Damn…This Beautiful Snowy World


(Don’t skip the p.s.)

Sunday, 6:20 PM.  Jen’s flight’s canceled. Kate stomps in saying “I can’t get that boat of a (Ford) Flex in your stupid little garage” and she’s wondering how she’ll get back to Ann Arbor for a 10:00 AM class on Monday. Jack was supposed to be home an hour ago from a friends. As he’ll no doubt remind me when he gets in, “What a waste to get all this snow, when we’ve got (President’s) Day off tomorrow.” Our little Sunday dinner won’t be happening.

Sunday, 6:20 PM. I look out the window to see the snow on the deck rail. Is it a fluffy white Afro, or a quadruple thick Oreo center, or just a thick core of foam, quieting and coolly insulating the evening. After a warming week, it’s Christmas again, idyllic pine trees heavy laden with the soft stuff that makes the North a wondrous fantasy.

What is it that determines which of these it will be, which of these I will see?  As you open your email: Do you see an avalanche, another dumping, cruel fate, more slogging ahead for you? Or is it truly a wonder – to have customers to serve, friends updating, family staying in touch, opportunities to serve, answer, dialogue, give feedback, and contribute? Do you think there is some objective reality to it? Is there intrinsic meaning, or reality, to the inbox you confront this morning?

It should be obvious that you and I shape what it is we will experience.  We project.  Our minds, like LCD projectors, cast onto the world we see, a self-fulfilling expectation. Often one of randomness.  Or maybe it’s not quite randomness, but as that Famous Murphy guy had it in his Law of the Ego in Eternal Struggle, a world where the only reliable  pattern is that “what can go wrong for ME will go wrong for ME.”

Although it runs counter to our pretending (as we were taught) that the world is solid, a detached reality, the truth is that we choose what we see in it.  What we choose to think – whether we’re aware of that choice or not – we will see.  We often unknowingly make a fundamental choice to see this world – and even ourselves in it – as a threat.  But we have the opportunity to see the world and everything in our lives as gifts or blessings – opportunities to give, to learn, to care beyond ourselves, and to experience the magnificence of it all.  The truth is (at least mine so often has been) that we choose  – in choices so deep we didn’t know we made them – to see the snow as an attack, the email as an attack, the endangering driver as an attack, our kids-being-kids and spouse-being-human as some kind of attack on us. The idiot leaders? An attack. Global warming? An attack. The people who foolishly think there’s global warming? Another attack.  (Indeed this idea that you create or project your so-called reality may, itself, feel like…well, you guessed it, an attack – on your deepest views about you and the world. Hmmm, wouldn’t that be interesting?).

I’m offering a simple idea that I’ve been (re)learning that’s changing my life and will change my life today in a hundred moments or so of fundamental choice. I can choose how I will see.  Today, I’ll see the opportunity to experience others, to tackle problems, and to give something back, as the most awesome of gifts. And this, is THE most transformative idea that I’ve ever experienced about leading

with your best self,


P.S.  I’d love your help for a friend of mine. Last year Mick McKellar, whom I met as a reader of this e-column, was sixty-one, immensely talented as a writer, but long-term unemployed, way up in the rural Upper Peninsula.  When I asked him, Mick agreed to edit  my book Be Real. Then just as he finished his work on it last spring, he found out he had an aggressive form of leukemia. Although all of our days are numbered, Mick’s days appeared to be numbered in low digits. He’s been inspiring me with his “carpe diem” attitude, and today, he’ll receive a bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic.  I ask you for two things: most important, prayers for Mick.  You can also help in another way.  Mick is now on 9 meds, all of which have copays. I am going to give all the proceeds of sales of my book this week to Mick and his wife Marian to help with those costs.  If you’ve thought about buying a copy of Be Real, this would be a great time to do it!

  • You are so right about choosing the way to look at one’s world, events…weather!This will be my project this week: to choose a positive way of looking at everything, especially at work.

  • I remember as a kid the neighbor kid stopped by to hang out while I was mowing the lawn. I made some grumbling comment about how I disliked mowing and he said “I love doing it, because I love the smell of grass.”

    One of those moments when you realize you’ve made yourself miserable by choice.

  • On this subject, I strongly recommend Deborah Norville’s _Thank-You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You_. In it, she cites research and tells stories of how re-focusing from anger and frustration to gratitude yields tremendously positive results.

