Reading, a rarity now, writing, even worse

Yesterday I shared with some of my acquaintances, former classmates, friends on wechat my posting “Reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.”

I also shared it with my daughter. She always enjoys reading what I write. She encourages me to read and write more. In fact, she insists on being the first reader of my writing. Sometimes, I do feel encouraged. One old friend of mine is the same way.

I shared with a colleague of mine, hoping she would pick up this book. Sometimes, I wish I were part of a book club so that I will have a place to talk about what I read with others.

Reading JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy

I finished reading JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, a 2012 novel this weekend.

The novel begins with the death of Councillor Barry Fairbrother and ends with the funeral of a 16-year-old and her 3-year-old brother, a rather depressing way to start and end a book! The novel depicts two totally different worlds in today’s England: one that of middle class neighborhood, secure and affluent but not so full of love, the other ghetto-like place plagued by drug addicts, prostitution, and rape, but filled with a touching love of a sister toward her baby brother, which is the only genuine love in the novel. Bless them for not having as many gun violence as in the U.S.

The novel also pinpoints the vital part that the government can play in changing the life of ghetto people. It reminds me of Dickens’ novels and some inner city poor neighborhoods here in the U.S. Their living is so precarious that many are not able to live to adulthood as in the death of the 16- and 3-year-old, children of a drug addict.

Another theme is the dysfunctional relationship between parents and their teenage children in middle class families: Andrew Price vs his parents; Fats Wall vs. his parents; Sukhvinder vs. her parents;

The conflicts between these teenagers and their parents reach to the point that the teenagers hack individually the Parish Council online forum site and post rather malicious attacks against their own parents, all in the name of The_Ghost_Of_Barry_Fairbrother, resulting in one parent losing his job, another suffering heart attack, another becoming less normal. I wish many parents can read this novel and at least learn that there are unpleasant consequences for being abusive and disrespectful.

I must say the book is rather depressing. Still, it is an eye-opening must-read on many levels. I knew it would be a good one from Harry Potter’s writer.

Reading Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark

After sustaining the perverted, sociopath, criminals, and the disgusting trappings of sadomasochism in Fifty Shades of Grey, Gone Girl, In Cold Blood, and ‘People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo’, I decided to give myself a wholesome break and turned to Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark written in 1915, as I remember fondly one of my favorite books, Cather’s My Antonia and really miss both the book and that kind of people.

But guess what? I ended up with a bit disappointment. Because I have been pre-conditioned to too many dark turns of events, I was somehow expecting all the time something evil cropping up or lurking somewhere, but no evil found; like when the young Thea Kronborg went to Dr. Archie’s office in the evening to make a call to a patient, like when she went to Chicago alone at that tender age, a country girl in big city, like when she was alone with Fred Ottenburg, as if the married Ottenburg was surely going to ruin her. I feel something like an anticlimax coming down when nothing of that kind happened. People are so nice and kind that they almost seem unreal. I am too down to earth to accept fairy-tale ending like this.

The plot is remarkably simple, Thea Kronborg, an artistically gifted girl from a religious Sweden stock in Colorado, is determined to develop her artistic potential, regardless of whatever obstacles, venturing out alone as a teenager to Chicago, New York, then to Germany, and eventually becomes an acclaimed opera singer in NYC metropolitan opera.

At some point, I was truly impressed by her dogged determination, her strong will, her steadfastness, like the first generation of immigrants. I thought it was a must read for my children. Here’s an example of “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Then I change my mind.

In the end, Dr. Archie, who went to New York to watch her perform, said to her “I’m afraid you don’t have enough personal life, outside your work, Thea.” This is what I was thinking toward the end. With that, I am not sure if she is truly happy, even with her tremendous success. Perhaps she is, according to her definition.

Similar to the protagonist in Cather’s My Antonia, Thea Kronborg, uprooted herself from where she grows up, is inextricably connected to her birth place. And, no matter how far she moves away and for how long, she constantly experiences an aching longing for the past she left behind, the one that exists only in her memory, Cather’s constant theme of nostalgia among people who are like Thea Kronborg, leaving behind a past but still keep it in their dream. This may be part of the appeal to me.

As Thea quotes Wagner, “Art is only a way of remembering youth. And the older we grow the more precious it seems to us, and the more richly we can present that memory…”

Still a beautiful one…

Reading Gone Girl, how a husband is punished for cheating his wife

Gone Girl
written by Gillian Flynn. I have finished reading this novel today. I must say it is a good book. It makes readers utterly sick while going through the story that is fully packed with lies and dishonesty, but the readers feel happy and satisfied in the end.

The husband cheats the wife when he has an affair with a 23-year-old girl. The wife feels the need to revenge by disappearing from her home and framing the husband as the murderer. In the end, the husband has his due share of punishment, the wife returns home triumphantly by killing another man and goes scot free.

The novel ends with a final unexpected stroke when the wife saves herself and secures the marriage by getting herself pregnant with the much wanted son through fertility clinic.

While the readers might not like either the husband or the wife, they cannot help admiring the wife for her ingenuity and resourcefulness in plotting out her revenge. And it does make readers feel great when the cheating husband suffers in the process.

The parts I don’t like in the wife is she doesn’t seem to have a life of her own. Her husband seems to be the center of her life, which makes her so vulnerable. It is like gambling, when she places her happiness and her life in one basket, her husband in her case, and when her husband cheats her, her whole life collaps. This should be a lesson for all women. Another thing about her is she is not nice to others sometimes, especially to her parents.

Another one, of course, for men is NEVER underestimate the brain power of women.

PS. Actually, the thing that was rather annoying at first is the language that is full of F word, too many of them at first. But the strange thing is by the end of the novel I kind of got used to seeing them, as if it were no big deal. I wish they were not that many in the book.

Reading William Shakespeare, thought on adult world

There have been plenty of writings on Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Lately I kept thinking of one event in the play, that is, the age-old feud between the two families, Capulet and Montague. They have fought for so long with so many lives lost that they even don’t remember why they fought in the first place. I think of the term that was used here, bickering. The more I think about it, the more I find it extremely absurd and irrational. While the adult world is full of deep-rooted hatred and prejudices, the children’s world is one of love and many great possibilities. The questions that bother me is, what is it that turn children into prejudiced adults? what is it good for people to grow up losing their once childhood purity? How can we grow up and still keep that child in our heart? That is, how can adults be as pure and prejudice-free as the children?

10 quotes from Shakespeare:
(1) Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.
(2) If music be the food of love, play on.
(3) Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
(4) There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
(5) A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
(6) If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we no die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?
(7) Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.
(8) We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
(9) Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
(10) It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

The Power of Reflection … key to high achievement in all domains

On 9/14/2014, one day after my birthday, I thought I would spoil myself a little bit by spending an afternoon at Barnes & Noble’ bookstore. I often visited this place when my daughter was home. This was the first time that I went there since she left. A strange feeling.

Among others, I read this one “The Power of Reflection: Insight into our own thoughts, or metacognition, is key to high achievement in all domains,” by Stephen M. Fleming, on Scientific American Mind 25, Sept-Oct 2014. Here are the main ideas.

1. Metacognition is the ability to make judgments about our own thoughts—for example, assessing whether a memory is accurate or a decision is appropriate.

2. People vary in the accuracy of their metacognition. Certain psychological disorders, including dementia and schizophrenia, can impair this ability.

3. Several strategies appear to shore up metacognition, including meditation and taking breaks while studying to reflect on one’s own learning.

The Promise of America, …

“To every man his chance, to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining golden opportunity–to every man the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him–this, seeker, is the promise of America.”
from The Promise of America, Thomas Wolfe

A man is what he thinks about all day long

Continue my note sharing.

Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind. — William James

A man is what he thinks about all day long. — Emerson

The first step towards philosophy is incredulity.” –Diderot

There will never be another now–I’ll make the most of today.
There will never be another me–I’ll make the most of myself.

For winners, life consists not in getting more but in being more and knowing more.
Winners do not get their security by controlling others. They do not set themselves up to lose.

There is never a scarcity of opportunity; there is a scarcity of resolution and determination to realize your dream.

I have many responsibilities, but I don’t worry about them. I plan, I work hard, but I don’t get anxious about results.

Children who grow up without hearing no from their parents will be terribly brittle when they have to take no from life itself–and worse, they will have a hard time saying no to themselves.

The very best way to change someone is to begin with your own example. You behave in the way you expect others to behave.

“To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons” or cook dinners or clean their bathroom. — Marilyn French

Men fail because of lack of dogged determination, from lack of dauntless will

More from my previous reading notes,

“Man ultimately decides for himself! And in the end, education must be education toward the ability to decide.” — Viktor Frankle

Achieving autonomy is the ultimate goal in transactional analysis. Being autonomous means being self-governing, determining one’s own destiny, taking responsibility for one’s own actions and feelings, and throwing off patterns that are irrelevant and inappropriate to living in the here and now.”

