Loyalty

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides three definitions of the word loyal. Of the three examples, the third one is what I see most often, “faithful to a cause, ideal, institution or product”. I think it is the easiest to demonstrate because it often shows up in groups — such as being faithful to a sports team, having brand loyalty to some product (such as owning a certain brand of car or clothes or drinking certain beverages). If you live in St. Louis, being loyal to the local baseball team is assumed.STLCARDS

If you are not a loyal Cardinal fan, then you are often looked up as not being a real St. Louisian.

Being loyal in this manner is fun, but it seems to miss the real substance of the word ‘loyal’. I prefer the meaning in the second definition which talks about being “faithful to a private person…” Unfortunately, this definition seems to be the hardest to find examples of in day to day life. In a society that values the rights of an individual first and foremost, is the idea of being faithful to a single person old fashioned or out of touch with reality? Why should we think that another person deserves our loyalty?

The best answer I have found to these questions is in a favorite book of mine, called “The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits to Living a Compassionate Life“, by Piero Ferrucci. I own this book in hardcopy as well as an electronic version, both versions have been bookmarked many times because there are so many wonderful ideas for how to live. Not a single section of the book talks about what sports team to follow or what clothes to wear, but there is an entire chapter on the topic of loyalty in the best sense of the word. The full chapter should be read to appreciate the author’s insight, however, I will include excerpts from the last two paragraphs. These passages show what true loyalty brings to person’s life.

“When we show loyalty in hard circumstances, we show how much we care, we show the stuff we are made of. It is easy to be loyal and faithful to someone when all is well. But if we remain loyal when the person is unpleasant or boring, when we gain no advantage in seeing her or when we have more interesting matters to attend to, that is where our substance shows. That is where we are seen for what we are…… Always, loyalty gives substance and strength to kindness. In a world often so distracted and careless, this is a priceless value.”

Another favorite author of mine, J.K. Rowling, seems to agree with this interpretation of loyalty. In the Harry Potter series, the characters who remain loyal throughout the numerous hard times continue to grow as individuals and those that are not are reduced to meaningless caricatures. This theme is obviously why I enjoy watching the Potter movies over and over — it is a message that cannot be repeated too often.

I am certain that I will continue to enjoy showing baseball loyalty by wearing Cardinals attire, but I’m more grateful for individual loyalty that I have experienced firsthand. While I haven’t had the life challenges of Harry Potter, I am fortunate to have many friends like Hermoine, Ron, Luna, and even Hagrid.

Got friends?

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For many years, the US dairy industry ran an ad campaign with a simple slogan, ‘Got milk?’ It was a short and easy to remember slogan to help people understand the importance of getting enough calcium in their diet.

My latest random train of thought has been on friendship and its importance in our lives. Friends can help us find ways of coping with problems or help us enjoy life by sharing a laugh with us.

Got friends?  happiness_is_friends

As a child, we make friends pretty easily through school, sports or other activities. Sometimes those friends stay with us throughout our lives, sometimes we lose touch and meet new people in our adult lives (according to Gallup, making friends at work is ideal). It doesn’t really matter how we meet our friends, it just matters that we’ve found someone to connect with. Once we’ve made the connection, the duration of the friendship depends on both parties — each person needs to know what the other one expects to give and get from the friendship. Some expectations may be trivial and don’t impact the long term duration of the friendship, others are more substantive and disregarding an expectation may lead to termination of the friendship. You can run a google search for ‘how to be a friend‘ and come up with lots of do’s and don’ts. Those can be a good starting point, but you need to know what the other person values in a friend to be able to build something long lasting.

One of my favorite movie series that shows friendship dynamics over time is the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy.  The two lead toy characters are Woody and Buzz Lightyear, whose friendship has ups and downs throughout the series. At the start of the first movie, Woody (an older toy) doesn’t trust Buzz Lightyear’s (a new toy) motives. Buzz proves himself by rescuing Woody from an unscrupulous toy reseller, returning him back to the safety of Andy’s room. That movie ends with Woody and Buzz as good friends. buzzandwoody

This budding friendship is tested in a later movie, when Woody unexpectedly decides to join a new friend Jessie and the Roundup Gang to go to a toy museum, rather than returning with Buzz and the others to Andy’s room. Woody isn’t doing this because he does not like the other toys, but because he is afraid of becoming obsolete and no longer important as Andy grows up. This hurts Buzz and the other toys, who think Woody is rejecting them and only thinking of himself and his new friends. To repair the friendship, Woody apologizes to Buzz and the toys and brings new friend Jessie along back to Andy’s room. He took a big risk (possibility of getting thrown away with all the toys as Andy leaves for college), but it pays off in the long run when Andy takes the entire group of toys to another young child to play with and enjoy.

It may have been a movie directed to children, but the important messages apply to friendships throughout all stages of life. You may need to take risks in friendship, however, the long term bonds that develop can enrich your life when you find a true loyal friend.

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Doing what you do best, Right Now

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I’m starting this post with a fun video.

If you watch any of it, hope it is enough to see Sammy Hagar’s infectious energy and Eddie Van Halen smiling as he plays the guitar. Even if you don’t understand the English language, it would be hard not to pick up on the fact that these artists are enjoying the moment ‘Right Now’.

We don’t all have jobs like singers and may feel like it is easier for people like them to be happy while they work — they make a lot of money, have lots of fans. No one watches most of us at work and if someone does, they probably are not clapping and yelling out our names. So we need to have a different reason to be smiling or jumping up and down like Sammy does in the video, right?Hagarperformjump

Wrong. In my view, I think Sammy is jumping up and down not solely because of his money or his fans, but because he is just being himself in the moment and enjoying it fully. He clearly loves to sing and perform, so he puts all his energy and enthusiasm into it and it shows. Even though I am a die-hard ‘original’ Van Halen fan, I love the Van Hagar days simply because of Sammy’s attitude. Watching VH with Sammy usually made me smile too, which was probably what he was hoping for – for the entire audience to leave the concert feeling upbeat.

