All posts by jmcortes

Defeat

A wise man once said sometimes you win, sometimes you LEARN

So my scars are not defeat, they represent my Experience

My tear stains are not defeat, they represent my Understanding

My mistakes are not defeat, they represent my Education

My humility is not defeat, it represents my Wisdom

J.M. Cortés

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés 

For your consideration…

I have a strong opinion about communicative art; specifically that it should not struggle in an intangible realm of understated expression.

I believe any artist truly passionate about their craft wants their message connecting with the recipient. Musicians want more than to be heard, they want to be listened to. Singers know that words alone cannot bear the weight of meaningful expression, so to that end they find a voice to share the burden. The story known only to the painter finds expression by an intentional selection of canvas. The boundaries of the writer’s mind become broken by virtue of the fitting word. These examples of expressive art could be conceived in personal experience, shaped by purposeful design or even resident in the bearer unknowingly.

With that said I needed a medium for my poetry that would not take way from the space tailored for Kratos En Logos or the readers who might not have interest in poetry. To that end, I created a new blog: Poetik Kratos.

For your consideration there will be a regular feed of current posts from Poetik Kratos on the side of Kratos En Logos’ home screen. Better still, visit Poetik Kratos and follow!

Thank you for your support…thank you for reading.

The Light of the North Star

Star

Spinning blue orb, how you change how you shift

North is unfound at full pass, final twist

Magnetic influence from temporal means

Mislead the mortal to trust, to lean

Small metal compass, your needle a north sees

An imbalanced axis  an untrue divinity

Turn from the instrument, look to the dark sky

Behold the starry host, find a ladle on high

Placed on his small back, at the tip of his tail

Little bear has a light by which you may sail

His name is Polaris some call him Lodestar

A guide in the heavens to carry you far

His north is true unlike all earthly means

Set your course in the rays of his celestial beams

Celestial North

 by J.M. Cortés

In North America, True North is not found by looking at which direction a compass needle points. Compasses are based on Magnetic North which is influenced by the earth’s axis. Our earth’s axis is in constant motion which means Magnetic North is also in constant motion. With that said, it is estimated that Magnetic North reallocates anywhere from 20 to 40 miles a year. So trusting any compass to accurately find True North would be impractical.

To find True North we must look to the stars and there we will find it…a Celestial North. Easily found in the night sky is a constellation known as Ursa Minor which is Latin for Little Bear. This constellation depicts a readily visible form that many know as ‘the little dipper’. The brightest star in this constellation is at the tip of the little dipper’s handle. This star is known as Polaris, which is the most current North Star. Next time you see it, point at it and make a line to the ground. You will see True North…Celestial North.

The poem I wrote is a metaphor for guidance sought outside the limitations of the temporal. It is ironic that measures to find our way are often based on variable means. Earth is always changing, always spinning. Seasons change bringing with it temperatures of extreme cold or intense heat. The same parched ground that pulls from the sidewalk becomes saturated in a deluge of rain then covered by snow and ice. These are a symbol of humanity with its temporality and inevitable change. As the compass needle points to ‘a north’ our efforts can point toward ‘a destination’. But what if that destination is not where we really want to be? What if we were meant to be somewhere else? Something else? Someone else? Our terrestrial nature is inexplicably connected to a celestial one. Allow them to connect, look up and find Celestial North.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés 

Rise and shine

“The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink.”

The door opened and the curtains were drawn back as the king awoke to the admonition of a very concerned mother. Choosing her words cunningly, she spoke to him with regard to his standing in the eyes of the nation he led. Actions unbecoming a king would undermine his authority. If a king could not rule his own nature, how could he rule a kingdom positioned for world dominion? Jewish Rabbis recount a tale regarding an event with this king. On the day of his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, the king assembled musicians from far and wide. As the festivities unfolded, a day of celebration progressed into a night of excessive drinking and revelry. By the forth hour of the following day (10am) the king was found passed out with the keys to the Temple under his pillow. It was then his mother went looking for him and the words at the beginning of this post were the start of what she had to say. Sometime later when King Solomon would narrate this proverb, it was said that scribes used a pseudonym to protect his character of wisdom.

While resolve declines in some quarters, there is a movement of those who desire to advance beyond the vices and shortcomings. Not everyone is born into greatness but everyone can position themselves for it. Though our feet are on the earth, our spirit is not subject to it. The confines of the natural can take precedence to the supernatural. There is a limitation placed by some on whatever is not quantifiable or qualifiable by scientific measures. I believe in systems of reason and logic, I believe in the sciences. But I also acknowledge that humanity is a work in progress and we do not know 100% of what there is to know about anything. Thus we should be growing and like King Solomon sometimes we need a voice of reason in our life to facilitate that growth.

Many choose to remain within the boundaries of their predisposition and knowledge base thus they never grow. These boundaries must be expanded and the territory must be extended otherwise progression becomes impossible. Ordinary sliced bread remained virtually unknown to the world for 15 years after the inventor first came up with how to do it. Otto Rohwedder limited his energies on the processes of mass produced sliced bread. It was Wonder Bread that took the concept to the next level through mass marketing the concept, thus generating the infrastructure for mass production.

Is there anything in your life that could undermine your position? Is there anything that stands in the way of your progression?

Whatever you wish to achieve in the future must be actively worked toward in the present. I was told that the farmers of the distant past set their eyes to a fixed object as they plowed their field. This would keep them plowing in a straight course. Sometimes we get off course by choices that evolve into things unplanned. When it happens, we need someone or something that can wake us and realign us with our purpose.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés 

Hidden among the stuff

We are now on the other side of Black Friday which was preceded this year by the newly christened Black Thursday (formerly Thanksgiving). The big players in major retail hatched up another way to confiscate even more money from the masses; stores traditionally closed for the holiday once known as Thanksgiving would now be open. While I did not hear of anyone being trampled to death, some frenzied consumers did act out. Reports appeared of stabbings, assaults, shootings, and police dragged by cars driven by shop-lifters. Obviously the stores are not solely blamed but we can thank them for creating the environment. Oh well, there is a price to be paid for capitalism and some consumers are willing to do whatever it takes to save a buck.

I know it is cliché and all, every Thanksgiving the posts appear in the varied social media forums appealing to all to keep the thanks in Thanksgiving. It is ironic that an effort to preserve the traditional essence of the holiday is even necessary. A time for family and a time of expressing gratitude should come without effort. But the cultural climate has changed and traditional values in society have shifted. Dissatisfaction rules the day; people are unhappy with the jobs, unhappy in their relationships, and just unhappy in general.

Zig Ziglar has been heard to say “the healthiest of all human emotion is gratitude”. Gratitude is born of an understanding; understanding that where we are and what we have in life is the result of choices we’ve made. It is born of an understanding that things could be worse. It is the understanding that life is fragile and the future is uncertain. It’s understanding what the loss of everything and the work of rebuilding is like. The yoke of labor and sacrifice weighs heavy upon those who bear it. Yet from that heaviness strength arises. The earlier you learn to work hard for what you want and then appreciate it once it’s yours the sooner you will learn gratitude. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth, he sitteth alone and keepeth silence because he hath bourne it upon him”.

When people fail to have or express gratitude it is because they overlook certain truths. It is the schedule, it is the struggle, it is the hardness that life brings. Yet what are we missing out on?

In 2008 a social experiment was conducted in a subway of Washington, D .C. on a busy workday morning. Award winning, Carnegie Hall playing violinist Joshua Bell situated himself in a high visibility area and for nearly an hour played classical pieces. In a region of the U.S. defined by sophistication and cultured tastes, it was predicted that masses would gather to witness such a performance. Even if skill alone did not arrest attention, surely the renowned musician would be recognized. But the reality was no one even noticed him. No one recognized his talent, no one recognized him, and no one even recognized his costly $3 million dollar violin. Other things had their attention. Schedules, the work place, finances, familial issues, health concerns, relationship matters, etc. Logically these things are not inherently wrong, but where does it end?

At some point, we all reach a place where we decide not to get caught up in the race. Detach from the temporal. Divest yourself of futile efforts. The masses are buying stuff they don’t need, with money they should not waste, to impress people that really don’t care. I shake my head when I think about ways I’ve wasted time, money, and energy in my life. I am now wanting to just be grateful for what I see and hopeful toward what I will soon see.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

Intuition

The bedridden king of Macedonia showed little sign of recovery. Fever attacked his body and many wondered if death was imminent. Philip, the king’s personal physician, ministered to his needs as best as he could. Conquests removed them all from their homeland so Philip worked with what means he had to create medication. The king’s sickness came at a time of military action and his soldiers saw his condition worsening instead of getting better. Though not present yet aware of the situation, the general sent word to the king that he suspected treachery.

Believing a warring nation enlisted the physician to assassinate the king, the general sent a letter of warning. After reading the letter, the king knew the matter had to be addressed and that unquestionably. At a fitting time, specifically as Philip came to administer medicine, the king exchanged the letter with him for the medicine. As the king prepared to drink the medicine he told Philip to read the letter. As Philip looked up from having read the letter, he saw Alexander the Great taking the last sip of the medicine.

In reflection, some believe Alexander studied Philip’s expression as he read the letter. Had the king perceived guilt, shame or fear his actions would have been different. Others believe Alexander wanted to display to everyone his level of confidence in Philip’s fidelity. Either way, Alexander knew…he knew that he knew.

Intuition.

The etymology of this word is found in the Latin ‘intueri’. A translation of this word gives us phrasing such as ‘to look inside’ or ‘to take hold of’. Beyond perception, Intuition is an understanding on an explicit level. In philosophy, it pertains to unlearned (yet known) knowledge that’s of a ‘non-inferential’ origin. I discussed a closely related subject in my post TABULA RASA. Defining intuition is not any easier than understanding how we utilize it. Something just occurs to us and we know it is a sure thing.

“The more we know the more we see”

Trees can be categorized differently but the two main groups are evergreen and deciduous. Someone educated in the differing qualities sees the distinctions in the leaves, branches, and the makeup of the trunk. When some people listen to music, they hear the tempo and may discern individual instruments used. Others may focus on the lyrics and through an understanding of references hear a message foremost.

Within genres of music, artists are easily identified by those who follow them closely whereas others who are unfamiliar would not know where to start. ‘Foodies’ do not simply taste food; they experience it by way of identifying seasoning, temperatures, and individual ingredients.

The chiropractor knows the origin of the referred pain; the massage therapist identifies the twisted muscle. A friend of mine was being seen to by an ophthalmologist who identified a gall bladder issue by looking at his eyes. Recently a professional pool player remarked to me that novices break the billiard balls then look for the easiest or open shots. But he said after the break he sees a ‘road map for where he should go’, not necessarily the easiest shots to make. Of these examples, it stands to reason that experience has developed their understanding. But the role intuition has in polishing an understanding is incalculable – it streamlines it’s application.

