“Forgiving our enemies has the same refreshing effect upon our souls as it does to confess our sins.” (Josh Billings)

Here in Kansas, spring is the season we burn the tallgrass prairie so it can renew its root system and return to its natural state. Big Bluestem is the native prairie grass that covers most of the Flint Hills and can grow as tall as a man. Burning it off in the spring helps destroy the weeds that compete with the grass for the limited rainfall that comes later. A month from now the Flint Hills will look like God’s own golf course with emerald green hills as far as the eye can see.

A hundred years ago this all happened naturally, with lightning as the firestarter. The Plains Indians used the fires as a guide to follow the migratory herds of bison. The herds ran from the fires but they knew to return shortly thereafter to feast on the new grasslands. The Indians depended on the bison, the bison depended on the grass, the grass depended on the fires and life on the prairie kept to its cycle. There was a wonderfully simple balance at work in those days and it all started with renewal.

I think our existence today would be infinitely better if we managed our lives and relationships in a similarly simple pattern. To me, the spring burning season is a great metaphor for the act of forgiveness. By setting fire to the old, weedy parts of our existence we give our relationships a better chance to grow strong again. Forgiveness is the action we take to let go of hard feelings, envy, doubt and enmity toward others. All those negative thoughts are just excess baggage that weighs us down and keeps us from the real joy that is found in friendship and loving relationships.

Recently, I drove through the Flint Hills and I was treated to an incredible panorama of color and activity. As I drove north, there were fires sweeping down the hillsides to the east and to the west there was a majestic burnt orange sunset that took forever to reach twilight. It was then I realized the power of forgiveness and the symmetry of nature that is present in all of our lives every day. When the sun sets, that is the perfect time to forgive that day’s worth of grief. Don’t let it build up even one night. The sooner we let go of our negative perceptions, and frankly most of our problems are self-imposed, then we can grow as emotionally healthy individuals. Wasting time with selfishness and arrogance just makes it inevitable that some day we will have to take the more drastic step of burning down our prejudices and setting fire to our negativity in order to grow again.

When I see those gorgeous green hills, just weeks after the burning season, I am reminded how well renewal works in nature, and moreover how much we need it too. Forgiveness is the greatest tool we possess for making our lives the best they can be and by humbling ourselves every day at sunset I believe we will all see a bright and beautiful future. So, each time you look to the west, just let your heartache go with the last rays of sunlight. It works for me and that’s one secret I will gladly share with anyone.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“WAR and peace.” (Leo Tolstoy)

I have come to the conclusion that war is far more popular than peace.  In order to illustrate my point, just go to Wikipedia and search for list of wars. You will be given a list that has to be separated by time frame just to make it manageable. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of wars listed and they date back to the beginning of time. There is even a category for ongoing conflicts, which means the list gets updated all the time. Now, just for the sake of argument, you should search for list of peace. There is no list of peace because peace never gets those catchy names like The Great War, The Hundred Years War, The Napoleonic Conquest, The War of the Roses or The War to End All Wars. We love war but peace… not so much.

It has gotten so bad that now we may have to start reusing names because The Crimean War has already been used once and the only reason anybody remembers that British versus the Russians conflict was because the British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson  wrote “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to celebrate the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. In his version of the truth, the Light Brigade of 666 men was nearly wiped out but in reality only 110 men died. When this little mistake was made known to Lord Tennyson he refused to change it. That’s how much the British love war.

Don’t get me wrong, we Americans have picked up right where our British forefathers left off. So far, in our 200+ year history we have had The French and Indian War, The Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, The War with Mexico, The Civil War, The Indian Wars, The Spanish American War, The Great War, The Second World War (because the first one wasn’t Great enough), The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Gulf War, The Iraq War and The War in Afghanistan.  I’m sure I even missed some.  We’re doing our part to keep historians gainfully employed. Let’s face it, who wants to write about peace?

I turned 18 in 1972. My draft number was close to 200, so I was pretty safe and I really didn’t want to go to Vietnam. Sorry, time for a historical footnote. Back in the day, everybody was eligible for military service. They picked every day of the year as a lottery and if your birthday was a 1-50 you were going to serve unless you could buy your way out or prove some hardship or leave the country for Canada.  Today, we have an all-volunteer army but given the right set of circumstances, like Russia invading Eastern Europe, we could easily see the draft reinstated. Now I’m worried all over again.