“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear of newer and richer experiences.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.” — Henry Adams

Originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes.” — T.W. Higginson

“The man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentration, attention, energetic volition and self-denial in unnecessary things, will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.” — William James

“Most men fail, not through lack of education, but from the lack of dogged determination, from lack of dauntless will.” — O.S. Marden

The secret of Victor Hugo is his stupendous energy and self-confidence, enabling him to hurl the whole of himself into whatever he has on hand.

No doubt his egoism was monstrous, but a man who thought less well of himself could not have risen,…to heights at which he seems to be expressing.

We build up the feeling of insecurity or security by how we think.

Practice thinking confident thoughts, make it a dominating habit, and you will develop such a strong sense of capacity that regardless of what…

“They conquer who believe they can.” — Emerson

Einstein on reading

how to read

When you read, try to find out the part that can challenge you to think deep and get rid of the rest. This way you can unburden your brain and avoid distractions.

Reading on how to write well, part 2

You want to engage your audience, not completely overwhelm them, … The more you write, the more you will learn to walk this fine line between effective display and use of your writerly knowledge and simply showing off–something that is likely to turn off your audience and not help you in achieving your ultimate goal.

The trick, as a writer, is to know for whom you’re writing and what it is you’re trying to convey.

One of the most important factors in good writing is the writer’s understanding of the nature of his or her audience. Perhaps even more important is understanding what particular information you need or want to convey to your audience…you have to know what you want to say, how to say it, and why you want to say it.

When you write, you construct not only an authorial persona, but you also construct an audience.

When you write essay, you want to make your opening as effective and engaging as possible so that people will keep reading.

Reading on how to write well, part 1

Here are some notes that I took on how to write well.

Great writers are always great readers.

The elements of successful writing are insightful reading, careful research, and rigorous analytical thinking. Successful writing requires us to develop active-analytical reading strategies as opposed to passive-receptive reading habits.

Active, insightful reading empowers us to more effectively evaluate and interpret the meaning of what we read.

Writing, when it’s done well, is never just words on a page–good writing invites interaction. The reader engages with the words, interacts with the language and ideas of the author.

Moving beyond the initial reaction (like or dislike) can allow you to appreciate even writing that you might not really like. It can help you recognize the writer’s skill, appreciate the effort the writer made, and admire the emotions he or she is able to make you feel.

A useful thing to remember when you are composing your own writing is that …your audience can’t immediately interact with you in the present moment, so above all you should strive for clarity. You should anticipate questions or moments of confusion, and you should consider the self-image you’re conveying to your audience. How are they going to interpret you and your personality based on what you’ve written?

Find a second, grab a book and read

I like this article, “The One Thing Successful People Constantly Do.” Believe it or not, here’s part of the article.

The most successful business people read.

They read way beyond their business field. They consume poetry, fiction, science, philosophy, science fiction, science fantasy, religion, psychology and then some. Without these references, you are doomed to lose prestige when your product knowledge is no longer at issue.

Consider whether you have an education deficit, which is more of a liability than you might think. Consider what subject areas would expand your point of view, like anthropology, fine arts, sociology, physical science, biology, mathematics, linguistics, political science and the whole host of topics that enliven the world with different perspectives.

You can be an autodidact, a MOOC-addict or at least a casual reader in these other fields. However, nothing comes close to being engaged by a teacher or mentor who is dedicated to challenging you on a new subject.

Successful people actively widen or deepen the shallow areas of their education. They never stop learning — really learning, not just apprising themselves of a topic with a Buzzfeed style list.

Read and learn to get a richer framework for life, and life brings you greater riches.”

Now, find a second, grab a book and read.

Pueblo Indian Prayer, love it, though a bit sad

Pueblo Indian Prayer

Hold on to what is good,
Even if it’s a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.

Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to your life,
Even if it’s easier to let go.

Hold on to my hand,
Even if I’ve gone away from you.

Read in order to be a better and understanding people

I don’t remember where I read this or who said this. I thought of this while making origami for a colleague of mine today–
The purpose of literature is to realize other people really exist.
That is, through reading we get to know more people, their lives and their experience. With this understanding, we will hopefully become less self-centered and more sympathetic and understanding, and eventually can co-exist peacefully with others. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Notes from reading Original Goodness…

Original Goodness: Strategies for Uncovering Your Hidden Spiritual Resources by Eknath Easwaran, 1989. I bought this book in spring of 1992 at Bowling Green State University. I don’t know why I bought it and even read it. There must be a need for this book at that time. Or I must have a strong sense to master the original goodness.

Before my daughter gets back home, of course, I cleaned the house once again, as if I hadn’t done it for a long time. I tried to get rid of some book, this one being one of them. I not only read this book but also left underlines throughout the book. Below are part of what I have underlined.

The book has 229 pages. My original plan is to get rid of the book after I finish taking down the notes. But as I was typing, I changed my mind, at least for now. I plan to keep the book for my children, even after I have taken most of the underlined notes. Let’s see what they will do with it. For now, let’s try to enjoy these reading notes.
“Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name on history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.” p. 9

“Though we are born of human clay, it reminds us, each of us has the latent capacity to reach and grow toward heaven until we shine with the reflected glory of our maker.” p. 10

“… It was as if they [shoppers] had come looking for something to want — something that might fill a nameless need, even if only for a moment…” p. 13

“Making things, buying and selling them, piling them up, repairing them, trying to figure out how to get rid of them permanently: for sensitive people, boredom with this carnival cycle began some time ago. A consumer culture is not the goal of life.” p. 13

“…wealth, possessions, power, and pleasure have never brought lasting satisfaction to any human being. Our needs go too deep to be satisfied by anything that comes and goes. Nothing but spiritual fulfillment can fill the void in our hearts.” p. 14

“…for a person who can think only of himself, someone who explodes when things do not go her way, is fragile, alienated, and very lonely individual. …In the end, it is this driving sense of separateness — I, I, I; my need, my wants, apart from all the rest of life — that is responsible for all the wars in history, all the violence, all the exploitation of other human beings, and even the exploitation of the planet that threatens our future today.” p. 19

“We want to love and to be loved. We want happiness and fulfillment,… We want a place in life, a way of belonging, a sense of purpose, the achievement of worthy goals — whatever it takes; otherwise life is an empty show.” p. 19

“…what we say we believe in is not so important; what matters is what we actually do — and,…what we actually are. ‘As we think in our hearts, so we are.'” p. 23

“…meditation is essentially an interior discipline.” p. 25

Meditation “is the regular, systematic training of attention to turn inward and dwell continuously on a single focus within consciousness, until,… we become so absorbed in the object of our contemplation that while we are meditating, we forget ourselves completely. In that moment, when we may be said to be empty of ourselves, we are utterly full of what we are dwelling on…we become what we meditate on.

“Meditation,…means training the mind: teaching our thoughts to go where we tell them and to obey themselves while they are there…” p. 26

“…when you have this kind of mastery over your attention in everything you do, you have a genius for life itself: unshakable security, clear judgment, deep personal relationships, compassion that no adversity can break down.” p. 26

“…we see not so much with the eyes as with the mind, for it is the mind that arranges and interprets the information of the senses according to its own conditioning.” [I would say head instead of mind] p. 33

“It is in the mind that we experience life, and the mind is never really clear.” ??? p. 37

“…the mind is often compared to a lake, whose waters become clouded with mud when the lake is agitated. Only when the murk of our thoughts, desires, and passions settles does the mind become calm and clear.” [use head instead of mind] p. 39

“We behold that which we are, and we are that which we behold. As a man is, so he sees.” p. 40

“Intellectual study cannot be of much help in this transformation. Only meditation, the systematic turning inward of attention, can take us deep into consciousness where the obstacles to a pure heart hide.” p. 43

On humility, “Whenever we get swept away by a selfish urge or a wave of anger, we are in hell; we can almost feel the sulfurous fumes of insecurity and fear. If we get so angry that we can’t sleep, we are overnight guests in hell’s hotel.” p. 53

“Hell is no metaphor and neither is heaven. Hell and heaven are states of consciousness. Doesn’t Jesus say the kingdom of heaven is within? And mental states are real — in fact, in some ways they are even more ‘thing’ than things…if I said something unkind and you couldn’t stop thinking

about it, your resentment might burn for years. It might even aggravate your ulcer.” p. 54

“…when you go on saying ‘I’m a sinner,…’ you’re actually thinking of yourself as a sinner. You expect yourself to do wrong thing. I like to emphasize original goodness: ‘I’m a saint,…” p. 54

“We don’t have to have somebody punish us for doing wrong; we punish ourselves. Sin its own punishment…anger is its own punishment.” p. 54