Dr William Bates proposed in 1891 a disputed set of exercises that was purported to resolve vision problems. Known as the Bates Method, it achieved popularity by efforts of author Aldous Huxley in the 40’s. Huxley eventually wrote a book about this entitled “The Art of Seeing”. In it he explained how the Bates Method supposedly helped him regain his sight. Criticizing modern day efforts to correct vision he emphasized a duality in the process of sight; specifically that it is a physical and psychological effort.

Declaring corrective lenses as merely a crutch, Huxley affirmed sight was an issue of memory and one’s “ability to interpret imagery”. He claimed that utilizing the Bates Method corrected his vision problems and he was not short on people who sought to challenge this claim. It was concluded that he (and others in favor of the Bates Method) never corrected their vision but rather retrained their eyes. Essentially they learned to use their mind’s eye to see what their physical eye could not. Obviously, this would not be the kind of folks we would want the DMV to issue driver’s licenses to. The Bates Method doesn’t lend itself to sound medical practice but it does offer an interesting metaphor for intuition. Dr Bates efforts in this area fit better within a philosophical framework rather than a medicinal one.

A consistent training of our mind by study and by life experience is how we sharpen our intuition. Our mind is like a sponge; whatever we immerse it in is what will come out when it is pressed. Those who display skill in their craft have not only seen the outside of it, they have taken hold of it by seeing it from within as well.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

a belief

a belief

The story is told of two men, who desiring to safeguard their riches, decided to conceal them by burial. One of the men selected an area below a tree, the other choose a place within his garden. Having selected places they deemed safest, both men went about burying their gold, silver, and jewels.

Time passed and soon proved both men had failed in the choices they made. The man who buried his treasures in the garden mistakenly assumed someone stole his treasures because he could not find them. However he had simply just forgot the exact spot where he had buried them. The other man who had buried his below a tree was unaware a thief was watching in the near distance. No sooner had he tamped the dirt and departed, the thief came and exhumed the treasures.

Both men continued on living under an illusion, one thinking he had plenty yet had nothing while the other thinking he had nothing but had plenty.

Earlier this year I mentioned in my post Shadow or Substance a term used in the financial industry known as a “market bubble”. Recently I was reminded of that when I read something Al Gore said regarding oil. Calling out fossil fuels he categorized them as a carbon bubble: “Bubbles by definition involve a lot of asset owners and investors who don’t see what in retrospect becomes blindingly obvious. And this carbon bubble is going to burst.”

The blindingly obvious – that statement stands out to me. We’ve both heard it and phrased it in other ways ourselves: “Hindsight is 20/20” or “If I’d only knew then what I know now”.  What is about the obvious that’s so elusive? Like sleight of hand, an act is carried out right before our very eyes yet something else had our attention.

Charles Mackay wrote a book in 1841 titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds. In it he describes the events that unfolded in Europe when the country was first introduced to the Tulip flower. Imported by the Turks, the tulip became an item of renown. As their fame spread, tulips became a status symbol and were considered a luxurious item. Some growers aiming to set their tulips apart began transmitting a virus into the bulbs. By creating unique color patterns, their bulbs would stand out from the rest. Everyone else caught on and moved in the same direction.

As time went on, contracts to buy bulbs at the end of their growing season were bought and sold. In his book, Mackay gives an account of people selling off or trading valuable possessions in order to participate in the Tulip market. At the height of Tulip Mania as it would become known, single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the average annual income.

Today you can buy 10 bulbs for less than $6.00.

We shake our heads at the idea of masses being influenced by a flower. We laugh at the idea that an entire country could think something so temporal could possess such value. But how is it any different today? Our culture permits items with basic function and single purpose to net a return which generations before would scoff at. Purses, sunglasses, watches and a host of peripherals exceed the cost of cars, houses, or logical investments. Yet today society permits this and even celebrates it. Some prices are driven by inflation, some are driven by demand, and some are driven by ignorance.

“A fool and his money are soon parted”

A belief about something does not substantiate a reality…there may just be too many letters present.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

Let them burn

More concerning Half Measures and Inaction:

Hernando Cortes was not a man of half measures or inaction. At a particular crisis point in his expedition of Mexico, with nationals to conquer and a deployment from Spain en route to apprehend him, a brazen act was carried out.  Some argue that my family’s patriarch did not actually burn his ships but simply disabled them; others say he destroyed all but one. But whether he set them ablaze, limited their nautical ability, or destroyed all but one Hernando Cortes was not about half measures. Furthermore inaction would not work at that moment of decision. Arriving on the shores of Mexico, Cortes immediately went about conquering the nationals. Some fell by their deference to him and some fell by force. But when word of the imminent arrest reached Cortes, he prepared decisvely. A former superior of Cortes had authorized his capture and was portraying the expedition as an act of mutiny. Cortes knew that success would only come if he could conquer Mexico. So the ships had to burn.

It was not an act of desperation or insanity; there was no sign in the heavens driving him toward euphoric zeal. So what motivated him to do it then? Two very specific things; one was the innate characteristic of true leadership which is decisiveness. I believe this was important but I also believe it was secondary in that moment. The main reason had to have been his knowledge of history. Centuries before, his own country had been invaded by Muslims. Though the Spaniards outnumbered them 5 to 1, they were still defeated and their homeland seized. At the helm of the invading Muslims was a leader that determined to conquer Spain or die trying. His command upon arrival was to disembark and burn the ships they arrived on. If alive they would have a country of ships to pick from and if otherwise, dead men require no transportation.  

Cortes recognized this moment called for the same mindset. If arrested by the coming envoy, they would fail. If the nationals became aware that these ‘god-like’ warriors could be defeated they would fail. So calling upon the reserve of fortitude found within every leader, he removed any option that did not end as he would have it. In other words, he would be the author of his outcome. He would defeat the nationals or die trying. He would resist the envoy or die trying. Eventually he came face to face with those sent to arrest him and he conquered them. Less than 2 years after that, he had fully conquered the Aztec Empire. But before that happened, the ships had to burn.

Half Measures are equal to having ships to retreat with. Half measures carry a tone of uncertainty which leads to insecurity. A hand shaking with fear does not handle a sword effectively. Had Cortes used any language less than definitive or displayed any resolve less than certain, he never would have survived. Donald Rumsfeld recently spoke up about the importance of a direct response to the issues in Syria by stating “the essence of leadership is clarity”. As the world looked on, the US would have to speak clearly about Syria’s actions and thus a fitting response.

 “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle”

A cause worth living for naturally means it is worth dying for. Alexander the Great landed on the shores of Persia. With the expansion of his father’s kingdom in sight, there was no stopping place in his mind. Interestingly, he burned his ships alongside those shores as well.

I think there is something to this whole “burn the ships” thing.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

The consequences of Half Measures and Inaction

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” – Winston Churchill

It was a Saturday on the 7th day of March in 1936. The orders were given and they marched into The Rhineland. Violating a Treaty that had been signed into existence nearly 17 years earlier, the act was veiled as reconstruction but was truly an act of aggression. At the close of World War 1, the Treaty of Versailles had imposed geographic restrictions upon Germany. Adolf Hitler exhibiting his ascendency in Germany and ignoring the Treaty sent his soldiers into the demilitarized Rhineland. Ironically (and to his surprise) many Europeans acted as though they barely noticed. France was nearest the encroachment and some concerned by it appealed to Britain for support.

Recognizing the magnitude of Hitler’s violation, Winston Churchill stood before the British House of Commons and called upon them to act. The quote at the beginning of this commentary comes from his appeal to them. But to his dismay, they dismissed Hitler’s move as behavior of a fairly new leader working in favor of his country. Furthermore a common sentiment was that the Treaty had been too restrictive and Germany moving (back) into an area where ‘German speaking people’ already lived was natural. Compounding the uncertainty was the reality that many in France did not want to ‘deal with it’. It was a time of elections and what politician would risk controversy by suggesting a costly military action or even war.

There are differing schools of thought concerning Hitler’s actions; some view it as an indirect catalyst for World War 2 while others say it was simply a choice that lead to many other choices. Hitler essentially called out France by his actions and was even concerned they might react. But his concerns were unnecessary because they did not move. Later he would express his initial hesitancy: “The 48 hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw.”

But “The ox knows where the weak part of the fence is”.

Churchill’s prophetic warning came into focus when the world did enter a period of consequences; we call it World War 2. But whether one sees the violation of the Treaty as a direct or indirect cause of the WW2, it was still an act that could have and should have been addressed. Perhaps Hitler getting parked would have eventually been followed by another act and with the same results.

But that’s not the point. The point is that half measures and inaction will never change your circumstance. Keep playing with your addiction. Keep putting off making an intentional change to your situation. Handle your problem with kid gloves if you like, but soon they will handle you.

Decisive action and follow through makes the change. I will continue in my next post with more regarding half measures and inaction.

To be continued…

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

“Well, that’s your interpretation…”

A few months ago in my post misINTERPRETation I refered to differing translation methods and how one may aim for literal translation while another seeks to identify the ‘intended’ message. Futhermore when addressing text translation within differing languages there are methods known as functional equivalency and literal equivalency. The functional equivalency draws out of the text a meaning and translates the essence of what was communicated. The literal equivalency inserts the text into the receptor language with, as much as possible, the intent of literal presentation.

These concepts are understood in light of how some approach the Constitution of the United States. There are those who feel the Constitution is a ‘living’ document subject to a contemporary interpretation of the people in which it governs. They declare the original fathers of the Constitution always intended for it to have ‘flexibility’ for timely application. This idea is driven by the notion an evolving people experience things such as cultural and social shifts therefore the Constitution should accommodate that shifting.

Countering this idea regarding the Constitution is Textualism which emphasizes the need for it to be accepted and applied through its original identity. An approach of Originalism, with even its divergent paths but common destination, leads the people to governance found in, defined by, and applied through the original text.

This Pandora’s Box of thought and discussion is akin to what fills my mind every time I hear someone argue against something with “Well that’s your interpretation”. To some that sounds like a great rebuttal but I have never seen its value. Facts and proof by empirical data aside some choose to refute a thing using a form of reasoning that does not add up. Disagree if you want, but do not veil your disagreement with logical fallacy.

With regard to ‘moral relativism’, I recently read an insightful critique by scholar Jason Dulle called Responding to the “change and diversity” argument against moral objectivism. I want to share it with you and with Mr. Dulle’s permission, I have included a link to it.  I also encourage you to visit his blog Theo-Sophical Ruminations.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Direction and Destination

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“For the ship without direction or destination, any wind will do”

The thought of being without direction or a destination is something we must never accept. Maturity acknowledges that life can change fast and unexpected; it will disorient even those who excel in focus. But there is a vast difference between situational disorientation and aimless wandering. We have all met people whose sum of initiative was merely to exist in the moment. The bare minimum was enough to satisfy them and absolutely no effort would be made to travel beyond it. We all have met them: they have worked beside us, lived near us, and may even be related; they live life in a transitory state avoiding commitment and responsibility.

