Legendary: A Journey of Success

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“Moses” (c. 1515) by Michelangelo, San Pietro in Vincoli Church in Rome. Photograph provided Carlo Raso. Taken November 15, 2015. No copyright restrictions.

I was thinking about this idea of statues and sculptures.  I stumbled across Michelangelo’s sculpture of “Moses” on Flickr. Like Moses, there were so many great figures throughout history. Many of them had statues made after them and books written about them.  These souls left legends behind.  I was thinking about us, with our generation, living in the year 2017.  Do we live legendary lives?  I’m sure it breaks a few of us to know that we may not be known for anything great, let alone the world may not know anything about us.  The Prophet Moses was certainly a memorable figure in history.  Many of us may feel that we can never compare to Moses.  He has accomplished so many great things.  There is no way I can compare.  I live in a different time.  What’s strange to me about all this is that sculptures and statues of famous figures, of notable figures, of heroic figures, even cruel figures, appear to be less of an occurrence.

Then the thought came to me: what makes someone great?  Moses was only known to be great because of his close relationship with God.  If he wasn’t close to God, if he didn’t rescue the Jews from Egypt, then where would he be now?  Would Michelangelo have still made a statue out of him?  It’s because he left a legacy behind. Moses was close to God and he did accomplish so many things.  What was left behind was a statue.  A legend.

I suppose when we were young, many of us were told we could do anything in life.  No matter what you set your mind to, you can achieve great things.  You can be whoever you want to be.  Many people have gone out and proven to us that this can be done.  For the other people, like myself, adulthood tells you that this cannot be accomplished.  Adulthood tells us success is difficult, too difficult to achieve.  Adulthood tells us the pragmatic results: it hasn’t worked out for us before.  Why even bother?  Despite what your experience tells you, we are all capable of succeeding at any moment in life.  If we are truly determined to learn, grow, and persist at what we do, there should be nothing in this life to stop us.

Success also relies on our objectives.  Why do we do the things we do?  Some of the greatest legendary figures in life are those who did good things for other people.  I admit: some statues were built of people who didn’t do good things.  I suppose we can be known for both the good and evil we do in this world.  But, why not choose to be good?  Even if you do not become a legend to the world, you can still become a legend to people around you.  You can still  become a legend to yourself.  Maybe you will not have a statue built after you…  But why let that stop you from succeeding in life?  Don’t let the past or pressure of the future discourage you from creating legendary accomplishments.

Though you may compare your accomplishments to others, I would advise you not to do that.  We are different people.  What we do is subjective to who we are.  Yes, there will always be someone better at something.  No one can be a better version of yourself than yourself.  Our circumstances pave part of our paths for us, whether we like it or not.  We can definitely overcome them.  Though you may not be the best athlete, the best writer, or the best person on the planet, you can be the best of yourself.  You can strive to be legendary and successful.  You can literally shoot for the stars, but remember to be satisfied with who you are and content where you are in life.

You may be a hidden light from the world.  Don’t worry.  I’m sure the lack of acknowledgement won’t silent for too long.  Someone is bound to congratulate you.  If not, I am terribly sorry.  Because you deserve it.  In the end, is a congratulation what you really want?  Maybe you want something better, something deep and meaningful, maybe something that comes from within: your own sense of satisfaction.  We cannot always earn rewards or expect great outcomes from our work, but we can always fight for a better life.

Every minute, there’s always a chance for us to do good. Every day, we can choose the opportunity to succeed. As long as we are alive, we can impact others and change the world.  First, let us start with ourselves.

 

From Sympathy to Empathy

If we look to the media, we can make assumptions that the world is all over the place.  There is a lot going on about hate, racism and much discrimination towards people who are different.  I remember when I was younger, these issues were still prevalent, but there seemed to be more tolerance towards people who were different.  Unfortunately, the stereotype and prejudice was about the same.

I thought with my generation, it would be different.  But, it really wasn’t…  In time, I noticed this naive sense of arrogance that comes with our youth; we think we may know ourselves better and do a better job at being better people in the world.  I think we all try to do our own job in trying to stand up for what is right.  That’s quite apparent.  The error, I notice, is not in our ability to stand up.  We do a sufficient job in sharing our views and opinions. That is quite noticeable (no snark intended).

The error is not that we take the initiative to stand up, but in how we stand up.  We try to lead by what we say, rather than by setting an example.  Many times, we do not consider our actions and behaviors, especially when it comes to how we speak and treat others.  Sadly, we sometimes do not consider how we impact or affect others.  We can often neglect their point-of-views and their own stories…  I find this happens as a weakness in our character.  We should not be who the world wants us to be.  We should be who we want to be, a better version of ourselves.