“…dwelling on yourself is its own punishment. All of us find ourselves a fascinating, satisfying subject to contemplate…until the results begin to accumulate… the person who thinks about himself all the time, who can scarcely think about anything except in connection with his own needs, becomes the most wretched creature on earth. Nothing really goes the way he wants, and that preoccupation with himself that seemed so pleasant and natural becomes a wall that keeps everyone else outside. It’s a lonely, tormented life. Perhaps the most painful irony is that this wretchedness too is just dwelling on oneself. Once a habit is formed, the mind cannot stop, even when it makes us miserable.” p. 55

“All these habits of mind that can make life hell,…can be traced to one central flaw of attention. To call it self-preoccupation comes close: the habit of dwelling on my needs, my desires, my plans, my fears. The more deeply ingrained this pattern of thinking is,…the more we make ourselves a little island isolated from the rest of life, with all the unhappiness that has to follow.” p. 55

On Self-forgetfulness: “All of us have tasted the freedom and happiness that self-forgetfulness brings,… In watching a good game of tennis or becoming engrossed in a novel,…the satisfaction comes not so much from what we are watching or reading as from the act of absorption itself…” p. 60

“…there is only one way to be completely happy, and that is to forget ourselves in working for others. It’s a perplexing paradox: so long as we try to make ourselves happy, life places obstacles in our path. But the moment we turn away from ourselves to make others happy, our troubles melt away.” p. 61

“…in that absorption all the burdens a person might carry in such work were lifted from his shoulders …” p. 62

“As preoccupation with ourselves diminishes, security builds. We find we have greater patience – and not just with others, but with ourselves as well. Things that used to cause stress and agitation no longer ruffle us, and people we used to find difficult start to show a brighter side.” p. 66

“When there is no past, then no ghosts from the past …, no anger or resentment – can come to make your life miserable… It is not that you forget what happened yesterday when you lose the bond with the past; you just don’t think about yesterday.” p. 66

“…the unburdening of the memory.”

“It is heaven to be free of worry about tomorrow. I have many responsibilities, but I don’t worry about them. I plan, I work hard, but I don’t get anxious about results. When you develop this marvelous capacity to hold attention steady on the present, like a flame of a candle in a windless place, most anxieties evaporate. There is no reason to worry about what tomorrow may bring. If you live today completely in love – hating no one, hurting no one, serving all – then tomorrow has to be good, whatever comes.” p. 67

On Slowing down:
“All negative thoughts are fast. Fear, resentment, greed, and jealousy rush through the mind at a hundred miles per hour. At such speeds we cannot turn, cannot stop, cannot keep from crashing into people.” p. 67

“Fast thinking has implications for the body too. People whose thoughts spin faster and faster become victims of the speed habit of their minds.

“This kind of turmoil takes a heavy toll on health, and evidence suggests that emotional instability may leave the body more vulnerable to illness and reduce its capacity for healing. Uncontrollable anger … seems to be associated with hypertension and heart disease and is a component in severe breathing problems.” 68

On Putting Others First: “A third way to dissolve the strata of self-centered conditioning is by learning to think of other people’s needs before our own. This is perhaps …the most rewarding challenge on the spiritual path.” p. 70

“Putting others first is an infectious example that affects everybody around… All of us maintain a free university of our own, where we teach by what we are. Especially where children are concerned, the home is a 7-day-a-week school of education for living.” p. 71

“…the very best way to change someone is to begin with your own example.” p. 71

When people use hurtful words to you, “if you remember not to retaliate in words and actions, eventually you will find it impossible even to think hurtful thoughts.” p. 75

On Simplicity: we need to remind ourselves “that the real meaning of simplicity is singling out what is worth living for, then shaping our lives around what matters and letting go of everything else. Thoreau tells us, ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.'” p. 79

“Simple living is the art of using minimum means to attain maximum results – just the opposite of what happens when we get caught up in the obsessions of a consumer society.” p. 80

“To enjoy everything, desire to get joy from nothing.” p. 81

On Patience: “Even immersing ourselves in hobbies, intellectual pursuits, or relationships can be attempts to create a little world where beauty and harmony are permanent, where disorder and distress cannot enter.” p. 98

“Training the mind to stay steady brings another precious benefit: it protects us from the physiological impact of negative emotions and stress.” p. 100

“…full health is more than just the absence of disease. It means a dynamic harmony of body and mind which allows us to live at our full physical, emotional, and spiritual potential.” p. 101

“…it is not so much events that subject us to stress as the way we perceive and interpret those events. …stress is defined as a relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his
or her well-being.

“…those who know how to keep their mind on an even keel will respond to life’s challenges with calmness, alertness, and even eagerness… what makes the difference is not personality type but evenness of mind.” p. 104

“…keeping calm in the face of excitement is even harder. Pleasure makes the mind race too…” p. 105

One possible connection between stress and illness is that psychological stress drains energy – energy that the body needs to stay vital, resist disease, and heal.” p. 106

“…no physical regimen can counteract the energy-wasting habits of the mind.” p. 106

“Human beings do not need excitement; they need meaning, purpose, a higher goal and some way of getting there. Without these, for those who are sensitive, life may soon lose its value.” p. 108

“‘Will I get a chance to help others?’ All that is important is that you can make a contribution; that is what gives life meaning and value.” p. 110

“…patience is not only a mental virtue; it is an asset even for physical health.” p. 111

“…if you can strengthen your patience to such a degree that other people’s behavior never upsets you, your heart, lungs, and nervous system will be on vacation.” p. 112

“Patience attains everything. Through patience, every goal can be reached.” p. 112

“Patience means self-mastery: the capacity to hold on and remain loving in a difficult situation when every atom of your being wants to turn and run.” p. 113

Instead of asking ‘Please give me more patience,’ keep in mind help always comes from within.

“We do not really get satisfaction out of hurting people who hurt us. We have simply fallen into the habit of brooding on wrongs done to us, blowing them up to the proportions of enormous antipathies, until we finally explode.” p. 127

“…personal suffering always comes from self-will…Nothing burns in hell except self-will.” p. 127

“Goodness may taste bitter at first, but it is found at last to be immortal wine.” p. 128

“Compulsive thought patterns exists only so long as we support them with our belief in their power to propel us into action…If we are bothered by certain thoughts, we should remind ourselves that it is we who rent out the precious space within the mind…If we shut the door of the mind right in their face, they will soon tire of knocking.” p. 133

“…just as chemicals in the air around us can bring on ailments like cancer, there are thoughts in the unconscious which can pollute our inner atmosphere and bring on illness in mind and even body.” p. 133

“Judge not that ye be not judged” Jesus. When we keep pointing a finger of judgment at others, we are teaching our mind a lasting habit of condemnation. Sooner or later, that finger of judgment will be aimed at ourselves.” p. 135

“I don’t make any demand on life at all. All I need is opportunities for giving, which life has no power to withhold.” p. 146

On Mercy:
“When we are kind, tender, compassionate, and forgiving, we get a glimpse of the healing power of this reservoir of mercy within.” p. 150

“As we sow, so we reap.”

“Indulging in anger in pointing a poison-tipped arrow inward, aimed straight at ourselves. It taints our thinking, poisons our feelings, turns our relationships adversarial. If we continue to think resentful thoughts, mistrust spreads in consciousness like some toxic underground chemical until we have a permanent disposition for suspicion.” p. 153

“Energy conservation is the basis of spiritual engineering, for vital energy provides the power we need to tap the infinite source of goodness and mercy that lies at the core of consciousness.” 154

…a close connection between mental states and longevity..

“Security, compassion, patience, forgiveness — all these are accompanied by a relatively slow breathing rhythm and heart rate. Positive states of mind like these conserve energy and lengthen the life span, leaving a reserve of resilience and resistance for facing challenges.” p. 155

“Learning to control attention is the key to gaining access to this energy and using it wisely. …the ability to direct attention is the very root of judgment, character and will.” p. 155

“…the best way to help our young people discover and harness their inner resources is by teaching them to master their attention, beginning with our own example. Giving children our full attention is the best way to make them secure; and with the steadiness that comes from a trained mind, we will not lose faith when they run into the problems that young people run into everywhere.” p. 156

“Most of us carry strong personal attachments and sincerely believe that we love deeply. But when we are emotionally entangled with someone, we cannot really be aware of that person’s needs or how we affect his life. Our preoccupation is with ourselves: that our feelings not be violated and that our wants be fulfilled.” p. 158

“…anything that depletes energy reserves regularly is likely to take a toll on health.” p. 159

“What we are looking for in others is generally what we find. ‘Such as we are inwardly, so we judge outwardly,’ Thomas Kempis said.” p. 162

“The memory of past letdowns can weigh down any sensitive human being, making trust an elusive commodity to acquire. Worst of all, when negative memories cast a shadow of mistrust over our relationships, we lack the vitality we need to withdraw our attention and act with kindness, as if those shadows were not there.” p. 162

“In the heart of every human being lies a noble response to anyone who will neither retaliate nor retreat: a deep, intuitive recognition that here is someone who sees in us all the inalienable good in human nature.” p. 170

Always remember what life is for.