Perhaps it is fear that causes people to live life this way; perhaps its anger. Possibly they became conditioned for it through the environment they were raised in. Today I listened to an educator talk about homes where a child’s academic success was optional. I have personally known individuals who communicated to their children a dismissive attitude regarding education; “a job pays bills, not a school”.  Whatever the cause, without direction or destination, there cannot be expectation either. It could be that expectation itself is the enemy to those without drive. If someone does not have any expectations they are safe from disappointment as well.

The United Nations has declared the ocean floor has evidence of 3 million ship wrecks on it. There are many causes for shipwrecks: storms, navigational error, and a ship being over loaded. However the most common cause is when a ship runs aground. A ship that runs aground typically hits a sandbar or rocks near shore causing the hull to be pierced and the ship becomes entangled. Then the ebb and flow of the tide works to literally pull the ship apart. It seems logical that the most destructive threat against a ship is when it does not serve its purpose.

Our lives are like ships; we cannot prevent the storms of life but we can navigate them. Our navigational skills are honed by learning from our experiences. Sometimes we drop our anchor and weather the storm, sometimes we move forward in spite of it. Sometimes we try to bear more than we should and casting off the excess becomes necessary.  But most importantly, we must have direction and destination otherwise we will become lost at sea. If we are without purpose, we are like a ship that moves toward shallow waters near land and faces the severe risk of running aground.

“A ship in port is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for” – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

“We have met the enemy…

…and he is us.”

Self Destructive Behaviors…it appears humans are the only mammals bent on messing with them.

The title and opening statement of this post seems to summarize the irony of it all. It is a well-known quote from Walt Kelly’s political comic strip Pogo. Aimed at environmental efforts and the launching of the first Earth Day, the message behind it highlighted a sobering truth about pollution. Technological advancements had come with a serious caveat of pollution and alternatives needed to be considered.

As it was with technological advancements and their expense of increased pollution, so it is with self-destructive behaviors. The driving force behind self-destructive behaviors has been deliberated since way back. What motivates people to engage in them? What is missing from a person’s thought processes that allow them to overrule ‘good common sense”? Studies have offered a number of reasons from self-imposed ‘punishment’ to a darker self-hatred.  Other causes such as mental disorders or environmentally driven cases (i.e. childhood experiences) are pointed to.

In their work, Roy Baumeister and Steven Scher presented 3 common models of Self Destructive Behaviors. One of them immediately comes to mind when discussing these thoughts which they appropriately called ‘Counterproductive Strategies’. Stating that people naturally act in their own interest, this form of Self Destructive Behavior is one that actually surprises the person. Essentially, they embark on an endeavor that they anticipate will have a good outcome. But mistakenly they choose or create a plan that produces the exact opposite of what they hoped for.

Self destructive behaviors can range from poor habits to intentional self-abuse. Take for example the poor habit of smoking; it has absolutely no redeemable value and sustained use yields severe consequences. But through rationalization and a dependence on the ‘feeling’ it offers, some decide it’s worth it. The costs are worth it, the health issues are worth it…a premature death is worth it. These are all considered a trade-off just for “the feeling”. (Incidentally, ‘Trade-Off’ was another model of Self Destructive Behaviors presented by Baumeister and Scher).

At the source of Self Destructive Behaviors can we find a logical reason? There are obvious factors such as immaturity or failure to recognize particular risks. Or it could be environmentally driven like actions connected to peer-pressure. But the most obvious and most ironic reason of all is that the source is found in a simple Latin word – Ego. Many have been ensnared by a word we’ve come to define as “self-esteem” or “personality”. But this Latin word defined in its basic sense speaks of the most dangerous pronoun “I”.  Many people become an enemy unto themselves. Through foolish choices, unheeded counsel, and unprofitable obstinacy they work against the very thing they want. Let it not be repeated: “We have met the enemy…and he is us”

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Snare of a Glass Jaw

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This week I was supervising numerous 2 minute boxing matches. The participants were all adolescents and mostly inexperienced. Having sparred informally as well as in tournament settings, it was easy to discern what most of their movements and decisions were based on. Many entered the ring without thought about stance, breathing technique, or the 120 seconds between them and the whistle. They appeared to enter the ring with a short game mentality of swinging continuously and wildly at their opponent’s face. In addition to this, the 30 other preteens standing in anticipation outside of the ring only provoked their adrenaline all the more. Cheers, laughs, and shouts of instruction had them all in a frenzied state and it was a high energy environment.

For the most part, everything went positive and there was only one event of tears so it was an overall good experience. Every so often, an underdog would rise to overcome their opponent. But it did not take more than a third of the match’s time to know who had the upper hand. As already stated, the participants were mostly inexperienced and evenly matched so technique was not the giveaway. It was not the amount of swings thrown nor even how many hits to the face were taken.

The telltale sign was the spirit of the competitor.

Every student of combat sports is taught self defense techniques. Whether it is how to react to strikes or being grabbed, every system has its own ideal defense. I have trained in multiple martial arts and over the years I have seen many impractical lessons that only work in a simulated encounter. Every instructor imparts technique and execution with hope the student never needs to use it. Repetition and cultivating muscle memory drives the lesson down into the student and it becomes a part of their skill set. But only one thing will prove whether it ‘took’ or not; the day the real test arrives. There is no lesson like the lesson of experience. Its pace of instruction accelerates faster and travels further than any simulated lesson can.

I still remember the first time I was punched squarely in the face. It was not a friendly environment or a safe place of training; it was neither in play nor in practice. I was hit by a person that outweighed me and stood taller than I did. I was seated and they were standing, I never knew it was coming and they knew all along. I will also not forget the look on their face when I pushed myself off the ground and stood to face them.

Anyone familiar with boxing or other combat sports has heard about the infamous “glass jaw”. It is a term used to describe combatants with limited ability to suffer strikes, typically to the face. A combatant may have speed, technique, and physical strength but if they cannot handle attacks they are already undone. To counterbalance this (mostly) mental state, instructors will drive it down into the student’s spirit – “it’s all in your mind”. When the mind is overcome, the body and willpower follows. So an instructor pushes the student (or should) to a place that feels physically intolerable but is really just mentally painful. The student’s empowered mind will pursue dominion; the body is captive to the sheer force of their resolve.

The term “roll with the punches” is an idiom used to convey the will to persevere through difficulty. But literally, one of the techniques taught concerning being hit is moving with the direction of the blow. Continuing with the momentum of the attack decreases the force of it. Another technique is to keep the mouth closed. Obvious reasons like keeping the teeth in the head are there but it also can prevent a broken jaw or the tongue being bit in half.

These points have not been exhaustive but for the basis of this commentary the last point I will make regards breathing. In Karate and Tae Kwon Do, I was taught about the importance of the Kiyap. The Kiyap is the well-known guttural yell of martial artists and is related to the exertion of breath during striking movements. It is akin to the boxer’s audible breaths expelled from their noses and gritted teeth when they punch. The importance of these is explained a number of ways but the crux of the matter is breathing. The combatant must breathe!

Adversity in life, regardless how it manifests, is best handled like a punch in the face:

1. Sometimes fighting back is counterproductive: the force of resistance can be minimized if you go with the flow. It’s no different than swimming downstream instead of upstream; it’s obvious which direction is the easiest.

2. Keep your mouth shut. “It’s better to be silent and thought a fool then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” We’ve all witnessed mudslinging and it never looks favorable on anyone’s part. Be careful to hold your tongue lest you bite it off.

3. Breathe: Don’t let difficulty steal your breath but instead regulate your breathing and on your own terms. Keep calm and carry on.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Lesson learned…

“Me, I want what’s coming to me….”

“Oh? Well, what’s coming to you?”

“The world, chico, and everything in it.”

These notorious lines are repartee of the protagonist and his counterpart in a tale about the rise and fall of a drug cartel leader. While the banter assumes an influx of ill-gotten materialism, the intention and motive is the same – destructive ambition. This tale I’ve referenced is neither unique nor original; as far as humanity goes back there have been people with unbalanced appetite and unwavering drive to attain whatever they want.

When the foundation is wrong, it is to be expected the subsequent phases will be just as wrong. Typically how something is begun is how it will end. The end of the character quoted above found him lying in a pool of his own blood, victim of assassination. While this example is not only extreme and rooted in fiction, there are many with a tale of ruin simply because they were controlled by destructive ambition. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going and no quick routes for gaining that which holds true value. The enjoyment of having what is ill-gotten is short lived compared to that which is gained honorably.

A fresh awareness of this came to me as I arrived at the conclusion of a particular venture in my life. This event started 581 days ago and resulted from an emotionally charged decision. I excused the decision under the pretense of it providing a form of income (which is important) and pride (which can become one’s undoing). I launched out thinking all would be well and something good could come from it.

Needless to say, 581 days later I not only accepted the venture cost me more money than it made me I lost some other things along the way. Starting off I knew what would come from it and its limitations. But hoping for something better to evolve from it and influenced by pride I jumped into it feet first. However if I would have jumped in with my mind first I would have never entered at all.

But as things that are begun wrong can do, it came to an end in an unexpected way. The consolation in all of this is two-fold though. I’d probably have continued to waste my time on a situation that could never yield a return of discernible value. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson about decision making during emotionally charged times…don’t do it…for when emotions run high, judgment runs low.

 

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

TABULA RASA

The dichotomy of mind-body duality and the basis for intellect was never resolved by Plato or Aristotle. The idea of ‘innate ideas’ did not sit well with Aristotle and we know Plato had a problem; how could someone understand something but not know how they understand it? This problem came about when his student, Socrates, purposely engaged an uneducated servant in discussion of the Pythagorean Theorem. The servant had never been taught any geometry so how could he comprehend the theory Socrates presented him? Plato’s conclusion was people must have a preexistent soul or some reservoir of innate knowledge.

Aristotle, though a student of Plato, countered his theory by stating humanity appears on earth with an ‘unscribed tablet’; just as the brain grows in size during development so can the mind. This unscribed tablet becomes ‘written upon’ by the environment in which it is placed. About 7 centuries later, Avicenna of Persia advanced this ‘unscribed tablet’ theory and it would become better known by its Latin rendering “tabula rasa”. Then about 6 centuries later, Rene Descartes of France (the ‘I think therefore I am’ guy) articulated, the mind, unlike the brain was a nonphysical substance. Recognizing a distinction between consciousness and intelligence, he stated “…something that I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgment which is in my mind”.