We can even assess this by our emotions towards one another.  Clearly, it seems most people can sympathize with others.  The question is: do we emphasize with others?  Let’s define both terms:

 

Empathy

The dictionary defines empathy as:

Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives

Wikipedia defines empathy as:

The capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference.

 

Sympathy

The dictionary defines sympathy as:

The feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.

Wikipedia defines sympathy as:

The perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another life form.

 

I believe, in a way, I have failed to be empathetic throughout my life.  I am empathetic, but most of time, I do not feel that way.  You see.  Empathy takes work.  Sympathy is the recognition for the suffering or emotions another person encounters.  Empathy feels what someone else is feeling by placing oneself in another person’s shoes.  We say sorry and feel bad when others come across misfortunes, griefs, sufferings, etc.  As I’ve learned, that’s sympathy.

Empathy is when we actually feel bad. Our feeling for other people’s feelings are to weigh on our hearts.  You can even look to the Bible for references to our need for empathy.  In the Letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NKJV).  When we bear one another’s burden, when we carry what someone else carries, we should actually feel it.

That’s the beautiful thing about compassion when it comes to our character and growth.  Compassion sends us beyond the point of sympathy into the levels of empathy for others.  We don’t only recognize the sufferings of others, we actually feel what they are suffering: we identify with them.  When Lazarus died, Jesus Christ didn’t show just the necessary condolences, but instead, “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35 NKJV).  He lost Lazarus and identified with those who lost Lazarus.  It seems interesting to me that since the Son of God could, and knew he would, bring Lazarus back from dead, that he still wept.  Jesus showed true compassion.  His action in weeping was real empathy.

I’m not saying we all need to cry for another.  Though, at times, when others suffer, we should weep with one another.  We should, at least, show compassion and try to empathize with others.  I know that for men, empathy can be a difficult feeling to show.  At least for me, empathy is a difficult emotion to evoke.  Over time, empathy has become a difficult emotion for me to access right away.  Part of that is due to my personality: I am first inclined to think than to feel.  That’s just part of my nature.  Empathy is still there, especially when I need it to be there.  When bad things happen to people, I don’t just feel bad, but feel what other people must be feeling.  It’s something I definitely need to work on.  I hope we all consider working on developing and accessing empathetic emotions.

In order to become more aware of our empathetic emotions, we may need to allow our hearts to use our imagination; we need to place our minds in the perspectives of other people.  Part of the problem is we have lost our ability to love another.

Here’s an observation: only a certain amount of people use the internet, or even social media.  As we have seen, people with the most radical beliefs and opinions share their views on media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Keeping in mind this is a small portion of society, there appears to be a lack of empathy and kindness towards one another.  As we have all learned, the internet can be a mean place, where the darkest emotions of people are expressed behind a computer screen.  The internet is not the only place.  I see this in physical interactions, where there also seems to be a lack of empathy for one another; sometimes, there is even a lack of sympathy for one another.  Next time you’re in public, take notice of the way others treat others (most of all, how we treat others).

It’s because of silly things like political views, strong opinions, or cultural differences, we make each other out to be enemies.  Even Jesus said, “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44 NKJV). We should not respond by neglecting, disliking, or hating one another.  Instead, we should love one another.  We should do good things to other people and for other people.  In our behavior and actions, we need to be present with others by empathizing and showing compassion.  Sometimes, empathizing requires is to use our imagination, in order to feel what another person must be feeling from their perspective.  I believe Jesus has done that with all of us, that He has felt what we felt, because He love us and has shown compassion towards us.

At the root of all this is our character, our heart: we need to sincerely love one another.  Our hearts need to be filled with the love of God.  I know that it can be very difficult to be patient with rude or unkind people who have either been hateful or unloving towards you, but remember that we may have even been like them at one point in life. Keeping that in mind will allow us to persevere with mercy and patient. Regardless of how other people view us or treat us, someone needs to love first. So, why not start with ourselves? Someone needs to cross that boundary line in order to love one another.

Don’t give up on loving.  Eventually, love will defeat all racism, prejudices, etc.  Love will eliminate all the foolish opinions or petty differences we have.  Love will destroy hate, because love is exactly the feeling God has for every single human on this planet.  Even though we may be emotionally disconnected or just caught up in our own lives, this does not mean that we can simply ignore the greatness and mysterious power of love.  Love fulfills our life as humans and without love we are truly nothing.  The Bible once stated, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).  In this respect, love is more than just a possibility of mankind, but an absolute necessity to life.

Love will transcend our absent feelings, beyond sympathy, to the compassionate feelings of empathy for one another.  By identifying with one another, empathy will allow us to feel for others so that can truly comfort others and possibly help one another.  Empathy can motivate us to do good things and make this world a better place to live, at least while we are still here.  In this way, love can change the world.  God has shown us the way of love, because He has first loved us.  He will never stop loving us, because absolutely nothing in this world or the life to come can separate us from the love of God.