So how do the rest of us get the same energy and spirit infused in our present lives? We have to figure out what makes ourselves tick. The neat thing about figuring this out is that our inner drives are not singular – finding one inner driver may lead us to find another one we hadn’t realized yet. Our drivers are not static either, the things that make us jump up and down when we are young can change as we get older (and we may not jump when we’re older – smile). When I was in elementary school, I knew I liked to solve math problems. I liked it so much, my teacher sometimes had me share my enthusiasm for it with others. That led me to discover another inner driver I have, which is to help others. It isn’t surprising that my field requires understanding of technology and numbers and I spend a large portion of my day helping other people who have problems with software. I’m getting to do my own version of Sammy’s stage jumping, even if it doesn’t look that way to the outside world. I definitely feel it inside when I’m getting to use what makes me tick.  If each of us can find a way to use our primary inner drivers every day, there is no doubt we’ll be showing that energy in our daily work and family lives. We may not show it as exuberantly as Sammy Hagar does, but we’ll feel it and our co-workers and family will pick up on it too.

So how about it, do you know what makes you tick ‘Right Now’?

Richard Parker or Cowardly Lion?

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Today I am thinking about two very different movie portrayals of members of the cat family. The two movies are ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Wizard of Oz’. For those who have seen both movies, they may not have appeared similar, but there is a common theme: Both movies are about a young adult who is put in a strange world (Pi on a boat in the Pacific, Dorothy in the land of Oz), they make their ways home with the help of non-human creatures. It just so happens that one of the companions to each lost adolescent is a type of a cat. Not cat as in domestic cat, but cat as in ‘Big Cat’ – the lion and tiger variety. In these two movies, the big cats could not be more different in personality.

life-of-pi-tiger-richard-parker-2In the movie ‘Life of Pi’, one of the lead characters is a Bengal tiger known as ‘Richard Parker’. Richard Parker is ferocious at the outset, but becomes slightly tamed, enough so that he and Pi are able to co-exist on a boat adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Their co-existence is not easy, it requires Pi to continually show he is unafraid and able to stand his ground.

Stills-cowardly-lion-of-oz-19567406-1424-1800In the movie ‘Wizard of Oz’, a lead character is referred to as the ‘Cowardly Lion’. The Cowardly Lion is appropriately named and begins very fearful, only learning how to be brave after surviving frightening situations with Dorothy and others. It is not until nearly the end of the movie that the lion realizes he had unknown strength inside himself all along.

Despite the cats very different personalities – Richard Parker as strong and unafraid and Cowardly Lion as timid and fearful, they both serve similar roles to their young human counterparts – helping them survive in a strange environment and become stronger. Richard Parker brings out Pi’s strength to survive by forcing Pi to become assertive and constantly monitor his surroundings – keeping alert. Cowardly Lion helps Dorothy become stronger as she tries to help him overcome his fears and make his way with her to see the Wizard.  The different ways they help their human companion survive may reflect the way we perceive strength in the different genders. In men, we expect strength to be shown outwardly, with a strong roar, and with women, we expect strength to be shown less overtly, through encouragement and support in challenging situations. If those stereotypes are true, then each cat did his part well.

So if you were in need of courage, who would you be – Pi standing up to Richard Parker or Dorothy helping the Cowardly Lion?  Roar!

Would Seinfeld like Facebook?

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When I created this blog, I included a video clip from an old favorite TV show, Seinfeld. I included it because I thought this blog would celebrate the spirit of that show in my own way – documenting thoughts or experiences randomly, with no aspirations to be anything profound.

That spirit is what is on my mind today — I was thinking about Facebook and how some people have embraced it and others seem to think it is a waste of time. One of my favorite criticisms of Facebook is from a scene in the movie ‘Easy A’, where Emma Stone’s character is sitting with her teacher, who is wondering why the high school students post useless information on Facebook: http://youtu.be/d0E8QkHwK1s. This clip isn’t as funny as it comes across in the movie, but you probably get the point – he is wondering why in the world anyone would think other people would be interested in knowing that someone drank a Coke Zero that day.

A more scholarly critique was included on the TED blog, Damon Brown cited Jaron Lanier’s assertion that “social media is flattening people into one big pile of mush”. You can read Mr. Brown’s entire analysis here: http://blog.ted.com/2013/05/07/does-documenting-your-life-online-keep-you-from-actually-living-it-an-excerpt-from-the-new-ted-book-our-virtual-shadow-2/

Adding these insights together seems to say that people who use Facebook share pointless pieces of information together (like the Seinfeld characters) and as a result, they are all becoming similar, or at least all seem to laugh or enjoy similar things (like the Seinfeld characters). So I figure yes, the Seinfeld gang would very much like Facebook.

As for me, I actually love Facebook for some of the reasons it is criticized. Maybe I don’t want to know who had a Coke Zero this morning, but for some reason, I get a kick out of my high school friend Dominic’s ‘Margarita Thursday’ posts or Claudine’s ‘RunKeeper’ shares. I may vicariously enjoy the margarita or get motivated to go for a run myself – so these little posts that some people might think are goofy are just what I need when surfing my smartphone while waiting in line somewhere. And I will disagree that Facebook users are becoming flattened into a homogenous pool – I’ve got very diverse friends who give me new perspectives on life. Many are high school or college friends that I’ve reconnected with and found out how wonderfully interesting and different we all are as adults – even though I felt we were all the same in school.

Post on! Oh, and today I had a Diet Snapple (sorry, Coke Zero).