Place a stick in a glass of water and observe how it appears bent. The mind could perceive it is really bent though logic states otherwise. That’s where the rub was with Plato; a presumption that either 1) the viewer thought the stick was truly bent and 2) the stick straightened out when removed from the glass of water. Simple deduction tells us the stick never bent at all, it was merely a distortion by an improper view.

I don’t understand all I know about what they were fussing over. But I do appreciate the idea of a Tabula Rasa.

An unscribed tablet speaks to me about opportunity; it demonstrates the hope of a new beginning. We have often wished for a ‘clean slate’ to start over with. Like the old green chalk board, a good swabbing down with the dusty eraser and smears of white chalk is all that remains. Sometimes life will not offer a clean slate to us so we have to exercise our own power to create one. Sometimes you are the only one who can change what’s going on in your life. A fresh start awaits you but you will have to seize the moment and take dominion over your life. Find your eraser and do not be afraid to start over.

Reading Plato or Aristotle, to some degree, we get what they aimed at. But we also find issues with some of the theories they conveyed. An open mind is essentially what Aristotle was in support of. The mind is capable of comprehension; it just needs environment and opportunity. As I write this, I am reminded of the first commentary I wrote this year that spoke of The Scapegoat. We are already approaching the 5th month of 2013 and time seems to pass so quickly. As I reflect upon events that have occurred in my life over the last 6-7 months, I think about that Scapegoat but more importantly about a Tabula Rasa.

I would hate to think that I was a prisoner to a predetermined fate. That nothing I did or said could ever make a difference in the direction my life takes. If a preexistent soul has always been, then the condition displayed by fragile humanity offers little hope! I am thankful that God alone has always been, always is and always will be. And I am more thankful that He provides erasers.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Flow…

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First it was a week, then it was two, then it was a month. While I was bothered by the second week, I was upset when a month had passed.

I am referring to the time that passed since I have written anything.

While I accept that writing for me is a diversion, I must admit it also serves as a creative outlet for me. Daily thoughts and ideas are at work in my mind but they cannot always manifest in written form. There is not a single cause for this but rather a combination of reasons. To write without invested thought is the same as firing a gun without aiming, hitting your target becomes nearly impossible.

In the moment of conception, a thought’s lifespan is not instantly known; it might abide awhile or soon dissolve as vapor. Regardless, until it evolves beyond a seed-like stage it cannot be trusted. It’s been said that hardest thing for a writer is writing and then William Goldman’s truth conveys the other side: “The easiest thing on earth to do is not write”. To my fellow bloggers and writers these words, without doubt, resound within your spirit.

We are not alone either; the musician understands, the painter can relate, and the public speaker knows. Regardless the medium, those who quarry within to mine out expression know the aggravation of creative stillness. Suppressed by schedules and censored by a full calendar the creative expression is there but it is captive.  What will set it free? Time? Perhaps…however creative expression will not always embrace opportunity just because it’s there. Creative expression can have all the time it needs to manifest but only inspiration will truly set it free. Inspiration possesses the keys to the lock which holds creative expression prisoner. As the lock disengages and the chains hit the floor; creative expression takes flight with inspiration.

So first there must be inspiration!

When the well spring of inspiration flows unhindered, creative expression simply enjoys the ride. Surely you have heard of the lake called the Salt Sea also known as the Dead Sea. It is found at the lowest geographical point on earth situated between Israel and Jordan. The Dead Sea is a lake in which no fish can live and it’s water cannot sustain plant life. This is the result of having all inlets and no outlets. The Jordan River pours into it and other tributaries stream there; but they flow in and only abide. Thus the lake is known as the Dead Sea.

We can have plenty of things which produce inspiration but if they are going to live, they must have an outlet to flow out of us. We must remain in contact with those things which inspire and avoid the things which stifle inspiration. An open eye, a listening ear, and sensitivity to that which inspires will ensure our creative expression’s freedom. There are things which can damn up the flow of inspiration. Busy schedules have already been mentioned. But being busy and remaining inspired is possible. We just have to ensure the outlet (s) remain unobstructed. The things which contaminate our inspiration are like logs that pile up and impede the flow of a river’s water. The end result of this can be stagnation. Water than cannot flow will stagnate and inspiration that cannot flow will too.

 

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

I can HEAR clearly now…the rain is gone

“Can you hear me now?” “How about now?” “Now you’re cutting out.”

We all have endured the frustration of an unstable cell phone signal and the inevitable dropped call. It is usually preceded by someone engaged in full discourse while we listen to the other person cutting in and out. Hoping against hope the signal will recover, we let them continue on until the infamous 3 beeps tells us they are gone. What follows next is a string of attempts by each person to call the other one back only to hear an immediate voicemail greeting – because both lines are tied up. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

An exchange of ideas with some can be equally as complex.  My last two articles (Perspective and misINTERPRETation) cover why and I will not replicate that material in this one. Simply put, a price tag cannot be placed on effective communication. When someone has it, they just have it! But the onus rests upon the communication’s recipient; that which is done with what is heard matters most. I believe a keen mind possesses the ability to listen to a matter in full before responding to it. Defensive and congested hearing arrives at a conclusion before its presentation is fully accomplished. Responding to (or rejecting) a matter without hearing it fully is nothing more than narrow-mindedness.

For some objectivity is not possible; this is due to faults such as intimidation, arrogance, and ignorance. These character flaws have the same influence on “connectivity” just as poor cell phone signals hinder quality conversation.  Aristotle said “it’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. We do not have to agree with a premise to agree with a conclusion. No two people think exactly alike; and if they do its likely only one of them is doing the thinking.

When we think of what intuition is and what it means, we think of snap judgment and insight. The terminology of “rapid cognition” as made famous by the works of Gerd Gigerenzer or Malcolm Gladwell, taps into that ability “to know something” aside from an evident basis for knowing “why or how you know”. I love their material on this subject but the etymology of the word intuition is what I want to highlight for this article. Intuition is a word originating in Latin (‘intueri’) which translates as ‘to look inside’. This conveys a sense of investigative thought, an analysis of meaning with intent to ascertain more. We may see a window but unless we direct our gaze through it, we will not see what is on the other side.

In closing, consider the wisdom of Bill Cosby: “Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.

 

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Perspective

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Raising the window shade to look again, I still could not see anything. First it was 15 minutes, then 30, and soon an hour had passed. There we sat waiting to begin our flight out of Washington and yet our plane had scarcely moved from the loading bridge. I could not recall a time where I had seen fog so dense, it was as if we were surrounded by billows of smoke. Finally the fog dissipated enough for the Captain to announce we would depart and I was hoping he could see more than I could. Taxiing along the runway then launching forward, we soon took flight. Climbing to 10,000 feet, then 20,000, we finally were cruising at nearly 40,000 feet. The view from that same window now presented a much different perspective; a clear blue sky and hardly any clouds could be seen.

This experience represents how perspective influences response to a situation. Nothing changed concerning the weather, but our perspective changed when we rose above it.  Many times perspective becomes obscured by difficulties, interactions with negative people, or having a pessimistic attitude. While we cannot prevent every difficulty, we can control how we respond to it. We cannot transform the negative outlook others  have but we do not have to be influenced by it. And of all these things, the one we have most power over is our own attitude. Our attitude is formed and shaped by our perspective.  “Two men look out through the same bars, one sees the mud and one the stars” (F. Langbridge)

Perspective and Difficulty

When we are confronted by difficulty, regardless of its degree, the mind immediately formulates a response. The situation may be different but the response is typically consistent with our nature.  As the density of the fog hindered visibility for flight, difficult times can hinder our vision. It’s hard to believe when everything is falling apart that a resolution is possible. Or at the least, it has an end.  The day before posting this article, I was flying in a small non-commercial aircraft. As we began our descent, the pilot told me we would encounter turbulence very soon. Descending into clouds that had been below us, we now flew in a pattern that kept us surrounded by them. Visibility was zero. The pilot responded to my surprise by stating the instrumentation is what we were now relying on. When flying in zero visibility, a pilot cannot follow feelings or perspective. Spatial disorientation might cause them to feel they are going one way when they might be going another.  When difficult times disorient us, our perspective can become our undoing. This is where the importance of positive (and higher) influences becomes most evident.

Perspective and Negative People

“Protect your spirit from contamination; limit your time with negative people.”  – Thelma Davis

Naysayers, whiners, and skeptics are everywhere. These people walk among us criticizing and complaining about everything. Some of them do not even view “the glass as half empty”; they have a readymade presentation about the insufficiencies of the glass itself. They are trained well in the art of minimizing potential and maximizing limitation. These people have rallied associates for their cause as well; an alliance based on their ability to offer fear and anxiety. They see the dark side of things; citing chapter and verse on how pitiful things are. They see the worst in people and the worst in every situation. Avoid their toxicity; they should not be permitted the opportunity to distort your perspective.

Perspective and Attitude

Remember “Tough times don’t last but tough people do”. Once I have reached the other side of a trial, I know it helps to reflect on the perspective I had during it. I try to think about how I felt and how I was thinking when it started, then the same when it was over. This helps me to work toward attaining a proper perspective when the next trial arises. Proper perspective of the past helps to have a proper perspective of the future. On the flip side, I am reminded of material I used to teach anger management that used an allegory of “life views and windows of time”. The material created a metaphor of people standing before “windows of the past, present, and future”.  Viewing life (and thus living it) from a window view of the past is not constructive. You cannot undo what has happened and regret will only create negative feelings for today. Living life from a window view of the future can create anxiety and stress. The material encouraged focus on living life from a window view of the present. We cannot change the past but the future is best prepared for by focusing on the present.

“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your altitude”.  If you’ve ever heard Zig Ziglar speak, you probably have heard him say this!

What kind of perspective do you have? Where has it taken you? Or by contrast, what has it taken from you?

Seek a higher perspective and once you have attained it, seek a higher one than that.

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Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

misINTERPRETation

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“A good understanding prevents a misunderstanding”

I am not sure who coined that phrase but it is one I personally quote often. Those displaying mastery of communication through oratory, delivery, and word prose still face a formidable challenge: the understanding of their hearers. Despite the message’s content or its medium, its entire essence can be misinterpreted simply passing through the recipient’s filters. Effective communicators attempt to avoid misinterpretation through basic fundamentals of message delivery. They do not simply create a message then suppose it will be understood exactly as intended to be. Nothing can be assumed. Whether the medium is in audible, pictorial/video, or written format some of the basics are: be clear, be concise, and be consistent. When following guidelines such as these, the message can pass through the recipient’s filters with greater ease.