In my suburban cul-de-sac we have seven houses. In those seven houses are eight sons including my own, all of whom would soon be eligible for the call of duty. The most likely outcome would be that some of them never come home. I would miss them all and no amount of media coverage calling it a Great Conflict would make it better. I hate those words. War is not and has never been great. It is Horrible, Futile, Stupid and Wrong. Let’s try using those words when we name the next one. I can just imagine the world’s first truthful recruiting poster; Uncle Sam wants you to die a horrible, futile death. Join Now!

Just once, can’t we listen to Jesus and “Love thy neighbor as thyself”?

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“For a long time now I have tried to simply write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” (Ernest Hemingway)

One of the first blogs I ever wrote was titled, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” The author of this great quote was a man named Nelson Henderson. Last Friday, Nelson Henderson’s grandson, Jason Henderson, contacted me through WordPress. He had been online looking for information about the famous quote and found my blog by chance. It turns out that his grandfather was a farmer in Manitoba, Canada and his son, Jason’s father, wrote a book about growing up on the farm and that’s where the quote got started towards its famous destiny.

The part I found even more amazing is how much my life experience runs parallel to the Henderson family. My grandfather, Guy McClintick, sounds a lot like Nelson Henderson; practical, hard-working, generous and productive. These are men from a different era when the days just weren’t long enough to do all that needed to be done and to leave the world better than they found it. They planted trees so we could have shade. They worked hard so we could have it easy. They shared their wisdom so we could learn from their mistakes. They left legacies that serve as inspiration to many. Nelson Henderson even left a quote that brought two strangers together a hundred years later.

Now I think I know what Hemingway was talking about. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can and this post, http://grhgraph.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/the-true-meaning-of-life-is-to-plant-trees-under-whose-shade-you-do-not-expect-to-sit-nelson-henderson/ was one of those times.  Maybe words are like trees, we plant them now and future generations harvest them. I’m here each day trying to communicate thoughts that might make a difference for someone a hundred years from now. That is an incredible revelation for me. I can’t begin to explain how happy I was to hear from Jason Henderson. He could have just moved on with his life but instead he took the time to share his joy with me.

If I had one wish for my writing career it would be that. If something I wrote helped you find new meaning in your life, I would like to share that with you. You might even surprise yourself and write better than you thought you could. Communication only happens when two people make it happen and lord knows we need all the communication we can get right now. If it happens that you live somewhere close to Kansas City, I would even be willing to meet up under some big shade tree and have a real conversation about what really matters. Sometimes I have good luck and I talk better than I can.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“Less knowledge, more wisdom.” (Unattributed saying)

I wish I knew who said this the first time. It’s a great goal and someone should get credit. Maybe some day I’ll be remembered for something equally pithy. For today, I’m just going to use it as inspiration.
youngrh 001bwoldgrh

 

I have included two photos with this post. For the sake of argument let’s suppose the young man  represents “less knowledge” and that older gentleman  is supposed to represent “more wisdom.” I have personal experience with both of these guys so you’ll just have to trust me on this premise.

The younger one is about twenty years old. He’s on his way to a college degree, barely. He’s bright enough to make good grades but not very motivated to try. He’s pretty self-confident but his greatest accomplishment thus far is winning a horseshoes tournament. He thinks he’s knowledgeable and worldly because he’s always attended good schools. He’s popular with the opposite sex but clueless when it comes to relationships. He’s a hard worker but only when he has to be. He reads but not for fun. His world is a college town where anything goes as long as he doesn’t break any laws. Wisdom is not his best thing.

The older one is about sixty. He’s been around the block more times than he can count. He’s earned every one of those gray hairs the hard way. He’s highly motivated to try anything even if he never makes the grade. He’s more humble than confident because he knows better. His 25 years of business ownership speaks for itself. He is knowledgeable and worldly in spite of his schooling. He finally found the right girl but he’s still pretty clueless about women. He’s on call 24/7 and he never misses a chance to help. He reads and writes for fun. His world is the universe where anything goes that doesn’t break the laws of physics. Wisdom is his only thing.

So here we have two unique individuals who couldn’t be more different. One is confident for no good reason and the other is circumspect for very good reasons. One knows just enough to be dangerous and the other knows too much to take risks. One works because he has to and the other works because he wants to. One knows no limits and the other knows his. One is wise and one is otherwise.

