Tag Archives: Decisions

Provoked to Excellence

“Negativity will either distract you from your purpose or it will provoke you to excellence”

J.M. Cortés

 

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés 

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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 

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

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

Direction and Destination

21__sailing_ship_in_pacific_ocean1

“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

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