beset people, to focus instead upon sources of strength and resilience, and approaches that allow us to flourish as human beings.
Seligman is famous for, early in his career, discovering and defining something called ‘Learned Helplessness,’ where early negative life experiences can cause us to lose hope in later situations; based on past experiences, where we had limited or no control, we then generalise this experience to other situations, where we stop looking for solutions to problems. We give up, because there is no way out. We have learned to be ‘helpless’; we have learned to be pessimistic of our ability to change things for the better.
Rather wonderfully, Seligman later followed up this unpleasant discovery of learned helplessness with a solution which he termed Learned Optimism. He has discovered, through empirically tested research, that it is actually possible to overcome learned helplessness. It is possible to change one’s mindset from pessimism to optimism. He has even created a catchy, easy-to-remember approach: the 3Ps and the 3Ds.
THE 3Ps OF PESSIMISM: Personal, Pervasive and Permanent
The pessimistic mindset is characterised by three ways of looking at the situation.
The present situation isn’t merely something that has happened, and which can, from time to time, happen to anyone. Instead, the present situation represents a personal failing. The situation is like it is (bad) because I am personally deficient in some way.
The present problem isn’t seen in isolation. (“I have a problem in this area of my life, and at this time.”) Instead, we ‘extrapolate’ and come to see this as illustrating how everything is problematic in some way. (“This is a stuff-up, just like everything else in life!”)
The present problem isn’t seen as temporary, as something that can and will change. Instead, it will forever remain a problem and there’s nothing that will change this.
THE 3Ds AS AN ANTIDOTE TO PESSIMISM: Dispute, Distance, and Distract
Pay attention! Notice the unconscious or semi-conscious habitual thought processes you engage in. Catch yourself when you start thinking negative or pessimistic thoughts. Challenge yourself and dispute these thought processes! “Where’s your evidence that everything is bad?!” “How do you know for a fact that nothing can be done about it?”
When you notice your thoughts habitually going down a negative track, you can shake up this thought pattern. Slap the wall or a table and yell “STOP!” to break the pattern. If the ‘negative situation’ you’re thinking about can be worked on and fixed, then work out when you can work on it and then resolve to attend to it at that time. In the meantime, don’t waste your time thinking about it! One of the best ways to silence habitually negative unconscious or semi-conscious thought patterns is to focus your mind upon something else, ideally something that requires your full attention. When our mind is consciously focussed upon something specific and attention-demanding, it has less scope to go off with the fairies down some negative, pessimistic trail.
Psychologically ‘step outside yourself’ and watch your negative, pessimistic thought processes. This can be a very powerful thing to do, as it can induce a psychological shift whereby you are, in a sense, no longer a pessimistic thinker, but rather someone who is observing and witnessing pessimistic thinking, and contemplating its validity. This can activate our awareness that what we think about is actually a choice, rather than it being some automated, semi-conscious and self-destructive habit we have gotten into.
Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman
Putting the ‘Big Rocks’ in first…
Monday 15th April 2019
The author Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, offers a powerful image to illustrate the importance of not only identifying that which is most important in our life, but also to ensure that this is given the attention that it deserves.
Consider a glass jar which you intend to fill with a variety of ‘things’: sand, small pebbles, larger pebbles, and also some big rocks. If we begin by first adding sand to the jar, and then the smaller pebbles, then the larger pebbles, by the time we get to the big rocks, there remains no space for them to fit. In contrast, if we put the Big Rocks in first, we discover that the pebbles and the sand can ‘fit in’ between the spaces around the big rocks. The key to using the space is that we simply must put the Big Rocks in first!
Unless we wish the important things (Big Rocks) in our life to be squeezed out by the unimportant (the pebbles, the sand), we simply must put the Big Rocks in first!
On Success & Happiness…
Monday 8th April 2019
Some of us spend our lives in search of success, or perhaps in search of an elusive happiness. The great Viktor Frankl, Jewish psychiatrist and survivor of the horrors of Auschwitz, has a very different take on these two goals.
“Again and again I admonish my students, both in Europe and America: ‘Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself, or as a by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to do what your conscious commands you to do, and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.'”
Preface to the 1991 edition of Man’s Search for Meaning.