On Peacemaking,
“Peace is not an absence of war. It is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, trust, and justice.” Spinoza. … We must actively cultivate peace as a virtue, trying to make it a permanent state of mind.” p. 177

There is a vital connection between the peace or violence in our minds and the conditions that exist outside. When our mind is hostile, it sees hostility everywhere, and we act on what we see. … Acting in anger is not just the result of an agitated mind; it is also a cause, provoking retaliation from others and further agitation from others and further agitation in our own mind. If negative behavior becomes habitual, we find ourselves chronically in a negative frame of mind and continually entangled in pointless conflicts – just the opposite of peaceful and pacifying.” p. 178

It doesn’t really need a reason to lose its temper; anger is its chronic state. … They are simply people whose minds have been conditioned to get angry, usually because they cannot get their own way. Instead of benevolence, they have developed a habit of hostility.” p. 178

If your mind is not trained to make peace at home, how can you hope to promote peace on a larger scale? p. 179

Stirring up passions, provoking animosity, and polarizing opposition may sometimes produce short-term gains, but it cannot produce long-term beneficial results because it only clouds minds and hurt both sides. p. 179

When push comes to shove, unless we have trained ourselves to harness our anger – to put it to work to heal the situation instead of aggravating it – it is monumentally difficult for most of us to resist the impulse to retaliate. p. 180

“We behold that which we are, and we are that which we behold.” If we have an angry mind, we will see life as full of anger; if we have a suspicious mind, we will see causes for suspicious all around… p. 180

…use the right means and not worry about the outcome.

Instead of blaming our problems on some intrinsic flaw in human nature, we must squarely take responsibility for our actions as human beings capable of rational thought. p. 183

Trust is a measure of your depth of faith in the nobility of human nature, of your depth of love for all. If you expect the worst from someone, the worst is what you will usually get. Expect the best and people will respond. p. 184

When you give toys to children, or allow them to buy them for themselves, you have to consider that you are not just giving them something to entertain them; you are giving them an instrument that may influence their thinking and living for decades. p. 190

On desire:
“You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your deep, driving desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.” — Perennial Philosophy p. 205

When we think we decide to buy something, go somewhere, see someone, all too often the choice is being made not by us, but by unconscious desires. p. 205

…indulging such desires for a moment of dash of wickedness, like smoke and drug, only leaves us hungrier than before, and a moment stretching to a day, a month, and many years… Keep in mind there is no long-lasting joy in yielding to a compulsive desire. p. 207

All yielding can do is give us a little respite from desire’s demands – and make them stronger the next time. Joy comes not from yielding, but from gaining freedom from them, freedom to choose. p. 207

There is combativeness in our makeup not so we can fight others, but so we can take on these urges and see how much satisfaction we get in beating them. p. 208

Compulsive desires are part of the human condition, but today we have an additional problem: for almost all of us, our desires are exceptionally well trained. p. 208

The end.

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances…”

I forgot where I read this. I wrote it down because it sounds too profound for me. See if you agree with me or Koonig or Wilder.

“content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It is very tiny–very tiny content.” William Koonig.

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” By Oscar Wilder

“What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.”

I have the following in my note collection for a few months or even longer. Here they are, finally.

Read about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
“What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.”

Martin Luther–“How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never’.”

Also by Goethe
“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that”

“What is my life if I am no longer useful to others.”

“Only by joy and sorrow does a person know anything about themselves and their destiny. They learn what to do and what to avoid.”

Carl Buechner–“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”

Your dreams, goals and their functions in motivating you

Reading Sonia Sotomayor
This is the book that I was reading on 2/13/2013. I was thinking of copying the following here, but it is easier to copy this way.

Paul Ryan, a highly effective politician, part I

Last month, while reading The Price of Politics by Bob Woodward, 2012, I shared this part with my daughter. It talks about Paul Ryan and how he rose so quickly as a politician. Here’s what Bod Woodward wrote of him, pp. 82-84.

Paul Ryan was 29 years old when he first became the member of the US House of Representative. He believed his most important challenge was learning how to be an effective lawmaker, and he began charting a path right away. Having lost his father at the age of 16, he had always sought mentors, … Now he reached out again, asking a number of the House’s senior members to breakfast or lunch, seeking guidance.

There were two persons from whom he benefited most. The first one was Barney Frank. Though they were ideological opposites, Frank gave him what Ryan considered the best advice he got about how to be an effective congressman. Be a specialist, Frank told him, not a generalist. Focus on one set of issues. Get on the committee that you care about, and then learn more about the topic than anybody else.

Second, Bill Thomas told him to talk to all the experts you can find, and read everything you can. Know these things inside and out so that you really know what you are talking about whenever you talk.
To be continued…

Cooperation more than competition in the fight for survival

On 12/16, my daughter and I went to Barnes & Noble’s as usual to prepare for her finals. There I read something on Scientific American magazine, special collector’s edition with the theme on the question “What Makes Us Human.”

One human behavior, Martin Nowark question, “why we help each other.” Cooperation, he notices, instead of being “a nagging exception to the rule of evolution,” has been one of its primary architects.

When people often think of evolution as a severe cutthroat, dog-eat-dog struggle for survival, cooperation is found to be a driving force in evolution.

The author talks about the five mechanisms by which cooperation may arise in organisms ranging from bacteria to human beings. Humans are especially helpful because of the mechanism of indirect reciprocity, which is based on reputation and leads us to help those who help others.

It is heartening to learn that “life is not just a struggle for survival –it is also a smuggle for survival.” A nice thought on the eve of Christmas.

People cooperate either for their common interest or for their own interest, which makes sense since we are all interdependent.

Is it really something new? I am not sure, but I am sure there are many implications for any fields that involve human dealings.

Read one level above you

My son once said, “I am not easily entertained.” I am not sure what he meant, but when I pick a book to read, I am a picky reader, hard to please.

When my daughter was in elementary school, her teacher told the class, “Pick up a book and read.” As if reading anything is better than not reading. It is probably OK for the little kids just to get them into the habit of reading. But still, I would not advice reading indiscriminately.

I don’t just pick up one and read, as I will be upset if I find out the author is not smarter than I am. Yuck! What a waste of time! Don’t you feel cheated when you have jammed a book into your brain and found no nutrients whatsoever! Or feel offended when you find out the author tries but fails to manipulate your mind with his bias!

Read to think, to learn and to grow. A safe rule to follow is to always read one level above you.

Brideshead Revisited: Dream of Lost Nobility

During the week of 4/23 when my daughter was with her school team in Albuquerque, NM, I read the novel Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The book was chosen by Time magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.

The novel touches many themes, like Catholicism, old English nobility, wasted youth, etc. What strikes me most is the feeling of emptiness in the lives of members of this decedent noble family.

It reminds me of sayings like “young and foolish” or “young and stupid.” The youthful years seem to be the time for idleness and purposeless and drifting away like rootless weeds.

The young characters in the novel remind me of the main characters in Chinese novel The Dream of Red Chamber, who never have to make a living and who fool away their lives as if there were no tomorrow.

To be honest, I didn’t finish the 340-page novel, even if the language is rather beautiful. I must be too realistic or practical to indulge in any dream of lost nobility.

When we “become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge”

Not long ago, I re-read Willa Cather’s novel, My Antonie. It is one of my favorites. I cannot say exactly why. It may be because of that feeling of nostalgia for something in the distant past, intangible but very present now.

When Jim Burden, the main character of the book, first comes to Black Hawk, rural area in Nebraska, he finds complete happiness in the vast prairie and feels connected to Mother Nature.

“… I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness, to be dissolve into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep” — My Antonie, p. 17.

I mentioned this to my daughter. I said people must feel this complete contentment when they finally find the source of their happiness. It can be anything that can give one this feeling. In this case, it is the prairie.  “Follow your path and find your source of happiness,” I told her. “And when you finally find it, you will be as happy as Jim when he is laying under the sun at that moment.”

How to Read Efficiently on Social Science Subject, Part III

A good note taking can help you work efficiently on book report. Hence, it is very helpful to get into a good note taking habit.

(1) Avoid highlighting or underlining. You actually cheat yourself with underlining the text as if you have known the underlined part by finding this shortcut. Sometimes you think you underline the key point, but the underlined parts become meaningless when they are out of context. Sometimes, you forget why you underlined it. Don’t ever rely on the underlined part. Remember you don’t know the underlined part until it becomes part of you.

(2) Use either a note card or post note for your comments and your thoughts on the part you want to underline. Or you paraphrase the text on the note card. Allow the sentence go through your head and make it your own words.

(3) Use ( ) on the text for your referring citations.

How to Read Efficiently on Social Science Subject, Part II

A month after my son was born, I resumed my school work. First of all, I took up the task of preparing for the oral exam. All my PhD. committee members were present for this exam, in which they would ask me questions regarding the 50 books that I was supposed to be familiar with.