Ready to guess? It’s me, of course. That young man eventually became that old man. He grew up, got married, raised a family, ran a successful business and then finally got a little wiser.  As I approach my 60th birthday this month, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my youth. Boy, was I clueless or what? I got by on looks and a fun-loving personality. I had no idea what life was really about. Ignorance was absolute bliss. It was great and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Maturity or wisdom or common sense, or whatever we choose to call it, is worth the price but there’s only one way to get it. We have to experience it. Reading a book or listening to a lecture barely scratches the surface of real understanding. I was never a great college student. I didn’t learn how to learn till after my Dad sat me down and explained it to me. All he said was, “You’re going to spend the rest of your life learning new things, college will help you learn how to learn.” I think it was at that very moment that I grasped the most important concept of all, listen to those who know more than you do.

The best part about being older and wiser? Now I get to do the talking and the rest of you will listen. I think the grey beard and wrinkles really help with my credibility and respect. No one doubts my experience and young people actually ask for my help. I met a young Asian guy in the supermarket last week and he wanted my advice on how to cook steaks on the grill. I was thrilled to share my secrets. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him he picked the wrong kind of meat but at least they tasted okay with my help. (Tip of the day – big steaks aren’t always good steaks.)

I’m not sure I’m ready for sage status yet but another ten years should get me there. Am I wiser than most? Maybe but that’s not really my goal. I don’t measure myself against others. My only competition is with myself. I don’t ever want to feel secure or self-satisfied or accomplished. What would I do the next day? I want to be open for new business every day of my life. The truth is I know, positively, far less than I ever did. Every bit of information I possess just leads me to a hundred more questions. On the other hand, the ability to apply my knowledge, wisdom if you will, is plentiful and worth every ounce of sweat it took me to get it. Let me leave you with one great Japanese saying, “Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on an ass’s back.” That was me, forty years ago.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“Nobody ever died from laughter.” (Max Beerbohm)

The cold winter we have had so far is really affecting my thought process. My brain has slowed down considerably and I’ve been mired in a deep trough of contemplation. I can’t seem to escape from this persistent question, “What is wisdom?” As I searched for something to read that would lighten my load, I ran across some notes I saved from college. Apparently, I’ve been thinking about philosophical stuff for a long time but it used to be more fun.

Back in the day, when I wasn’t chasing girls or playing Frisbee, I was studying the other great thinkers of history. I guess, when you’re twenty years old, even one rational thought qualifies you to be included in this group. And yes, I had more than my share of rational thoughts so you can stop snickering now. The revelation for me now is that my reaction to the wisdom of the ages was pretty flippant, but since I was the only one reading Spinoza during happy hour that might explain it.

I have always been good at taking notes. I write really fast and I’m good at remembering critical information. That’s how my love of famous quotations got started. If I ran across something worthwhile I wrote it down in my notebook. After a while, as the notebooks filled up, I started to add my own commentary to these classic examples of wisdom and deep thinking. Let me give you some examples of how my addled brain worked back then.

“I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way.” Carl Sandburg
“I’m a freshman. I don’t know where I’m going or how to get there.” Guy R. Horst

“One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.” Samuel Johnson
“One of the advantages of wine is that it triples the dating pool.” Guy R. Horst

“When the candles are out all women are fair.” Plutarch
“When the lights are out all men are scared.” Guy R. Horst

“To know all things is not permitted.” Horace
“No wonder my GPA sucks.” Guy R. Horst

“A woman drove me to drink and I never even had the courtesy to thank her.” W.C. Fields
“A woman drove me to drink. I don’t know how I got home.” Guy R. Horst

“Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.” H.G.Wells
“Just ask a philosophy major with a student loan.” Guy R. Horst

“The older I grow the more I listen to people who don’t say much.” Germain Gidden
“The older I grow the more I listen to people who don’t drink much.” Guy R. Horst

“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Socrates
“The beginning of wisdom is the financial aid form.” Guy R. Horst

“They talk most who have the least to say.” Matthew Prior
“Beware of the professor who delivers his lecture even when no one comes.” Guy R. Horst

“Beware of the man who goes to cocktail parties not to drink but to listen.” Pierre Daninos
“Beware of the man who wants to drive you home after the party.” Guy R. Horst

“Lord give me chastity, but not yet.” Saint Augustine
“What the hell, send Chastity right over.” Guy R. Horst

“Happiness is the rational understanding of life and the world.” Baruch Spinoza
“Not to mention $1 shots.” Guy R. Horst

Now I feel a little better. The sun is out and it’s a balmy 15 degrees outside. Time for a walk with the dog. I hope you enjoyed my recollections. Here’s one more of my favorite quotes about philosophy that you might find useful. Frederic the Great once made this declaration, “If I wished to punish a province I would have it governed by philosophers.” If old Fred was still around, I would take that job.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“We do not know one millionth of one percent about anything.” (Thomas Edison)

We humans are a funny lot. We think we have the world by the tail and then someone like Edison comes along and makes this statement to prove us all wrong. Around the turn of the 20th century, when Edison was inventing all kinds of useful things, it was even suggested that the U.S. Patent Office be closed permanently because every possible thing had already been invented. In retrospect, that may have been a little shortsighted.

