Tag Archives: Fear

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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