It was a real challenge to read through the 50 books in one month. I used inspection reading method, in which I read through introduction, table of content, index, publisher and scholarly book reviews, book summary at the beginning of each chapter, and of course the conclusion.

After that, I basically picked and chose which chapters and even which pages that I needed to read carefully in order to pass the exam. I saved lots of time by skipping many unimportant parts in these books.

While reading, I took notes and formulated my thought and argument on the issue, and also thought about other authors’ position on the same topic, if I could remember them. By comparison with other authors, you engaged in more dialogues among authors and thus made reading more fun and fruitful.
To be continued…

How to Read Efficiently on Social Science Subject

When I watched my daughter working on her social science reading, I thought of the time when she is in college and the amount of reading required in most humanity fields. A young relative of mine is currently in an MBA program, which also requires plenty of heavy readings. So I started thinking of giving some advice on how to read efficiently.

(1) Start reading introduction, abstract, book reviews, and conclusions. This way you have some idea of what you are getting at. Life gets easier if you know what to expect.

(2) Divide and conquer. Always use this method when you face a thick and abstruse book. You will feel more manageable, less intimidating once you chop it into small pieces.

(3) Read fast. Never read word for word, line by line. When you read slowly, you might know the meaning of all the words but fail to grasp the meaning of the sentence, of the paragraph, of the whole book. Remember you read in order to understand the author’s message, to interpret and evaluate the book. Fast reading can help you not to get lost.

There is one exception here when you read in order to memorize. If you read history textbook for some historical facts, use index to locate them and write down on the note card.
To be continued…

Narration, Narrator, First Person or Third Person

This is one of those postings dedicated to reading or rather how to be an active reader.

We learned narrator as early as our elementary school years. We know there are two main types: first person using “I” or third person, also known as omniscent narrator.

My understanding of the charateristics of first person narrator is this. It is subjective, intimate like talking to the readers, more revealing of the activities inside the charater’s mind, and more authentic sometimes. But first person narrator is always very limited to how much the first person can tell.

The characteristics of third person narrator is, of course, more objective than the first person, more distant from the readers, indirect revealing of the inner activities of the character, more speculative sometimes, giving broader view than first person narrator. Of course, the omniscent narrator seems to be everywhere and is able to observe much more than the first person narrator.

As I said before, a good reader always asks question when he/she reads. In this case, your question will be this — why does the author use first person or third person narrator in the book? What would happen if you switch the narrator from first person to third person or vice versa? This is a good exercise if you want to get more out of a book.

Reading and Master Plots

There seems unlimited number of fictions. I have not read as much as I would like, yet from what I have read so far, there are roughly two master plots, even if there are numerous seemingly different versions of these two master plots.

Here are the two master plots to most of the stories, which goes like this stranger-comes or hero-goes.

(1) A stranger comes to town plot, and life is not the same again. e.g. a family has been living in this town for three generations and have remained unchanged until last Monday when an uncle of the family came…. Another version goes like this, once upon a time, a family of three little pigs live peacefully. Then one day, a big wolf comes…

(2) The hero takes the journey plot, for a conquest or search for root or for self-identity or for something that worth seeking, in the process of which the hero is transformed. The journey is a process that can be either physical or emotional or spiritual. or e.g. there are many journey stories, like Red Riding Hood, Odyssey, Lord of the Ring, Harry Potter, Jane Eyre. There are plenty of novels that record the journey of the hero conquering adversity, going from one stage to a higher one, from immaturity to maturity, from weak to strong, etc.

It is a good exercise to find out which master plot a novel belongs to by simply asking: stranger or a journey? With stranger coming to town plot, your next question is to find out the changes this stranger is going to bring about. With hero taking journey plot, you will concentrate on tracing the development and changes that the hero is going through, how he sets out the journey, what his initial goal is, how he is transformed in the process.

Good Reading Habit Helps Improve Writing Skill

Last weekend, my daughter spent a large chunk of her time reading a novel for an essay competition. To be sure, she likes the novel very much and would like to spend as much time on it as I allow.

Being a fun-spoiler, I kept reminding her of not reading for fun. “If you want to write a good essay afterward, you have to start thinking about it while you are reading it. You have to engage in active reading.” I kept talking, even though I was sure I did not have all her ears.

Later I shared this view with a friend of mine. One way to develop a good writing skill is to cultivate a good reading habit, that is, engaging in active reading.

For most people, they read with their eyes, especially fictions. Active reading means you read with your eyes, head and hands.

With your head, you debate or argue with the author, you think or figure out the author’s intention, like what is his purpose of creating this or that character, what does he try to say through his character, are you convinced by him, etc.

With your hand, you write down what you think or jot down notes while reading or mark down places you enjoy most.

When you read with your eyes, head, and hands, you read critically and effectively. With this enhanced critical thinking ability, writing will come easily. By the way, this was the method that I employed when I worked on my Ph.D dissertation. It works like magic.

Reading Madam Secretary: A Wonderful Lady

I read Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright early January. I was very much impressed by her experience. She was in one sense a pioneer and an inspiration. She grew up during the time when women’s place was at home, serving their husbands and children. Even though, she did her best to play her role, she managed to get her Ph.D., and after divorce, moved on to live a very fulfilled life. Here are some of the notes from the book.

After giving birth to her twice babies, her life was changed. “So began a new segment in my life, one defined by formula, diapers, rattles, burps, teething, hugs, frequent weight checks, visits to the doctor, and shrieking, splashing baths. I was so proud of my beautiful and good daughters; I was also growing frustrated because I wanted to make full use of my education.” p. 52

“Twice in two years, I have had to leave good jobs with good futures to follow my husband’s path. And that was even before I had children. Now, even to get a job, I would have to find and hire a dependent nurse and pay her perhaps more than I could make myself. Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic. Perhaps I could go out tomorrow and get a job as a typist. The next question is, why bother? Do I want a job merely to have a job, or do Iwant to work in order to be doing something worthwhile?”

“I must admit though that I feel somewhat like a pioneer. I am not satisfied to sit back for the rest of my life and contemplate in which order to clean the rooms. I want to find a solution and still feel that somehow it must be possible to be a responsible mother, a good wife and have an intellectually satisfying job.” p. 53

While her babies were small, she could not land on a full-time job. When her hope of getting a journalist job was gone, she enrolled in a graduate program at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies — “Even though I participated in these activities, I did so part-time because I had begun graduate work at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. I had given up hope of a career in journalism but I thought I might follow my father’s lead and become a college professor. I was taking the full load of five courses, plus Russian.” p. 54

She later continued her graduate at Columbia University. “In addition to working toward my Ph.D., I decided to try to obtain a certificate from the university’s Russian Institute.” p. 56

All this hard work had prepared her for the role that she later assumed, that is, being the first female Secretary of State of the U.S., taking the path that most women in her generation not even dared to imagine.

Reading Not For the Sake of Reading

While at office hearing people talk about Christmas shopping, I mentioned getting some books for Christmas as I believe books are gifts of ideas and wisdom… Before I finished my thought on books, my colleague was hurriedly letting me know that everybody in her family read and read a lot as if reading was a cool thing to do and that she was not un-cool.

To be sure, I also emphasized reading to my children, not because it is cool though and definitely not read for the sake of reading.

While reading opens a window to the world larger than your physical surrounding, it both entertains and enlightens the readers.

I have told my children to always engage dialogue or argument with the author, or pick one author against another, to learn, to distinguish, to grow, and to become wiser and better… because of reading.

“Reading Makes a Full Person”

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” — Francis Bacon

Yesterday, I had a nice long chat with an old classmate of mine back in kindergarden years. She spends most of her time reading non-fictions in Chinese. Books certainly have kept her company and made her a wise and happy person.

While I don’t have as much time as she does, I try to read whenever I can. At office, while people are chatting over the most trivial matters, I turn to my books. I make a point of not wasting my time on small talks.

I know my books always leave me thinking. And I am a happy person as long as my mind is actively engaged. One only needs to remember Francis Bacon’s word on reading.

The Inevitable Death of Daisy Miller, Her Beauty, Stupidity, and Recklessness

I read this book sometime in summer — Daisy Miller: A Study by Henry James. On the surface, the book seems to present a contrast between the sophisticated European culture and the innocent, uncultured, and natural American one represented by Daisy Miller. The innocent one seems to be victimized by being misunderstood, ridiculed and rejected by her compatriots, the European-Americans.

On another level, it appears like another story in which an innocent girl was ruined by a man, like Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. However, my reading of the book reveals a different message. Rather than blaming others, I see Daisy Miller has all the ingredients to qualify her for her early death.

She is dangerously careless and heedless, always acting on impulse, and most unwisely rebellious and impudent. On top of it all, she does not have the mental capacity to distinguish between the real gentleman and the fake one.

Hence, against the warning of some good-will friends, she followed a handsome Italian, a phony gentleman, to a place plagued by Roman fever late at night. As it is fully expected, this typical I-do-what-I-want girl contracted this fever and met her death soon after that.