What are these filters I am referring to? They are a construct of personality traits and dispositions that a person develops in life. These are cultivated by influence of culture, upbringing, education, and role models. Once these filters are in place, it becomes nearly impossible for someone to receive and interpret information apart from them. Even the most objective of people will concede they often defer to predisposition. These filters are an advantage to some and a misfortune to others. Those whose upbringing was healthy and functional were afforded an opportunity to view things from that perspective. Those who were subject to pitiful role models or were raised in a dysfunctional culture learned another perspective. Regardless, the manner in which a message is interpreted and thus responded to is still a choice.

We all have experienced hearing a song play in the background somewhere then recognize later it was retained in our memory. While we may have not been listening to the song we still heard it and our subconscious tucked it away. The melody is there, the tempo is there, but what about all of the lyrics? That is one way people misinterpret the information they receive – they heard it but they did not listen to it. The information was incomplete therefore subject to misinterpretation.

There are basically 2 principal methods for translating information, texts, or a particular science. One is metaphrase and the other is paraphrase; the first aims for literal translation while the latter focuses on “an intended sense”. Terminology regarding language translation method of archaic texts has been divided up as “functional equivalency” versus “literal equivalency”. Again, the first seeks to convey what the text means in essence. The second takes the text and drops it into a receptor language with the intent of literal presentation. Of these examples, which do you think is at risk for misinterpretation? The method of metaphrase or paraphrase? A translation that is functional or literal?

It is estimated that people speak at a rate of 125 words per minute. It is also said that we spend 80% of our day communicating and 45% listening.  When you couple these figures with research stating 24 hours after hearing something, we typically remember only 50% a dilemma arises in the work place! If we take these figures and place them in a 3 ½ hour training session metric, this is what we might have:

  • 210 Minute Training Session
  • If one person did all the talking, they could say as many as 26,250 words
  • If the people trained listened at 25% efficiency, they would hear 6,562 words
  • By the next day they might only remember 3,281 words

The training attendees would do well to take notes and the speaker should choose their words carefully! But what about the filters I’ve already written about, how might they factor in? Logically those could be represented in the 25% listening efficiency, but what an exponential increase of chance for misinterpretation. The sum of the matter is that we should listen and not merely hear. That we should insist on the metaphrased and literal rather than things implied. And finally we cannot undo what led to the construction of our own filters. But we can ensure they are working for us and not against us. Prejudices, narrow mindedness, and reductionist thinking are the result of restrictive filters. They keep people from evolving mentally. Our minds have the ability to comprehend an average of 300 words per minute; more than double that which is spoken. I could throw other facts and figures out there but you get the point. We cannot allow a biased approach to information undo it’s essence through misinterpretation.

“What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand.”

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Shadow or Substance?

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Emerging dream, may form now be told

Earnest move toward, only now behold

Ere substance is seized, shadow ensuing appears

Embrace the corporal afore the surreal

Essence as vapor will not apprehend

Ensure it be substance for shadow a tale spins

Substance o’er Shadow

 by J.M. Cortés

 In the financial industry there is a term known as a “market bubble”. Some may question its existence but just defining this “bubble” reveals an essence of this is true. Simply put, a market or economic bubble occurs when something is being traded on at prices inconsistent with its intrinsic value. Typically this is due to a perception or forecast on a particular trade which inflates its value beyond a reasonable norm. I remember witnessing a financial bubble ‘pop’ in the town I grew up in.

It all had to do with Emus, flightless birds that stand around 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh about 150 pounds. In the mid to late 90’s their value was expected to ‘soar’ and ranchers were adding them to their livestock count. Texas became the Emu capital of America with nearly 3,000 breeders working to create an Emu surplus. Driving the Emu Mania was an idea that their lean flesh would be the steak of tomorrow. But that idea quickly proved false; the bubble popped and thus the Emu wasted many a rancher’s investment. When reality set in ranchers and breeders, were the not so proud owners of birds that could not yield a profit. Unable to ‘do anything’ with them and unwilling to feed or care for them, many owners released their Emus by the droves into the countryside.

Ownership of these birds was not limited to ranchers or owners of large land areas. I recall seeing these birds in the backyards of residential homes. All kinds of visionaries at the start were ready to capitalize upon the great Emu. But when the bubble popped, no one needed or wanted them. Some killed their Emus while others just let them ‘run off’. When people saw them running down the highways or wherever, it was known why. One morning as I walked out to my car I heard the rapid footfalls of a large animal coming at me. I turned in time to see an Emu running towards me before it jolted off toward another direction. Truly, there is no degree of embellishment in what I have written. Today all that remains of the Emu Mania are some folks promoting (and selling I might add) Emu “Oil” for it’s medicinal benefit. Perhaps it is residual brain fluid from Emus euthanized by baseball bats? (That really happened too)

There are other examples that could be given concerning the infamous market bubble. But the crux of the matter is we should look for substance before awing over a shadow. People duped into pursuing “something for nothing” have been manipulated by shadows rather than influenced by substance. And all the “get rich quick” schemes have played out; those who fall prey to them have an unrealistic view of what defines value. Anything of true value has met certain criteria and is supported by established standards. Nothing costs nothing! Before a shadow can be cast, there must first be a substance to create it.

Without a doubt, there is a market for shadows and the multitudes have lined up to purchase them. Purveyors of the generic and counterfeit capitalize upon this by providing a substitute. Individually these will never garner the return true substance renders but a profit by volume awaits. As you are reading this, you might be thinking of generic versions of various products. While mainstream businesses manufacture their clothing line, beauty products, electronics, and etc. someone else is preparing an alternate version right behind them. There is not an industry that we cannot find a mainstream and generic representation. One has an appraisal that establishes its cost (Substance) and the secondary has a cost established because of the original (Shadow).

An allegory is the deeper purpose of this commentary; there is a dichotomy between Substance and Shadows. The valuable, dependable, and overall useful is found in the Substance. It is that which has been built with quality materials and purposeful workmanship. Going throughout life taking shortcuts and settling for the inferior is living in the Shadow. It may be cheaper and easily accessible but will it last? And remember, though there may be promotion of some great new thing it may be just another form of Emu Mania.

Every day we are constructing the life we live. We must exercise caution in selecting the material and tools we build with. Cutting corners and sloppy workmanship for the sake of speed or ease is foolish. Obviously what we are building we intend (or hope) to last. But its capability of lasting is dependent upon what we are using.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Fear Unfound

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“Confrontation!” demanded Greatness, choice lost when I said yes

Standing behind me I was found wanting and darkness covered me

Flight to a light with hope I’d escape this fright

Warm tears testified against me, terror brought me to my knees

What I feared most had come upon me

Confrontation?  No! Fear itself was my dread

I arose, running away from the light to which I had fled,

I now ran toward the darkness instead

Standing there I saw more than anywhere else

Standing there I now could see myself

And standing there in the darkness my fear was not found.

More often than not, poetry is born from personal experience. I wrote this particular poem after experiencing a frightening event. Rarely do I share my poetry and furthermore I do not think it is always appropriate to interpret poetry for the reader. I believe poetry needs to interpret itself before the reader. Having said that, I feel the essence (and inspiration) for this poem may help someone so I will offer insight regarding it.

Fear is very powerful and has the ability to manipulate. Fear is a crippling and exhausting emotion. Fear is a subjective response to perception (s); whether real or perceived its influence is the same. Fear has the ability to go beyond influencing the mind to a place where its toxicity can literally cause physical health issues. With statistics in place showing 40 million people in the United States suffer from some form of anxiety related disorder, it’s clear that fear is powerful.

But of all that fear can do, what it cannot do is destroy someone determined to fight back. To some it is easier to submit to fear’s wishes or suppress its affects through medication. But once someone becomes tired of fear’s chains and fetters, they will go looking for a way to be set free. Since fear’s power increases over time more than in a single moment, it must be broken in the same manner. The war with fear is won over time; its fighting a battle here and there then celebrating each moment of victory.

A lesson in fear’s methodology is demonstrated in how a lion overcomes its prey. Lions will sometimes pursue their prey for distances that they could close much sooner. If their prey is much larger and heavier than them, it is easier to pursue them to a point of exhaustion. Then when their prey has worn down beyond running further, it will fall down and the lion attacks.

The issue with running from fear is that never catches you; how can it? The intangible has no teeth or claws to sink into you. Furthermore it is impossible to outrun something in your mind! Success in overcoming fear is not found in outrunning it, it’s found in not running it all. We have to confront our fears ‘head on’ (pun intended).

The essence of this poem I have shared is that fear must be confronted. If you start running, you will never quit.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

2013: The Scapegoat comes to an End…

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Photograph: Copyright © 2009 Mike Bade

“Victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan” – Galeazzo Ciano

It was considered by all of them a time of new beginnings. Expectation and aspirations filled the air as if they were a soft, enticing fragrance. The weather made its transition from the rain-less  scorching days of summer to a tranquility offered by no other season than autumn. Situated far enough east of the Mediterranean Sea, the city escaped the residual humidity lingering from the end of the season. The nights were just shy of being cold and the daily temperatures would not overheat but offer comfortable warmth instead.

The citizens of the city gathered in the temple’s courtyard and all eyes were upon the High Priest. He made his way to the Upper Gate that was situated on the eastern side of the courtyard. There waiting for him was a bound goat bleating sounds of frustration. When the High Priest stood before the goat, he dropped his right hand down hard upon the head of the goat. Hand in place; he began to confess the shared failings and transgressions of the people over the goat. At this action, those assembled in the courtyard fell prostrate silently whispering their own confessions of failure.

At the conclusion of this the High Priest commanded the goat be lead out of the courtyard, out of the city and into the wilderness. This goat became known as the scapegoat; all of their failures as individuals and as a nation were now imparted upon it. It was banished to the wilderness and sometimes purposefully led to a cliff for it to wander off of.

What I have described is how the holiday of Yom Kippur was celebrated in antiquity.  This holiday occurs in the first month of the Hebrew calendar which corresponds to September. It was believed that God during the beginning of the month would inscribe the person’s fate for the upcoming year in a Book of Life. Then on the day of Yom Kippur, the outcome would be sealed.

Today is January 1 of 2013 and all have received a new beginning. The misinterpretation of what December 21 signified on the Mayan Calendar’s was confirmed nearly 2 weeks ago. We are beyond that as well as the rest of 2012’s misinterpretations. Was 2012 a year defined by success for you? Was it a year of defeat? Reflecting on the events of the year, we might recall tears shed in sadness and tears shed for joy. We might reflect upon good memories and bad memories. But regardless of what we remember the most of, the focus must now be upon 2013.