    One website that discusses the book is http://www.amazon.com/Thank-You-Power-Science-Gratitude/dp/B002U0KPMG/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1.

    Another possibility is to give up judging altogether. It’s not bad / a tragedy / rotten nor a blessing / opportunity, etc. It just IS, something we have to deal with, whether we like it ournot.

    Best wishes with the new opportunities and challenges that “repotting” has to offer.

  • Snow is a CHALLENGE – a great one, and one I look forward to. Like deciding to get on a roller coaster you’ve never ridden, or going out into woods you’ve never explored, it combines the reminder that we are made of vulnerable flesh and bones, and not just cars and computers, with the exilarating prospect of challenging that flesh just a tiny bit with shoveling and navigating in this snowy world. That’s why I love Michigan – nature is truly PRESENT here, whether you live in the country or the city, and whether you want it or not.

  • Hi Dan. Our family saw Jennifer on Meet the Press yesterday morning. She did a great job. I couldn’t help but think of parallels between the demonstrating crowds in the Middle East and those in Madison, Wisconsin the last several days, and how the people need to be heard. But I digress.

    Very good point about making a choice in how we view things. However, as I write this, our house is without power due to last night’s ice storm, with temps in the low teens predicted tonight … so this is probably not a good time for me to comment further on this particular point! (I’m sure everything will work out fine, but for now, Brrrrr!!!)

  • Tony, you could focus on how rotten it is to be without power on a cold day or (perhaps as Deborah Norville would say) give thanks that you’ve had power and central heat for years–unlike many people in developing countries–and that utlility people are working on your problem right now, without a need to bribe any government officials, as happens in too many other countries.

  • I smiled as I read this as my mantra as of late has been, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change”.

  • I have a wall plaque in my office which displays one of my favorite sayings, “We are not victims of the world we see, we are victims of the way we see the world.” This article brings a poignant example to all of us of the power of recognizing our own filters and doing mid course corrections as needed.

  • I wonder often about how I can get people to change their way of thinking, even to get more objective thought, but find that the greater majority have their thoughts more so hard wired than soft wired. That is they may in a mechanical way have been born that way, or are so programmed that they cannot get out of their thinking trap. Of course, the nature versus nurture discussion fits in here, but if we want a better world, we need to find a way to convince the persons, whose ideas limit improvement in human conditions with confounded versions of concepts like liberty, and freedom.

  • Some say “Why go to the peak of the mountain… once there you have nowhere to go but down.” One harvested answer (sorry I can’t recall the source)… “having been to the peak and having seen, when you are down and can no longer see you can still remember.” What would our memories of our lives be if we had projected differently on what we had seen?

  • Dan,

    Your comments nourish genuine leadership. In a world where the pace of change is always accelerating, leaders must choose to look within and to expand mindsets. While we know a small fraction of what man will know, we do know much of what is truly important: -gratitude for what we have and who we are, loving, attending, caring, and being open to the new world we are creating with the help of unseen goodness. We spend so much time looking out, we forget the great value of nourishing what is within.

  • Hi Dan,
    I will be ordering your book today as well as adding Mr. McKellar to my personal “prayer list”. I have always enjoyed reading your thoughts about leadership. It is a concept which seems to me to be so central! We are all leaders in different ways and situations, and the more we think and learn about leadership, we will all (hopefully!) improve our world. My son graduated from U of D-Jesuit, and “improving our world” makes me think about Brother Boynton and his work in Haiti. On another topic, I am wondering if you will continue to write your blog? I hope so. I really enjoy it.
    Best regards!

  • Roberta,
    Thanks for the kind words, as well as the prayers for Mick.
    Yes, you bet I’m going to keep writing RFL. It keeps me on track every week and keeps me in touch with like-minded and thoughtful people. So glad to hear from you, and I hope your Cub is faring well as a Man for Others!

  • Sometimes I ahve answered in the opposite about a beautiful day, and replied to the usual question “how are you” with:

    Horrible, it is sunny, warm, all my work is done, and I have nothing to do but enjoy the day; why can’t it be dark, cold, wet and my work piled up like garbage at third world sorting location? That gets smiles and sometimes laughs.