The book, out around 1878, is still relevant today in light of the fatal consequence of these qualities possessed by Daisy Miller.

On Creativity and Eccentricity, Part II

Here’s how you get your score:
(1) Count the number of YES to question 1, 3, 4. Add those to the number of NO to question 2, 5. Higher scores are more indicator of creative thinking patten. 5 is the maximum.

(2) Count the number of YES for question 6 through 10. Higher scores makes it more likely that you have schizotypal personality, which is associated with odd or eccentric behavior.

Here are some fast facts from the article about creative eccentrics:
(1) People who are highly creative often have odd thoughts and behaviors — vice versa.
(2) Both creativity and eccentricity may be the result of genetic variations that increase cognitive disinhibition–the brain’s failure to filter our extraneous information.
(3) When unfiltered information reaches conscious awareness in the brains of people who are highly intelligent and can process this information without being overwhelmed, it may lead to exceptional insights and sensations.

I am so delighted in learning that there are something good about being creative-eccentric.

On Creativity and Eccentricity, Part I

On 5/28/2011, Saturday afternoon, once again, I found myself sitting at the diner section of HyVee waiting for my daughter’s drawing lesson. I picked up Scientific American Mind, May-June 2011 issue, and read “The Unleashed Mind: Highly creative people often seem weirder than the rest of us. Now researchers know why,” by Shelley Carson. It is an interesting article. It provides a list of question testing how creative or eccentric you are. Try for yourself and see if you are a Creative Eccentric?

(1) Do you often have ideas without knowing where they came from?
(2) Do you consider yourself a highly logic person?
(3) Do you often think or speak metaphors?
(4) Do you have a broad range of interests?
(5) Do you have trouble spending time alone without turning on the TV or other electronic devices?
(6) Do you believe in telepathic communication?
(7) Have you ever felt the presence of someone in the room with you when you knew you were alone?
(8) Do you believe that your dreams may sometimes be previews of future events?
(9) Do you believe that certain events or objects are signs that may have been provided to help you make important decisions?
(10) Do you believe there may be forces at work in the world that cannot be detected with scientific instruments?
(11) Do you often feel like a square peg in a round hole?
To be continued…

Connected: The Interactions Between Your Associations and You, Part V

Continue with my notes on this wonderful book, CONNECTED: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, 2009. I first posted my reading notes on this book toward the end of February of this year. Here’s something rather interesting regarding the impact of widowhood on men and women.

The finding is men suffer more from widowhood effect than women, that is, many of them die not long after their wives passed away.

The explanation is this. “… it may be that when men die, the things they brought to the marriage that had the greatest impact on their spouse’s health, namely money, is still around, such as a house and a pension. Conversely, when women die, the thing they brought to a marriage that most affect their partners’ health, namely, emotional support, a connection to others, and a well-run home, disappears. Widowed men often find themselves cut off from the social world and lacking social support.” I believe some men will challenge this finding by arguing against the importance of women in their lives.

The Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin

On 1/5/2011, while at office helping with the new hire training, I felt a bit bored and took up magazine The Saturday Evening Post, 3/2004 issue. There is a page on the wit and wisdom of Benjamin Franklin. Some of them are indeed wise and worth noting.

On greediness –Avarice and happiness never saw each other; how then should they become acquainted?
Wealth is not he that has it, but he that enjoys it.

On Christmas celebration –How many observe Christ’s birthday, How few his precepts! O, ‘its easier to keep holidays than Commandments.

On laziness —Sloth (like rust) consumes faster than labour wears: the used key is always bright.

On facing one’s mistakes– How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them!
To err is human, to repent divine, to persist devilish.

On being calm –He that can compose himself, is wiser than he that composes books! If passion drives, let reason hold the reins.

On forgiving–Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you but even with him; forgiving it sets you above him.

On honesty–Avoid dishonest gain; no price can recompence the pangs of vice. Who has deceiv’d thee so oft as thy self?

Connected: The Interactions Between Your Associations and You, Part IV

Continue with reading notes from this book.
Three Degrees of Influence Rule: Our friends and their friends and their friends affect our happiness!
1. Happy and unhappy people cluster among themselves
2. Unhappy people are on periphery of the network
3. A person is 15% more likely to be happy if directly connected to a happy person (1st degree)
4. At 2nd degrees 10% more likely to be happy
5. At 3rd degrees 6% more likely to be happy
6. Each unhappy friend deceases the likelihood of happiness 7%
7. An increase of $10,000 of income per year yields only a 2% increase chance in happiness. Compare that to a 15% chance from a happy friend and a 6-10% from someone you may have never met, but to whom you are indirectly tied!

Alone in the Crowd, loneliness is a discrepancy between the desire for connection and the actual connections–spreads according to the three degrees rule. Each extra friend reduces the frequency of loneliness by 2 days per year (the average person feels lonely 48 days per year).

Strong ties affect people more deeply. Weak ties often link more people. People need both strong and weak ties in order to network successfully. Mix of strong ties to previous collaborators and weak ties for fresh faces balances rapport, organization, and creative ability.

Weak Ties = More potential connections! They may not be strong, but they open more doors. e.g. one has many friends but very few close ones. People with many connections (both strong and weak) are more likely to be at the center of a social network.

Connected: The Interactions Between Your Associations and You, Part III

This posting consists of reading notes from this book.
We determine the structure of our network: how many people we are connected to. We influence the density of interconnections between friends and family. We control how “central” we are within the social network.

Some surprising findings regarding family feelings,
1. The strongest path was from daughters to parents
2. Parents had little affect on daughter
3. Fathers had a significant affect on wives and sons (What this means … when a father returns grumpy from work the whole household soon becomes miserable)… Ouch…

Even more surprising is this finding — happiness, it’s in the Genes. Long term happiness is affected by:
50% genes
10% circumstance (i.e. quality of life)
40% attitude (what you think and do)
I surely wish I have this in my gene and let the rest work its way toward building my happiness.

Connected: The Interactions Between Your Associations and You, Part II

The good part about the book is you can choose not to be a passive product of your environment by actively exerting influence upon your friends and those you associate with.

“If we are affected by our embeddedness in social networks and influenced by others who are closely or distantly tied to us, we necessarily lose some power over our own decision. … But the flip side of this realization is that people can transcend themselves and their own limitations. In this book, we argue that our interconnection is not only a natural and necessary part of our lives but also a force for good. Just as brains can do things that no single neuron can do, so can social networks do things that no single person can do.”

When the authors were asked “Are we better off if we stay away from friends with negative habits?” they answered,

“No. Stay connected! Although bad things can spread through networks, the overall effect of a close personal connection is usually positive. On the average, every friend makes us healthier and happier. So instead of dumping friends who do things we don’t want to copy, we should work to influence them to change.”

I love this book because I don’t need to dump some of my old friends.

Connected: The Interactions Between Your Associations and You, Part I

Last Sunday, 2/20, while my daughter was at Barnes & Noble’s, I picked up this book, CONNECTED: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, 2009. The message of the book is clearly given — people are the products of their environment. If you want to know that person, take a close look at his circle of friends. As a Chinese saying goes,

However, to me, the strength of the book lies in its promise of some meaning and directions for social changes. When the authors were asked “Can people work to change their neighborhood environment to create positive effects on themselves and their community?” the answer from the authors is,

“Yes, absolutely! Make good behavior visible. A vast amount of research shows that we copy others and we shape our ideas about what is acceptable behavior when we see how others behave. Gandhi said, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ But this really starts much closer to home: you must be the change you wish to see in your social network. If you want your friends to be healthy, make healthy choices yourself. And, as it turns out, this bounces back and helps you too.”

Same thing can be said of a parent. Whatever a parent wants to see in her children, be that whatever herself. It is so lovely true!

Travelling, Reading, and Listening to Music

“Travelling is using money to pull your physical self out of daily routine and into a new experience and a different level of existence. Reading is one kind of travelling, so is listening to music. It facilitates your soul to travel beyond your physical presence. A writer once commented, the benchmark of a great person is his/her ability to transcend his present life and into another realm of state.”

This piece was graciously sent to me by a friend of mine on 1/24/2011. It was so truly expressed. Since not many of us can afford to travel as much as we wish outside our immediate world, reading and music make up the difference. So, grab a book and let your soul fly and soar in an unlimited realm of your own creation.

Education of Heart and Soul and Development of Character

During the Thanksgiving week, I took up this book again as it is rather informative as how to get into a good college. According to the author, Gao Yanding, it takes a good design to complete the task of a child’s K to 12 education and good education is the must to one’s success. To be sure, he is a wonderful and dedicated father.

I give tons of credit to the author for such a large quantity of helpful microscopic details. Yet, I always have sensed that something is missing in the book, something about giving the child a wholesome education on his heart and soul, character and personality. No mapping is complete without taking care of this.

Consider these — what will happen if the child is not admitted into a good college? What will he do beyond classroom if he is in? How can we prepare the child so that he will be capable of meeting challenges, defeat, failure, frustration and obstacle inevitably awaiting for him in his life’s journey? What is the ultimate goal of all this schooling? etc.

I believe a child is successful if he is equipped with a high level of responsibility, an independent mind, a strong body and tough character, with due accomplishments, and the maturity and the readiness to face the world. Such a person is a success even if he/she has not entered a good college. Because these qualities will help him beyond the door of a college. Otherwise, he won’t go far even if he has mapped into Harvard campus.

Modern Scholars Audio Books Where Great Professors Teach You

I have been enjoying listening to great books while working at office. On 9/1/2010, my colleague asked me what I was listening to. I mentioned to her Modern Scholar lectures. I showed her the course list from Modern Scholar website. “Since I don’t have much time for reading, I can always work and listen at the same time,” I explained to her. I did not share with her why I chose these lectures instead of something else.

These lectures, offered by great professors in their fields, free to public via public library, have been wonderful companions to my daily work. With their words ringing in my ears, it always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that I am with some professors while at work. Other than learning from these lectures, it also serves as an escape from daily mundaneness into a place I thought I belong.

If you like learning and knowledge, you belong to the community of learners and scholars, that is, folks at universities. I wish my children could see the benefits of these audio books and lectures and find time for them later in their lives.

The Dream Theme in Of Mice and Men

Both my daughter and I have read more than once Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. There is so much to learn in this little book.

One theme that might not have been picked up as the main one, often returns to me. That is, the conflict and contrast between ideals and reality, as fully demonstrated in George Milton’s repeated narrative of their shared dream, the one in which he and Lennie Small would own a piece of land and live there peacefully, free from any outside harm and danger.

The more I think of it, the more strongly I feel that this theme reflects a larger reality than it appears to. For many people, they have their dreams at some point in their lives, yet, like George and Lennie, their dreams all have gone up in smoke because they do not have the will power to get closer to their dreams.

On 9/24/2010, a Friday afternoon, when we drove back from Ice Sport, my daughter and I talked with great enthusiasm about her dream and her short-term goal at this point of her life. I told her, “In medical field, we have a saying, ‘If it’s not written, it hasn’t happened’ After we get back home, you must commit it in writing and follow it through. After all, we don’t want our dreams to end up like that of George and Lennie’s.”

Skills Can be Taught; Tenacity Cannot

On the Sunday of 7/18, while I was waiting for my daughter’s skating lesson, I was reading a book by Atul Gawende, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, 2002. I shared with my daughter on the way back the residence experience that is detailed at the beginning of the book. Here are some notes from the book.

On talent and practice, “Surgeons, as a group, adhere to a curious egalitarianism. They believe in practice, not talent… Skill, surgeons believe, can be taught; tenacity cannot.”

There have now been many studies of elite performers–international violinists, chess grand masters, professional ice-skaters, mathematicians, and so forth — and the biggest differences researchers find between them and lesser performers is the cumulative amount of deliberate practice they have had. Indeed, the most important talent may be for practice itself.”

“…the most important way in which innate factors play a role may be in one’s willingness to engage in sustained training.” Top performers, more than others, have the will to keep practice even if they dislike it.

The early part of this book reminds me of my posting on 8/2/2010 “Common Traits Found in Three Geniuses.”

The Common Traits Found in Three Geniuses

While waiting for my daughter’s art class at her teacher’s house on 6/19/2010, I was reading a very interesting article carried on the New Yorker August 2, 1999, “The Physical Genius: What do Wayne Gretzky, Yo-Yo Ma, and a brain surgeon named Charlie Wilson have in common?” by Malcolm Gladwell. Driving on the way back home, I was excited about the article and was eager sharing it with her.

The article details the traits shared by these three genius in sports, music and brain surgery. Though engaged in different fields, they will excel in tasks involving high-demand percetual motor abilities. Here are their common traits.

(1) They are all extremely dedicated to their respective field, having spent long hours practicing. This tendency show itself at a very early age. Thus, these geniuses have applied greater diligence to perfecting their skills, nothing of the myth that they are just talented and can produce great work effortlessly.

(2) They all engage in the unique use of imagery. “What psychologists study people who are expert at motor tasks, they find that almost all of them use their imaginations in a very particular and sophisticated way… Yo-Yo Ma told me that he remembers riding on a bus, at the age of seven, and solving a difficult musical problem by visualizing himself playing the piece on the cello.”

(3) These geniuses are extremely intolerant of their own mistakes, no matter how small. They are seeking perfection. “They were the best. They had the ability to rethink everything that they’d done and imagine how they might have done it differently.”

Nothing extraordinary comes by accident. Now you know what you have to do if you want to be the best. For further reading on this article, see the New Yorker archive online,

Learn to Appreciate Truth, Kindness, and Beauty in Books

On 6/23/2010, my daughter was reading a novel for school. While talking to her about this book, I mentioned to her To Kill a Mockingbird. Most children of her age do not enjoy reading To Kill a Mockingbird. They gravitate toward books like Twilight.

I told my daughter it was high time that she appreciated the true beauty found in the books she reads. “The main character, Atticus, embodies so many fine qualities. Don’t you see beauty in all this? Beauty is not appearance. True beauty is found in people like Atticus.” said I.

Atticus exemplified kindness, compassion, and forgiveness when he makes an effort to be polite and kind to Mr. Dubose even though Dubose has not been nice to him and his children. He stands by what he believes and shows great courage when he stays at the jailhouse to protect Tom Robinson, the wrongly accused black man, from the white mob attack, even though he knows the danger and risk involved.

He uses Mrs. Dubose as an example of true courage to show his children that courage does not mean a man with a gun. Courage means you fight for what you believe is right, whether or not you will win in the end. What a great father!

Remember the song performed by Teng Lijun– “The story of the small town?” It includes all the truth, kindness, and beauty valued in life. I hope my children can reach a deeper appreciation of what people value in life.

P.S. I realize I sound so old-fashioned, like someone from your history book.

Don’t Turn Silver Spoon in Their Mouths into Silver Dagger in Their Backs

Happy International Children’s Day! How I miss those fun days.

Every wealthy Chinese parents should read this book, Life Is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment, by Peter Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Instead of yielding to the dominant material culture and wasting his time wallowing in riches and wealth like many Chinese fu-er-dai rich-second-generation, Peter Buffett beat out his own path as a musician and then a writer, seeking out for spiritual fulfillment. He pursues his own passions, lives out his own dream, and has achieved his own accomplishment which no money and wealth can buy. See my posting on China’s fu-er-dai, 5/6/2010.

According to Peter, if children of wealthy parents allow the silver spoon in their mouths to control their lives, that silver spoon will become a “silver dagger in your back” and makes it impossible for any attempt at personal achievement. Thus, wealth ruins more than helps the next generation.

It is an absolute must for wealthy parents on this International Children’s Day.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Re-read with My Children Part 4

I once felt sympathetic for Dr. Jekyll, believing that he was gripped by the inner devil in the form of Mr. Hyde. Lately, I thought of the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, a respectful member of parliament by Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll’s reaction to this murder.

When he handed to his friend Utterson a forged letter of Mr. Hyde, he was cheating his long-time friend, which is unforgiving and despicable. On this thought, my sympathy for Jekyll evaporates in thin air. Jekyll the murderer is a crowdly villian and deserves nothing less than this horrible ending. Nothing comes from nothing. Jekyll has done numerous harm and damages to people and society. He is also responsible for Dr. Lanyon’s death. There is no escape that he shall end this way.

Remember the rule: bad deeds always yield bad return. Thus happily we see the bad guy meet his shameful end.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Re-read with My Children Part III

On the way back from my daughter’s art class, I mentioned to her another possible ending for Dr. Jekyll.

“Dr. Jekyll starts his downfall with Mr. Hyde all by himself without ever telling anyone. Do you think there will be a different ending if Dr. Jekyll confides his problem to his close friend before it is too late for him?” After all, his friend can help him by taking away the transformation drug or treat his addiction to Mr. Hyde like we treat drug-addicts today.

“No, I don’t think so. I think he will not tell his friend, as he does not want his friends to see the other side of him. Plus, I think he is bad in the beginning,” said she. Indeed, Dr. Jekyll first ushers into his life Mr. Hyde so that he can find an output for his gaiety life. Still, I would think he has the desire to be both good and bad and even in the end he still wants to be Dr. Jekyll. Thus, if it is possible, he could end up as Dr. Jekyll. He is helpless when Mr. Hyde gets stronger than Dr. Jekyll and that’s the moment when a friend might make a difference.

This might be a lesson that the author has no intention of giving; nonetheless we can learn from this book. That is, ask for help when you reach the point where you cannot help yourself. Better losing face now than the final inevitable showdown. Of course, the best policy is to never give Mr. Hyde a chance to be alive.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Re-read with My Children Part II

At first Dr. Jekyll needs the drugs to metamorphose himself into Mr. Hyde. But as the transformation takes place frequently, Mr. Hyde gets stronger and bolder, so much so that he can initiate this transformation without the help of the drug. Eventually, Mr. Hyde, the evil part of us, takes total control over Dr. Jekyll and totally replaces him.