At the beginning of this commentary was a quote found in the diary of Benito Mussolini’s son in law who was a Foreign Minister of Italy. Things were changing in him and his view of his country’s role in World War 2. His statement sums up the feelings of many who pursue success (victory). Everyone is ready to stand up for the credit of what worked, what solved the problem, and what made the difference. Yet when things fall apart rarely does anyone want their name attached to it. We’ve seen it in every social dynamic from work to family situations to events involving friends or acquaintances. While there are many contributing factors to something being defined successful, most important is that which was is honestly a part of it. Credit should be given where credit is due and what did not work needs to be admitted to as well.

I recently read a quote of Will Smith that encapsulates what I am confronting in this commentary. He said: “If you’re absent during my struggle don’t expect to be present during my success”. A true friend, a true companion, a true love will be with you when you are down and when you are up. Life will take you down some hard roads and when the day of reckoning finally arrives look up and see who is standing with you. They are your support base, they are your real friends, and they are the ones who truly love you. And when failure comes to those you care about, do not abandon them but help them. Lose the judgmentalism, don’t focus on the disappointment, and forget about saying “I told you so”. Take them by the hand, lift them up and walk with them. Whichever side you find yourself on of this paradigm, beware of contemplating the use of a scapegoat.

Many spend their entire lives depending upon the scapegoat; something they can blame their failures on. To them it seems easier to rely on their scapegoat as their prepared response. They can ascribe their shortcomings to it then cast it out to a place where it will never be found. The scapegoat will be an option for you in 2013 but you must choose another way. When difficulty comes, when resistance confronts you, do not run nor reach for the scapegoat. Settle it in your mind now: you will encounter trouble and somewhere an obstructionist awaits you. There is also a possibility those standing with you now might not be by the end of 2013.

You must decide that you will rise with them or in spite of them.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

 

What is the Greater Good?

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There is a tale of a drawbridge keeper who operated a drawbridge which extended out over a deep chasm. Each day a train carrying travelers would pass over this chasm and he was there to ensure the drawbridge was lowered for their safe passage. One day the drawbridge keeper asked his son to accompany him to the drawbridge so that they might spend the day together. That day there were 3 trains that would pass over the chasm and the first 2 passed by as scheduled. Both times the father was able to demonstrate the working of the drawbridge for his son and they would watch the travelers pass by. “Oh father, how their safety depends on you.” said the son as he peered over into the deep chasm. “Yes, my son” the drawbridge keeper replied, “it is my duty to remain here to lower this drawbridge for them or they would surely plummet into the chasm and perish”.

The day passed on and soon the sound of the final train was heard in the near distance. The drawbridge keeper quickly made his way to his station to lower the drawbridge. As he prepared to lower the drawbridge he heard the cries of his son. The boy had climbed down to the area where the mechanical gears turned to lower the drawbridge. Somehow his foot had become lodged in one of the gears and he could not free himself. He began to call out to his father to help free him. As the drawbridge keeper realized where his son was, his soul filled with terror. To continue with lowering the drawbridge would cause his son to be pulled in by the gears crushing him to death. If he climbed down to free his son from the gears he would not be able to lower the drawbridge. This would guarantee the death of all the travelers for any moment they would plunge in the chasm. The fate of his son as well as that of hundreds of unsuspecting travelers rested upon this drawbridge keeper. Regardless of his decision, as a father or as a drawbridge keeper he would be the harbinger of death this day.

Whether through philosophy or religion, it is likely you have heard this tale before. In a religious context it serves as an allegory to the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ (though there is noticeable theological discrepancy). In a philosophical context, this tale is used to demonstrate a position (or positions) and the corresponding affects that result from a particular ideology. Specifically, this tale serves as a fitting catalyst for the discussion of Deontology. Deontology is a philosophy of viewing actions based on how they fit within the boundaries of rules that determine if the actions are right or wrong. Restated, Deontology is submission to a system of rules which are enforced by an individual’s duty and obligation. The etymology for this philosophy’s name is found in 2 Greek words: Deon (Duty) and Logos (Science/Study). A central figure to this philosophy is Immanuel Kant, who maintained that people have an obligation to always obey rules of duty and obligation. It is never acceptable, regardless of any positive outcome that might result, to venture beyond these established rules.

Immanuel Kant declared that the moral codes of a duty or obligation must be obeyed without any thought. For example, lying that could result in the saving  of someone’s life would be absolutely forbidden. The lie must be avoided and the life must be lost. Obviously that is an extreme example but it literally conveys the essence of Deontology. In direct opposition to Deontology is a philosophy known as Consequentialism; this set of ethics establishes the morality of actions based on the results they can produce. Simply put Deontology is about adherence to Duty and Consequentialism is about adherence to doing what some consider Right (or the Greater Good). During the Holocaust, a family lying to prevent Nazis from arresting the Jews they secretly hid would be acceptable in light of Consequentialism. The preservation of the Jew’s lives would be considered the greater good; it would be valued higher than the moral failure of lying.

In consideration of the tale found at the beginning of this commentary, what influence could Deontology or Consequentialism have on its outcome? There are always exceptions, but what parent would sacrifice their child for the lives of strangers? Its possible those without children would not identify with this as strongly as those who are parents – but what is right? Kant’s position would say his duty was to his role as a drawbridge keeper – but the drawbridge keeper also had a duty as a father. How can the greater good be extracted from such a horrible situation? What if we replace the drawbridge keeper’s son with an individual of ‘less importance’? What if a person unknown to the drawbridge keeper had wondered down into the area and become trapped in the mechanical gears? Does the paradigm shift?

Only a fool would take pleasure in the chance to stand as judge, jury, and executioner in things pertaining to the greater good. In closing, I invite your response to this commentary.  What duty does the drawbridge keeper have? What is the greater good? What would you do?

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Relativism…the road that leads nowhere

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Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher, is thought to have been the first to create a map of the known world. His visionary efforts at cartography would serve as a foundation for modern day geography. He, like other early map makers, created their maps with Greece as the centre of the world. This was primarily rooted in national pride with an idea of Greece as the world’s epicenter. But on a deeper level, this revealed a great deal about their overall world view. This “center of the world” mentality did not end with the map makers of antiquity; it is alive and well today. One of the ways it manifests today is through ‘Relativism’.

Relativism is a philosophy best defined, not by what it affirms, but rather what it denies. Relativism denies the idea of absolute truth and views “truth” as subjective. The saying “Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder” could be the sum of Relativism – “Truth is in the eye of the beholder”. What drives Relativism is an idea that what is true for some might not be true for others. Truth becomes relative to some point of reference rather than actually existing in a tangible fashion. Again, Relativism is best defined by what it denies not what it affirms. The first recognized father of Relativism was Protagoras who said: “Man is the measure of all things”. He placed humanity as being the author and definer of Truth. Both Socrates and Plato opposed Protagoras’ philosophy by pointing out its foundational compromise. To emphatically deny the existence of absolute truth would also be an admission to a truth’s existence (i.e. emphatic denial of absolute truth).

Relativism is duplicity in the least and a precursor to anarchy at worse. I say this because I believe the end of a thing should be the basis for its beginning. What is the ending point of Relativism? How would Relativism and our Legal System coexist? Is there a basic and universal code of morals that humanity should abide by? According to Relativism’s end, these morals become subjective; one may believe they are right while another chooses not to. Proponents of Relativism fancy themselves as anti-establishment which is driven by a perception of free will. I recognize that perspectives are influenced by cultural, racial, and educational points of view. But there has to be a prevailing reality; there also has to be an absolute truth.

A term associated with Relativism is Postmodernism. This term retains some use in westernized culture but is dissolving in parts of Europe. Postmodernism claims that realities are social constructs subject to change. This is upheld by Relativism’s assertion that absolute truth is nonexistent and “binary classifications” are what creates a division. Thus a reality’s existence becomes dependent on a demographic with its ideals and agenda. When the demographic shifts its focus on something else, the reality adjusts or dissolves. As the demographic evolves the reality evolves with it.

You are perhaps familiar with the parable of 7 blind men and an elephant. The lesson presented in this parable depicts blind men attempting to describe what they felt an elephant was like. To one man an elephant was like a wall for he felt its side. To another an elephant was like a pillar for he felt its feet. To another an elephant was like a brush, for he only felt the tip of its tail. Thus each blind mind’s perspective was right according to their experience. Relativism would say all of them are right because they are basing their concept of an elephant on their perspective.

But is an elephant a wall, pillar or brush? No, an elephant is a mammal in the pachyderm classification. This is not a subjective truth, this is a quantified reality based on a scientific classification. Systems of Law, Morality, and such like are the same. For a society to remain intact it needs boundaries otherwise it will fall into barbarianism. Relativism may fancy itself as enlightened thought but I say it is reductionist thinking and a pretext for people to do what they want. Some folks are like the original map makers, wherever they are is where they think the world begins. There is a reason the great thinkers of antiquity opposed Relativism; it is a road that leads nowhere.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Nobel Being

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A 13 year old boy was brought before Aristotle to become his student. Already proving to be intelligent and eager to learn, Aristotle found it easy to inspire this child to love literature. He taught this child how to fortify arguments in a debate and how to present them. He taught this child how to intellectually justify the need for self-control and self-denial. He placed high emphasis on the need for honor so the young man would see its importance in the life of a ruler.  This child absorbed these lessons and more. But one of the lessons that Aristotle placed in the heart of his student that would eventually impact the whole world was that of taking Dominion of Human Nature.

Though ethnocentric at its root, an ideology was instilled in the young man which became the framework for his method of rule. Aristotle taught him barbaric people are controlled by impulse to satisfy every base desire. Therefore he should rule his nation as a honorable leader and become a despot to the barbarians of the world. With these and many other lessons, Alexander the Great would go on to conquer the known world before age 33.

Because of how humanity has evolved socially, its current view of “barbarianism” would deem Aristotle’s lessons as intolerance at the least. (Perhaps even tyrannical at worst) Literally, Aristotle put it into the heart of Alexander the Great that uncivilized people should be treated as beasts. Aristotle viewed barbarians as people who were incapable of restraint. And yet we must also recognize today, if restraints are cast off and every appetite was allowed to be indulged society itself would crumble in anarchy. Barbarianism is alive and well today; its manifestations appearing in the form of horrible crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. It also manifests through means less consequential but severe nonetheless. Individual indulgences gratified with complete disregard for its impact on others. An attitude prevailing that says “I will do whatever I want and whenever I want”. This is not the mind set of rational civilization; this is the mind set of barbarianism.

Aristotle expanded his view of human nature from what he had been taught at one time by Plato. Plato divided the natures of humanity into two principle categories, one side he called Rational and the other he called Animal. “We are good when reason rules and bad when we are dominated by our desires”  He presented a dichotomy of human reason and animal instincts to pursue wants. He concluded that “self-mastery” would always be paradoxical because to master one’s self would also mean to equally be subject to one’s self.