 

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

— Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)

The Process of “How”

I have not taken the chance yet to share my thoughts.  Something I thought about, or contemplated, was not the reason “Why” we do everything we do, but rather “How” we do everything we do.

Many of us can look at a painting or read a poem.  Some of our immediate thoughts are: “Why?”  We want to know why this poem appeared.  Why does this poem exist?  “What” is the poem’s meaning?  Rather, sometimes, I think we need to ask “How?”  We use the “how” to learn from others and incorporate that into our skills.  Have we really thought to ourselves that “How” may potentially have more value than “Why”?  If not more value, then equal value?

I’m not really saying any of these things on behalf of any of you. I say this for myself.  Sometimes when I read something or when I look at a piece of art, I always ask myself first: “What” does this mean?  “Why” did this person do this?  I rarely ever start with: “‘How’ this person did this?”  I don’t mean technique, or talent, or skills even…  Though, those things do make up the “How” in what we do.  Rather, I’m talking about a cognitive process, one in which a person combines the elements of creativity to thought and emotion.

As creators…  There is a part of us that says, “I want to write about that!”  Or, “I want to create that.”  We pick up our pens and paintbrushes and decide we’re going to do it.  We focus and set our mind on something.  We are determined to bring it to life.

We always start somewhere…  But where?  I even recall this in my own poems.  When I go back, I see there is no other line before the first line, which is the Title.  Many English critics have said that the most important lines in a piece of work are the first and the last, and even more-so, the title.  But what about anything in-between?  Well, scholars will say, “Of course!  The middle.  The climax (at whatever length) will be the next important thing.”  Okay, very well.  I can see, in this particular case, a literary piece of work is a formula.

But what if I don’t want a formula?  What if I don’t even want a title?  People may say, “Oh of course, poems don’t need formulas and titles.  Make it a poem then.”  What if I don’t want it to be a poem?  What if…  (be patient with me)  the most important line is not the title, the first lines, the last line, or even the climax? What if the most important line is one I find important? Or, what if the most important line was all of it?  It could be every line!

Again, another perspective–  What if the most important line was something someone else found important?

To defy all gravity of this:  What if none of it was important at all?  Sure, I may write something important for myself.  If I hand it over to someone across the street, they may, in fact, think it isn’t important at all.  That shouldn’t discourage you from expressing what you think to be important.  In the end, the numbers don’t really matter, because people value different things.  Some people value food more than literature.  Some people value money more than food.  Some people value other people more than other people.

Yes, poor Herman Melville sits in the grave.  Maybe you go on your whole life without reading Moby-Dick.

There are people who are apathetic towards literature. I find most of the time it is because of the “Why.”  The “Why” is either too fundamental or unnecessary.  I say… Next time, focus on the “How.”  How did Herman Melville write Moby-Dick?  How do you interpret it?  How do you see this work?  How do you see the world?

I don’t say this in lecturing anyone.  I have not finished certain books because they became dull, boring, or predictable.  In some way the “Why” was too simplistic and altogether, I couldn’t relate to the work.  When I come back to the “How,” it grabs me, because the “How” is a perceptional mystery.

I keep coming back to this “How” as both a creator and interpreter of art.  I have challenges for us to complete.  Next time you want to create something.  Next time an idea strikes you, try this:

  • Every time you do something new to your piece of work, jot down a few words explaining
    • how you created it (what process led you there)
    • how does it work
  • Every time you finish a work, write down the reasons
    • how you finished it
    • how your story got from one point to the other
  • If you’re a photographer, ask yourself
    • how you decided that shot spoke to you most
    • how you made it work

I know many people like to create, but as many of us know, better interpreters make better creators (like I said before, “better readers make better writers”).  If we really want to know “How” things work in our brains as readers and interpreters, try this exercise for a whole week.  I would start first with something natural and simple, like a tree.  Write down some notes after each exercise:

  • First day: look down at the tree for only 10 seconds (remember to set a timer)
  • Second day: look at the same tree for 30 seconds
  • Third day: look at the tree for 3 minutes
  • Fourth day: look at the same tree for 15 minutes
  • Last day: Look at the same tree for one hour

What did you notice?  How did your brain work in looking at that tree?  How did you arrive at your notes?  Do you know how you looked at it?  What did you learn about the tree?  From this whole experience, what did you learn about yourself?  How did this all happen?

Now, next time.  Apply the same exercise to a literary work, like a poem.  See what happens next.  Look closer and see “How” it all happens.  As you know, the “How” can help with the “Why” and vice-versa…