  • Dan, I moved to Michigan a long time ago. One of the first things I learned was Michigan and snow go together. The nature of the land would not be so beautiful if not for some snow. The snow shows me how pretty the city can be even with all the crimes. As for your friend, we will pray for him. But there is one more thing your readers can do. That is sign up on the Marrow registry. I did while I was in the Air Force, then in 2000 I got the call to donate. I was so proud that I was able to help a person I never meet to continue to live. It was not as hard as people said. I flew out on a Thursday, donated on Friday, returned to Michigan on Sunday, returned to work on Monday. While some people because of their jobs will need more time to heal. I was just thinking of how happy the person is who is receiving this great gift must feel. To get such bad news then to have some hope. So yes, please pray and help, but please register and become someones special hero. Thank you.

  • So you are writing: yes, there’s an objective world; and, yes, there are objective consequences for failing to perceive reality; our perception is, however, subjective, and therefore so is our interpretation of above-mentioned consequences. Therefore, consequences are also subjective, and there goes one of the main obstacles to developing a subjective view of reality. Therefore, with an air of “why not”, reality, too, is subjective.

    Some quantum physicists are saying that reality is a simulation. They fall back on one of my favorite (shh!) laws, the principle of uncertainty. It’s so unavoidable that it produces the “weird” effect. According to these physicists, the effect of perception itself is so mighty that the entire universe exists to be perceived. Not only that, they say the simulation will do whatever intelligent life perceives it is doing.

    So, about “ego”: is suffering just an “ego” thing? Some choose to be born with wealth or family and some chose to be born to eat clay and dung and be raped mercilessly? The enlightened ones clink glasses, laugh and sparkle, because they figured out how to will champagne and socialites into existence. No thanks to brokers (wow, what are *they* doing to the market with their loud ego minds), or never mind the enormous grants from the National Science Foundation for dreaming up the missing sutra of leisure and luxury (or just chanting along).

    Nahhh, I dunno! It sounds like we’re going back to coddling the frat boys, again. Fine, that goes right along with news that the wealthy have decided the sky isn’t falling, its safe to let go of some of the money again. We’re even seeing the DotCom Bubble 2.0 building up. The internet is even helping people organise democracy, now. Apparently whatever we want, we get.

    Must be that whatever we got, therefore, we must have wanted, right? or would that be tooo objective? Hmmm!

  • Mr. Petrie,
    I’m not certain I follow your thinking – you’re more than a bit smarter than I. But I enjoy your mix of quantum physics and frat boy analysis!

  • Mister Mulhern,

    Several times, now, you flatter me.

    I don’t really hope to examine you as an intellect. Honestly, I believe that you are of far superior mind than you typically receive compense for for the sake of sociable mending and comprehension. I may be assuming over much, but my assumptions tell me you’re a person surely worth receiving esteemable appraisal from.

    You are a busy man. I think you have a mind capable of learning, processing, and utilising the utmost of knowledge and wisdom, but, by that token I must often consider whether you do not do so already. Of course I don’t mean my criticisms (any) as much to digest; I basically figure that you’re a gifted man — on the surplus, married to a gifted woman and therefore ready with parallel processing at hand — and that most of what you say is either the gleaned razor’s edge of critical thought or the purposeful talent of inmost-appropriated leadership. So saying, really, I have merely tried the last few years to shore up your bank ofknowledge. When it has been that I’ce believed you fail as a polymath, I’ve admittedly tried to rely upon you as asimple genius. Suffice it to say, I privately have so much time to put behind so mich thought because I am not so busy.

    So, quite frankly, Sir, I dare say I find it incorrigible that you’ve found time to write a response (if my words really are so negligible to deserve such a generic response) without first basking yourself in the Relatively short bit of philisophical reading it would’ve taken to formulate a truly “smart” response.

    Which I say because, Daniel Mulhern, if the world needs anything or anybody right now, it’s leaders who understand “everthing”. With a small “e”, enclosed in quotes, and missing a “y” (perhaps vernacularly). My appraisal of you is that you and your wife are more than capable of being such leaders. Now: I avoid doing just that out of laziness, apathy, and jadedness. And personally, I really don’t see cause for the same excuses in your life.

    You’re going on to teach. I’ve been self-educated my whole life. Which means, one semester of college *just* behind me notwithstanding, I’ve taught myself. And therefore, I believe you must have to teach yourself — informally — many things before I believe your students will receivemore than a flagrantly docile education of limited scope meant solely to cater status quo. Translated: I think you have the makings of a permanent installation into the annals of sociopolitical science if you would simply do as much for yourself as you preach to the rest of us and lead

    “with your best self”, too,

    Gabriel Arthur Petrie

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