I believe Aristotle took this concept and placed it in a paradigm of society where mankind cannot prosper as an authority to himself. Containment of nature would be the product of education and societal expectation.  In closing, I want to expound upon the origin of this commentary’s title which also happens to be the inspiration for writing it. It comes from something that I read Hsün-tzu (Art of War) say regarding civilized humanity:

“Fire and water possess energy but are without life. Grass and trees have life but no intelligence. Birds and beasts have intelligence but no sense of duty. Man possesses energy, life, intelligence, and, in addition, a sense of duty. Therefore he is the noblest being on earth. He is not as strong as the ox, nor as swift as the horse, and yet he makes the ox and the horse work for him. Why? Because he is able to organize himself in society and they are not.”  

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Process in Becoming

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2013 approaches and the start of a new year is typically a baseline for new ‘things’. Diets, exercises, good habits launched, bad habits ceased…ad infinitum. Obviously a new year is a fitting launch point and so reacquainting with a certain concept is sought: “How long does it take to develop a new habit?” This query returns a number of answers; some say 2 weeks while others say 21 days. The end result is what inspires it all, the inspiration to BECOME. To become healthier, stronger, wiser, etc.

But there is a Process in Becoming that must be accepted; it is the gatekeeper to your Goals. This Process is also a catalyst to your growth. Since it’s standing between you and your goals and is responsible for your growth, it’s obviously crucial for Becoming. So what is the Process? Listed below and not in any particular order are 3 necessary elements of the Process:

LISTENING

No one likes lecturing or criticism but both are essential to development. If we want to Become something we are not, then logically we must listen to those who have already Become. Only a fool closes their eyes to what they have to show. Only a fool closes their ears to what they have to say. Only a fool closes their mind to what they have to teach. What you see, what you hear, and what you already know has not been sufficient to take you to that place you pursue. These have to be laid aside to receive something greater. This takes a great deal of courage! Shut up and listen; while you are speaking all that’s coming out is what you already know. Be still and hear so you can absorb something greater.

FAILURE

Friedrich Nietzsche said of Failure: “A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions, as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.” What a perspective! It removes the stigma of failure by simply assigning it a place in the steps of the Process.

How many have never tried because they were afraid of failure? The potential alone was enough to detour them. But what if failure (or the perception of it) could be accepted beforehand? What if it could be considered, by default, a part of the Process? Its influence would not go away but rather it would be channeled into a productive force. Thomas Edison was quoted as saying “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.  A former supervisor once told me that the sign of a great technician is not what they fix but what they break. What this idea communicated to me was, it all comes down to experience. I have a friend who is known to take mechanical things apart once they quit working simply to learn about how they functioned. To most, these things lost their use when they broke but to him a lesson could be extracted from them.

DECISION

The etymology of our English word “decision” is from the Latin “decidere” which has within its connotation the meaning “to cut off”. Some ties have to be severed. Negative voices, destructive influences, and things that take from you but never add to you must go. They are like dead limbs on a tree or “suckers”; they partake of the substance of the root yet never contribute to the production of fruit. Get the shears out and sever these suckers off. They manifest in all forms; they can be habits, attitudes or relationships. Deal with them or they will keep doing what they want with you.

There are many more elements in the Process of Becoming than these I’ve listed. Furthermore, I did not even get close to exhausting the 3 I mentioned. But I hopefully have offered you something to think about.

The inspiration for this commentary was no doubt the reflection of something in my subconscious that played out in a dream I had this past Friday. In my dream, I was at the base of a mountain and at the summit of this mountain it was raining. The rain seeped down the side of the mountain and as I climbed the mountain it would wash down over me. During my ascent I could not tell if the rains hindered or helped me. At times I was forced to suspend myself over open areas that to fall through would mean certain death. But all the while it continued to rain and the waters flowed passed me as well as over me.

Finally I reached the top and when I hoisted myself over, I saw others who had already climbed lying down and resting. Someone rose up and asked me “are you going to take this mountain” and I replied that I would continue beyond it. When I looked beyond where we stood, I saw another set of mountains whose top was covered by clouds. As I started to walk toward them I woke up. The symbolism was not lost on me as I replayed the dream over in my mind. The Process in Becoming is akin to climbing a mountain, it is difficult but there is a mountain top experience that waits for us.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

An Indomitable Spirit

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Few things are more awe inspiring than someone’s refusal to accept defeat. You are witnessing greatness when you see someone persevere through adversity with absolute confidence they can achieve their goal. Perseverance through adversity is evidence of an indomitable spirit. I believe resolve is like a well spring deep within everyone but the ground must be broken up for it to spring forth. When someone wants to take short cuts and retreats from hardship, they are suppressing this well spring of resolve. Allow the rains of adversity to shower the grounds above this well spring. These rains will soften the ground and make it easier for the good to break through.

An Indomitable Spirit is revealed by the choices one makes. Giving up is a choice and persevering is a choice. These choices are the result of whatever is influencing us the most. Past failures, a poor or nonexistent support system, and deficient integrity can influence the wrong choices. Previous successes, a great support system, and internal strength can influence the right choices. Nevertheless, the right or wrong choice is a conscience decision that is up to the individual to make. Environment is a powerful influence but the choice is still up to the individual. Examples abound of people who overcame a negative environment and its influence to achieve success. Examples also abound of people who failed to achieve success though they had a positive environment to thrive in. The words of Henry Ford ring true: “Whether you think you can or think you cannot, you are right”.

The record setters, record breakers, and all who have made an imprint on history were individuals who made a choice. Their Indomitable Spirit pushed them beyond limitations and defeat. Edmund Hillary was the first to lead a group of mountaineers to the summit of Mount Everest. But his first attempt was not successful and even took the lives of some of those he lead. In spite of this defeat, the British Parliament moved forward with an event to celebrate his efforts. As he entered the building, a standing ovation commenced. However Edumnd Hillary appeared to only notice  a picture of Mount Everest set up in the auditorium. He walked directly up to it and while shaking his fist at the image of Mount Everest he declared: “You won this time. But you are as big as you are ever going to get. And I’m still growing.” History reveals he would not let that defeat be final and eventually he stood on the summit of Mount Everest.

A common occurrence takes place in marathon races stretching out over significant distances,. Once first place has been secured and the other leading contenders have crossed the line, it is normal for those still far behind to drop out. An attitude prevails that since, the primary victory slots have been attained continuing the race becomes optional. Throughout my martial arts training, I have heard more than one instructor say: “You are not in competition with those around you; you are in competition with yourself”.

Zoe Koplowitz has been called “The World’s Slowest Marathon Runner”. At 64, she has participated in over 20 marathon races. The quality most distinct about her participation is not her age but the fact she has battled multiple sclerosis for more than half her life. Each time she has crossed the finish line she has been a winner. It may have not been a first place winner but a winner nonetheless. Her completion time for a race has been as much as 31+ hours. Her response to this: “It doesn’t matter how long it takes me to finish, it’s that I finish and I finish from the heart”. An Indomitable Spirit forges through the false concept that only races won, count. The Indomitable Spirit knows that some races are won strictly by virtue of finishing them.

“He who gives up when he is behind is cowardly; he who gives up when he is ahead is foolish.” –William A Ward

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Quest for Identification?

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The nature within humanity causes it to set out early on a quest for identity formation. The established ideas on this vary concerning exact age or specific catalysts that initiate the quest; but for the most part all agree it begins in adolescence. We first become aware of social dynamics then we subconsciously construct an identity for our social interactions. For each social arrangement, an identity develops and this creates a place for us in them. Identity formation assimilates us into our demographic creating perspectives for us in things such as cultural or religious beliefs.

The power that identification possesses is significant. Wars have been the direct result of contrary religious, cultural, and political views. Social distress or racial tensions are typically the result of identifications that seem to oppose one another. Opinions, ideas, and beliefs are inextricably connected to identity. When these are opposed or perceived to be opposed, it can be viewed as opposition to someone’s identity.

At the beginning of this commentary are three pictures which symbolize some manners in which humanity identifies itself. The first picture has symbols of religious systems: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Taoism. Each system has a ‘mother land’, revered texts, leaders, and an overall structure to follow. While each of these systems has core beliefs, internal factions arise due to identities that are distinct from each other. These are examples of how human nature enters into a quest for religious identification.

The second picture has members of the Almighty Latin Kings. Casual designation would simply classify them as gang members. But within their organization they possess a manifesto and multiple paradigms exist which identify them uniquely from other street gangs. Members are in pursuit of higher levels of membership (Kingism or Kingship). They have uniformity in colors and patterns for the clothes they wear. This is an example of how human nature enters into a quest for social identification.

The third picture is the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal. In 1945, these men in his photograph are shown raising the United States flag upon Mount Suribachi. This took place during World War II and the raising of this flag demonstrated the triumph of America over Japan on the island of Iwo Jima. This act embodied the conquering power of the American military with the flag serving as national identification. A nation’s flag is an emblematic display of its essence, organization, and constitution. Since 1776, people living on the North American continent entered into a quest of national identification.

The world is what it is because of humanity’s quest for identification. A natural desire for distinction and individuality is at the core of this quest. We see this displayed in commercialized business by use of unique logos, slogans, and operational plans. We see this displayed in The Arts by unique genres of what is seen, heard and tasted. Why is identification so important? Why does humanity have this within its genetic makeup?

Could it be that this is the result of a struggle between two natures seeking identification? The struggle between the tangible and the intangible; the evanescent and the eternal? The Hebrew language offers insight about this struggle through the etymology of its word for ‘face’. It appears that the Hebrew word for ‘face’ (which is ‘panim’) is assigned a pluralistic meaning as though it could never be used in a singular sense (i.e. faces). This theory is upheld by the idea that all humanity has two faces (natures), their physical and their spiritual.

There are multiple lists compiled by various thinkers regarding what are considered “fundamental human needs”. Almost always, Identification is listed as one  with supporting points in the human need for Being, Having, Doing, and Interacting. It appears that the basic need for Identification is the sum of our communal nature. If we are to find our place in ‘our community’ we require Identification first.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Vice Grip of Vanity

Vanity is a self-destructive trait. There are those controlled by it with understandable cause; their beauty, money, possessions, and status of life are considerable. Then there are those filled with vanity but for reasons that are far less discernible. When held captive by the grip of vanity, what is taken exceeds what is given. What does vanity give? Self-affirmation, feelings of accomplishment, and a sense of greatness. In moderation these concepts are not inherently wrong. But what does vanity take away? It takes away far more than it gives.

To be manipulated by vanity surely means to be set on a never ending path. Vanity has an appetite and therefore it will need to fill that void.  The all seeing eye of vanity is never satisfied. When that hunger is filled something comes along and provokes a greater appetite. Some people are never satisfied with what they have because all they see is what they do not have. Their line of sight is on things beyond their possession so what they have is no longer within their focus. Vanity takes away contentment; someone said the greatest enemy of contentment is comparison and I believe it.