The author seems to tell his readers that there is a constant fight between the good and the evil within us. If we ever give the evil part a chance to express itself, as the days go by, it will gain strength, then it will tightly seize us like an addiction, and completely destroy us in the end.

This reminds me so much of drug or smoke addictions or any undesirable habits. The deeper a person allows himself to go down the addiction, the harder it will be to break away from it, and the sooner it will come when he meets the same fate as Dr. Jekyll.
To be continued tomorrow.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Re-read with My Children Part I

Yes, we all have read or heard of R.L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. My daughter first read an adapted version when she was 8 years old. Lately when she read about psychology, she picked up this book again. I read it one more time with her so that we have a topic for some meaningful conversation.

On the surface the author tells his readers that we all consists of two parts — the good and kind one embodied in Dr. Jekyll and his bad and vicious opposite personified by Mr. Hyde — all in one person. We try to hide the depraved and anti-social part in us, thus the author calls this part of us Mr. Hyde.

I told my daughter the author wants to say a lot more than this surface message. She agrees, “Yes, in the end Mr. Hyde defeats Dr. Jekyll. It means the bad triumphs over the good, if you allow the bad to ever take place. You cannot let the bad things happen in the first place.”

To be continued tomorrow.

A Poem of Love and Tolerance

This is from Harvard Family Instruction book. It is a very touching piece, written by a daughter about her mother. Her father died in Vietnam when she was 4 years old and her mother raised her all by herself without ever getting remarried. After her mother died, the daughter found a poem written by her mother for her father. It goes like this,

“I remember —
When I borrowed and damaged your new car,
I thought you would be mad and scold at me, but you didn’t.
When I dragged you to the sea, you said it would rain, then it indeed rained,
I thought you would say “I told you so,” but you didn’t.
When I flirted with other boys,
I thought you would be jealous and enraged, but you didn’t.
When I smeared your new carpet with strawberry cake,
I thought you would think me annoying, but you didn’t.

There were so many so many things I thought you would do but you didn’t.
You tolerated me, you loved me, you protected me…
I once promised I would give back all that you gave me —
after you got back from battlefield —
But you never came back.

Be Your Own Mirror and Live Your Own Unique Life

When getting ready for a relative’s visit, I took up this book again, Harvard Family Instruction, and suddenly remembered that I should return the books to its owner. There are so many interesting stories that I simply do not have enough time to dwell upon them all.

Here’s one on Albert Einstein. He used to fool away most of his time with some children, resulting in having a few fails for his school. When his father talked to him about it, Einstein replied, “Why are you worried about it? Jack and Robert also have some fails. They also go fishing.”

Next his father told him a fable about two cats who dropped into a chimney and one of them smeared his face. When the clean-faced cat saw the dirt on the other cat, he thought his own face must be this dirty. So he went to the river and gave it a thorough scrub. However, the dirty-faced cat, seeing the clean face of his friend, believes his own face is as clean as that of his friend’s, going about the town proudly without ever a scrub.

“Albert,” said his father, “Nobody can be your mirror. You are your own mirror. If you use others as your mirror, you will eventually end up being an idiot like the dirty-faced cat.”

“I am unique and am not going to be as mediocre as others,” thus thought Einstein. The fable had since motivated Einstein to embark on his own unique and exceptionally outstanding life journey.

A Realistic Book on American Work Place Culture 2

Quotes from the book,
“We are fractious and over paid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen. Most of us likes most of everyone, a few of us hated specific individuals, one or two people loved everyone and everything. Those who loved everyone were unanimously reviled.” p. 3

“It bored us every day. Our boredom was ongoing, a collective boredom, and it would never die because we would never die.” p. 4

Might it be true, … that we were callous, unfeeling individuals, incapable of sympathy, and full of spite toward people for no reason other than their proximity and familiarity? We had these sudden revelations that employment, the daily nine-to-five, was driving us far from our better selves. Shall we quit? Would that solve it? Or were those qualities innate, dooming us to nastiness and paucity of spirit?” p. 5-6.

“We love killing time and had perfected several way of doing so. We wandered the hallways carrying papers that indicated some mission of business when in reality we were in search of free candy. We refilled our coffee mugs on floors we didn’t belong on…” p. 28

“The cardinal rule of advertising has always been, make your communication dumb enough for an eight grader to understand.” Quoted from another person, ‘It’s true that there’s a twelve-year-old mentality in America. Every six-year-old has it.’ p. 48

We liked wasting time, but almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worthy wasting it on.” p. 53

“The people with whom we spend the most time are those we know the least. And yet, somehow, they’re the ones we know better than anyone else.”

“We would listen with only one ear, and with one eye always over our shoulders, in case we needed to bolt back to our desks and commence the charade that our workload was as strong as ever, because only then would we not be laid off.”

A Realistic Book on American Work Place Culture 1

I have just managed through a book called Then We Came to the End: A Novel by Joshua Ferris, 2007. How I dislike the content of the book. It is said that “Americans spend more time with coworkers than with their families.” That is, more time at work than at home. Can you imagine that!

The book describes the daily engagements of office cubicle dwellers. The descriptions are so pathetically realistic and unflattering, revealing everything we don’t want to see in ourselves or we want to escape from, yet sadly to say, the author seems to show us that there is a bit of us in his descriptions. No wonder the book is said to be “A small, angry book about work.”

In peace times, office is occupied with irritable, sarcastic, grumpy, gossipy, and absolutely frivolous beings, whose minds, deficient in ideals, dreams and aspirations, are shaped to think in group and act as one team. When business goes downward, fear and insecurity prevail, with everybody taking care of him/herself and devil taking the unfortunates.

The cubicle dwellers are thoroughly and hopelessly smothered with trivialities, drudgery, and pettiness, that absurdity seems to scream out at your face, making you wonder if white-collar work is meant to be this senseless, this soul-killing. The author expresses his discontent over this office life through the voice of one employee.

I talked to my daughter about this book. “It gives you a suffocating feeling,” I told her. “Then, why do you read it?” asked her. “I want to understand the work place culture in America,” was my answer. Also, I wish my children could read this sad little book someday and make all efforts to escape from this kind of existence. I shared the book with a colleague of mine who told me, “The book makes me depressing.” If it is not a real picture, it is at least uncomfortably close to the truth. Well, if truth is depressing, let it be.
To be continued …

Glenn Beck, Rise on Fear and Herd Mentality Part 2

An individual in a crowd —
–loses his/her individuality
–is irrational, impulsive, and irritable, with dead fixed mindset
–is under total control by emotions,
–has zero tolerance of any different views, with death-to-those-who-differ-from-me mentality,
–sees the world as absolute two colors: black and white, nothing in between
–tends to go to extremes, admitting no doubt or uncertainty
–behaves more like an animal or one of the Herd as Le Bon called,
–is quick to action, good or bad, which is exactly what the demagogues intend in the first place.
–will do something that he/she would not if he/she is not in the crowd
–serves as the best instrument for demagogues

The crowd can be powerful and destructive, so much as that sometime the juries had to genuflect to its power, as in the case of O.J Simpson trial. China’s Cultural Revolution offers classic example on the destructiveness of crowd behavior on the greatest scale.

Time is the crucial factor. The author believed the modern age was an era of crowds. Demagogues work their wonder in time of deep economic hardship. Demagogues always capitalize on fear and insecurity that are lurking in the minds of those who are in want of mental power. Now is the time for demagogues to rise and fly.

Avoid the crowd, if you don’t want to subordinate yourself to a downgrade level of existence.

Glenn Beck, Rise on Fear and Herd Mentality Part 1

The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, by Gustave Le Bon, first published in 1894, latest edition 2002. This is an excellent book, the first one of its kind, on crowd mentality and behavior. Le Bon, 1841 –1931, was a French social psychologist, sociologist, and amateur physicist. I read it at graduate school and it comes back to my mind every time I see phenomenon like Glenn Beck. It is especially true in the age of mass media, with TV and internet.

The larger the crowd is, the less people think and the bolder they become, believing themselves indefeatable and capable of doing any crazy things — anything can go and everything is possible. So you can say the capacity of one’s mental power diminishes and is even reduced to zero as the crowd gets large. Once in a crowd, people totally delegate their thinking and reasoning power as human beings to demagoges who articulate, magnify and fire up to a wild prairie fire using whatever discontent lurking in people’s minds.

People who are not in the habit of thinking by themselves have an instinctive need to obey a leader and are easy victims to demagoges like Hitler, Mussolini and now Glenn Beck, the winner of the crowd control. Mussolini once said, “The crowd is like a woman, the crowd likes strong men.” How women hate these words!

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