More than anything, I think Edison was talking about his motivation, when he made this statement. He was driven by curiosity and a need to understand the world. Clearly, he was a genius but he never let himself be satisfied with being smarter than everybody else. As long as there were new discoveries to be made, he wanted to make them.

It really comes down to the difference between expertise and exploration. Of all the so-called experts I have encountered in my life, most of them had stopped exploring. They were satisfied with their status and the initials that followed their names. Resting on their laurels became an occupation and they quickly lost their acumen for whatever discipline they had previously studied. I can remember one occasion when a consultant tried to tell me something about my graphic arts business that was just idiotic. I quickly pointed out the reason it wouldn’t work in my industry and then he admitted that he knew little about photography but was just applying something he had used with another client. He could have learned something from me, if he had still been curious, but his title got in his way and he was sure he knew more than me.

That’s what Edison was trying to tell us. It’s the exploration that makes life worth living. The never-ending journey of discovery that yields more knowledge and more questions. We will never have one without the other and we shouldn’t want it any other way. I know I learn something new with every foster child I meet each day. I deal with all ages, races and maturity levels and it’s up to me to find a way to work with every single one. There is no instruction manual or training for the work I do and frankly, I like it that way. I suppose it might be useful to have a Master’s Degree in Social Work or Counseling but then I would probably rely on chapter and verse too much. I really don’t think the book has been written that explains what I’m dealing with each day.

Here’s the part I want you to remember. Every job is unique and equally challenging if you see it as a quest for exploration not expertise. Don’t let yourself stop learning and never stop asking,”Why?” If you still need more encouragement to take up my challenge let me paraphrase something the rocket scientist, Werner Von Braun, once said, “Basic research happens when I don’t know what I’m doing.” See, real geniuses know they don’t know everything and that’s what keeps them going. So the next time you’re fumbling around and frustrated by your ignorance just repeat after me, “I’m an explorer not an expert and I will never stop trying.”

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.” (Music by Franz Xaver Gruber and lyrics by Joseph Mohr)

Silent Night was composed in 1818 by a priest, Joseph Mohr and a church organist, Franz Gruber in the Austrian village of Obendorf. It’s too bad they didn’t live long enough to hear it sung on December 24, 1914 during World War I. This particular rendition must be the most famous one of all. Never heard of it? 99 years is a long time but I think the story bears repeating, so here goes.

WWI started in 1914 and by December the conflict had devolved into a bloody stalemate where both sides lived in filthy trenches and machine guns eviscerated anyone who dared to set foot in No-Man’s-Land. But on Christmas Eve, that year, the guns were silent and peace broke out. Troops on both sides crossed over to exchange gifts with the enemy and Silent Night was sung by all because it was the one song everyone knew, just by the melody.

Of all the Christmas Miracles ever recorded this one is my favorite. The idea that men who had spent the previous five months trying to annihilate each other could find it in their hearts to put down their weapons and hold out their hands, is just a fantastic notion. The human spirit transcends all of the evil that exists in the world and all of us possess this gift of humanity. I guess some times it takes the worst to bring out the best but when we find our common ground anything is possible and these men proved it for all eternity.

I’m probably too much of a hopeless romantic, but I think song lyrics are priceless treasures. Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright. Can you imagine what those soldiers were experiencing that Christmas Eve as they sang these words together? To me, this is the greatest affirmation of faith ever. No one can make us hate each other, that’s something we choose to do with our ignorance and conceit. But we can just as easily choose to love one another with compassion and understanding. If one song can bring us together maybe even more great lyrics are what we need the most. Songs that comfort, songs that empathize, songs that are humbling and songs of forgiveness are written in every language. All it takes is our voices and our willingness to sing, so all can hear.

There’s only one thing I want for Christmas, that we never again have to call a truce just so we can sing Silent Night.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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