When a person is controlled by vanity, it causes them to lose the respect of those around them. It doesn’t mean that people will not admire their ‘things’ or who they are. But when a truly vain person is in action, they turn off those around them. Placing themselves or their things on display creates distaste in those observing with a discerning eye. When a vain person becomes aware they are turning people off, a straw man argument such as accusing them of envy or hating is available. But that informal fallacy is easy to disregard. A person’s true nature always manifests, no matter how much they attempt to suppress it.

I do not think that the only prevention to vanity is to be unattractive, poor, or unmotivated to accomplish anything in life. A person who parks their vehicle in a highly visible area so all can see it and the person who parks theirs where no one can both have an issue with vanity. The assertion I make is control your spirit and outlook instead of allowing external things to manipulate you. Be you and be the best you. I believe a person can attain any level of success, be attractive, and accumulate possessions without being a prisoner to vanity. A proper perspective is acknowledging nothing lasts forever. External beauty fades, physical abilities end, and possessions cannot be taken to the grave.

We are not defined by ‘things’ we are defined by who we are. If our identify is reduced to what we have or a status in life, we turn ourselves over to a world of illusion. Possessions only derive their significance from the imaginary importance we attach to them. Refuse to be a prisoner held by the grip of materialism, lust for position, and vanity.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Do not run!

The final moments that typically precede hand to hand combat are when two opponents have found the resolve to engage their enemy. In one or both of their minds, they have decided that overcoming their opponent is possible. They also have accepted the risks associated with their choice. Whether the scenario is in a controlled environment such as a training exercise or the situation is real, there is a feeling that must be overcome – Intimidation.

I have been in many real and simulated physical confrontations, the latter being the most recent and frequent. Even when training with people I am familiar with and in a controlled environment, I have to consciously address some things mentally. One is whether I am aware of any level of intimidation I feel in that moment. The other is the importance of controlling my emotions by channeling them into focus on my actions. The intimidation (if present) has to be acknowledged and placed into perspective; am I really at risk? Am I communicating to my opponent apprehension or timidity? The emotional control is important because it will manifest in how I respond, both defensively and offensively.

When engaged in combat there is a risk of tunnel vision, rapid breathing, and muscle exhaustion from being overwrought. Combat breathing techniques regulate your breathing and aid with preventing tunnel vision. Allowing your mind to accept the encounter and ‘relax’ will prevent unnecessary muscle expenditure.

Intimidation…sometimes the fear of an encounter is worse than the encounter itself. Intimidation is when a response is forced upon someone by reason of threat. It is when someone frightens another to submit or comply with them. Feelings of discouragement come upon the intimidated because they perceive the intimidator to be superior to them. If they believe the intimidator, compliance with their wishes will follow.

In his inaugural speech, President John F Kennedy said “Let us never negotiate out of fear” The spirit behind these words is one of internal strength and resolve to avoid yielding to terror. Intimidation, whether valid or unnecessary, can be overcome. The power it possesses is found, not in the threat but in the one being threatened. If the terror being issued cannot penetrate the heart of the threatened, the power is lost. Intimidation is not just an external issue, it can originate within us. We can create our own fears and thus become controlled by them. Since perception is reality then everything rises or falls upon how we perceive a thing.

In conclusion, the account of a statement made by Robert Harper offers an appropriate response to intimidation. The year was 1798 and American diplomats had returned from France. They were sent to negotiate with the French regarding attacks that were being made upon American naval vessels. The French were attacking the American ships because they felt their “waters were being sailed”. The offer by the French to the diplomats was one of tribute, if the American ships wanted to sail their waters they could pay a toll and the threat of attack would be removed. It was in response to the French’s request for tribute that Robert Harper declared that America had “Millions for defense but not one penny for tribute”.

Never run from what opposes you, if you start running you will never quit running.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

The Benefit of Resistance

Resistance becomes tolerable when viewed from a certain perspective. Have you ever had an idea that was under appreciated?  Have you ever had plans that were discouraged? When purposes are born they have a fraternal twin called desire. So when a purpose enters into your spirit and mind, the desire to see it fulfilled automatically comes with it. This is why naysayers are an annoyance at that moment; this is why negativity towards a purpose is frustrating.

There are benefits to resistance though and not all resistance should be viewed in a negative light. Additional perspectives are important and there is power in shared counsel. We can be islands unto ourselves but this is a choice that has disadvantages. The benefit of constructive analysis from an ‘outside’ source offers a perspective less invested. Our mentors, trainers, and teachers have something to gives us that we do not have and their influence is needed. The encouragement from the support base in your life needs to be heard out. I have heard the immature and shallow speak of how people in their life were ‘holding them back’ or ‘were not supporting them’. Essentially, a destructive purpose was in their mind and the caring people around them were trying to redirect. This is positive resistance and if received correctly, the benefits of it will save you.

Then there is a thing called negative resistance. This is resistance for the sake of disagreement; it is when a contrary position is held simply for sake of rebuttal. I personally have a low tolerance for negative people. People that will expel vast amounts of energy to argue against or minimize a purpose just to be different are exhausting.

For nearly 30 years, Charles Kettering was over research and development at General Motors. Referring to problems his department faced that required a collective staff meeting to resolve, he once said “when I wanted a problem solved, I’d place a table outside the meeting room with a sign: Leave slide rules here. If I didn’t do that, I’d find someone reaching for his slide rule. Then he’d be on his feet saying, ‘Boss, you can’t do it’”. At that moment he did not need his staff focused on problems, he needed them looking for solutions. For some it is preferable to say no instead of yes, to disagree instead of agree, and to negate instead of support.

There are only so many responses to negative resistance. Negativity will either subvert you from your purpose or it will inspire you to proceed. People respond differently to resistance. Some are provoked by it to the point of aggression, it fuels their fire. Others become so deflated by it that it begins to spread to other areas of their life. Do not become intimated by the forms of resistance that you face when pursuing your purpose. Difficulties can be overcome and hard times are easier to navigate with a positive outlook rather than a negative one. Resistance builds strength so if you always avoid it, what areas are remaining weak in your life?

The path of least resistance is easier to travel but your carriage never has the opportunity to become stronger. There is a threshold we reach in our study, our training, and our overall growth. When you reach this threshold, you are faced with a decision. At that moment, you can choose to stop because you are tired or “it’s just too hard”.  Or you can choose to move beyond that threshold and if you do, it has no other choice but to move with you. It is your captive at that moment, not the other way around.

I will close with this but I will write about intimidation next. Intimidation is a method of resistance but it is very caustic and must be confronted head on.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

If you want to see Success come before Work…

…then look in the dictionary because that’s the only place you will see that.

Success is, as someone said, when preparation connects with opportunity. To achieve success we must position ourselves for it. Success in any endeavor is rarely an accident but rather the result of intentional design. To a certain extent success is subjective; the standard we set for our definition of success is basically right. Inspiration is the driving factor behind how high or low we set our standard for success. Some are more inspired, more driven, and more aggressive than others. The inspiration that establishes the level of success sought after overlaps into another subject. Zeal can be tempered with wisdom but if a lethargic disposition is the norm, it is nearly terminal. Success will not be served to you, it is only self served.

Success to some is defined by accumulation, to others it is defined by accomplishment. Success is like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Even attaining success through means some might consider dishonorable is still success to the one who achieves what they want. There is always a cost associated with exchanging our ideals for what we want but that’s usually a lesson learned later rather than beforehand. I believe in the idea of aggressively pursuing goals. I believe in the idea of challenging others if they stand in between you and your goals. But if in the end you have everything you want but it was attained at the expense of others or your own ideals, what do you really have?

Joe Paterno was the head coach at Penn State for many years once, he was quoted as saying “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.”. Go after your goals, work hard to achieve them. But do it right.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Paid the cost to be the Boss

I am 3 years into the study of my 5th martial art. Granted, I have not invested the same amount of time into every art I have studied but overall my interest in martial arts began 27 years ago. During the last 3 years I have noticed a common mind-set among those who casually pass by the world of martial arts. It is an attitude of wanting to be “known or recognized as a martial artist” but avoiding the cost of becoming one.

Simply signing a contract and committing to a term of training does not make a martial artist. Irregular attendance to class and never independently practicing will never make one a martial artist. Many want to take the quick road to talent, success, and recognition. But that road doesn’t exist. I only briefly studied Kung Fu but something the Sifu said has stayed with me. “To execute one good kick you will first need to execute a thousand kicks”.

“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

Who doesn’t want to be healthy and fit? But who is willing to exercise, quit eating garbage, and follow a healthy diet? Who would not mind being wealthy? But who is willing to save their money, wisely invest their money, and avoid wasting their money? Who doesn’t want a powerful mind? But who is willing to allow its dimensions to be expanded by learning? Whatever you are in pursuit of, if it has intrinsic value, you will have to spend and be spent to attain it.

Overnight successes are an exception and never the rule. And there is a crowd already gathered of those who are legends in their own mind. If you want to stand with them, there is plenty of room. But if you are not afraid to pay the cost, you can be their Boss.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Feet of Clay

When something comes into existence, its foundational elements foretell its outcome. A faulty foundation will mean instability while a sure foundation provides for an optimistic future. Relationships, business ventures, and other important decisions demand a fit beginning. Whatever it takes to begin a thing will be what it takes to carry it forward.

If focus, discipline, and commitment are required for something to begin successfully then that will mean these things will be required for it to continue. It is illogical to be surprised when a thing began wrong does not progress very far. If deceit or compromise is required to carry something forward then plans should be made for more of that to be required.

The tales of the Golem in Jewish antiquity is a tale of irony. The Golem comes into existence as a creation of clay by the hands of a superior being. The irony is that the creator would make this Golem for the purpose of consulting it, the creator seeks a seer. The tale of the Golem says the fashioning of clay combined with dance or a parchment with ‘truth’ written upon it would bring the image to life.

The creator would then appeal to the Golem for direction. But what can the creation teach the creator? What can the creation provide for the creator? The Golem rises to speak yet its own feet of clay testify against it. Its very existence displays the superiority of its creator yet ironically the creator chooses to defer to it for guidance.

This example of the Golem is one that represents the basest forms of thinking. This is a symbol of shallow thought and a desire for shortcuts. It is reasoning without deductive processes, it is satisfaction with analyzing but only at the simplest of levels. It is an approach to a solution found among deficit based resources. “I want to see the solution but I don’t want to have to strain to see it”. Foolish.

Avoid the insignificance of that which stands upon feet of clay, it will never have the capacity to bear the weight of that which holds true value.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés