Work, Life and Chance – Backgammon: The Game of Princes

Iran, Esfahan (Isfahan) – Ali Qapu Palace

“Your life’s whatever you make of it.” That’s a popular phrase meant to bolster confidence – or even motivate employees… Well, there’s more to life than meets the eye at a glance. Anyone who’s gone through life longer than just a couple of decades has come to realize what Baz Luhrman so aptly said:
“Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.”

Many smart comedians, philosophers and coaches will tell you that. It is actually a wise person who realizes it – it has been known for centuries if not thousands of years among people, mankind even.

There was a ‘modern’ urge when the civil society began to form that found one outlet in the possibility to emigrate to the USA, then dominions still. With a huge country apparently all there just to find your luck without any shackles or strings attached, the credo was: “Your life’s whatever you make of it.”

Was it, really?

Even the first settlers faced grave challenges, partly from indigenous peoples who wouldn’t all easily accept that land-taking by strangers. Bluntly put.

Additionally, so few conditions known, many pioneers just died from starvation due to completely different climate and soil conditions.

Yet, marketing and people who wanted to sell this idea and self-promoting methods as new ways to happiness and self-made wealth just persisted publishing self-help guides.

The idea of course is appealing. But in the long run it will lead to anger and frustration, because it leaves out all those chances life presents us all with: Recently we were all witnesses to it again on a huge scale, a pandemic, with millions of deaths.

We were lucky too, in many ways, in many parts of the world. But the long and the short of it is this:

Life is full of chances and conditions and surroundings that will make it easy or difficult to reach goals you wished to attain.

Sometimes, just knowing there is a philosophy behind it, summarized like this, can help:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Here is a fine short documentary on the game of Backgammon and its vital difference to chess: Chess is like war. But Backgammon is like life: And it is thousands of years old. It was even used to teach princes at the ancient courts of Persian kings to be sophisticated and wise leaders of their governments.

We cannot control everything in life. A lot depends on luck and surroundings. But we can always try to do our best in any given situation.

It’s a German language version with English subtitles:

The Nerd, the Partygoer and the Bookworm – Perspectives and Judgement

Image of dog and cat playing together
Image courtesy pixabay.com – Free license

Life can be full of surprises. Especially when you expect a certain degree of ‘sameness’, that is people to be the same as yourself, or at least very similar.

Common assumptions are based on a few, sometimes almost crude, differentiations and types, such as the types of the title: the nerd, the partygoer and the bookish type, the bookworm. Interestingly enough, as soon as you use these terms, people start coming up with images in their minds:

    • The bookish type like the proverbial church mouse, grey all over, always buried in some book or other and perhaps even a little other-worldly. Not well-versed in the ways of the world.
    • The nerd, to my mind to some extent the modern version of the bookworm: Always having something or other to do with a digital device, the laptop these days, a smart phone, a computer or any other digital device you can think of. Buried too, in a way in their work.
    • The partygoer, a colourful appearance, rather talkative and even loud, attracting attention wherever they go, with pleasure, sometimes overdoing it a little, perhaps.

But these are the stereotypes. I am not saying they do not help. But if we use the stereotypes alone to judge people or to make sense of them, we may be mistaken.

There are not only ‘sub-types’. There’s usually more to human life and needs or wishes or dreams than just the external signs or the typical behaviour you may conclude because that’s all you are looking for.

In other words: Human beings and life are rather more colourful than a party dress.
‘There is more to it than meets the eye’: One might think of icebergs, the bulk of their mass is below the surface.

Try the kaleidoscope, it’s a favourite image I use to make my point. There’s black, white, green and red. But there are so many more colours to it, to life that is. There’s grey, gold and silver and heaps of others. And each comes in so many shades, too. (Not just shades of grey.  😉 )

I am a person who always has loved books, for me reading is like talking in my head. I hear language I write practically the same way, too, the same way I hear spoken words: With melody to it.

I know not everyone is the same; some people just do not like books or reading that much and avoid it if they don’t have to. I respect that.

I think it is vital for a peaceful existence to accept diversity, the truly colourful existence on this Earth, of humans as well as any other living or breathing entity.

 

Stressing the Good Points – Look for Solutions

Life is full of difficulties. Often pain. Stories and fairy tales exist all around the world to confirm this, some religions incorporate the idea into the body of their texts, the bible just as well as Buddhism know about it.

These days in many parts of the world – perhaps also led astray, you might say, by modern movies and advertisements claiming the contrary – people believe that being always divinely happy and fine is a matter of reaching a goal of wealth and ultimate acceptance. Fast. And stay with it.

It is different altogether: Erich Kästner, famous German poet of the 20th century, put it like this:

“Es gibt nichts Gutes außer man tut es.” (There is no good except for what you do.)

I wondered in the course of my life what he could mean. There is nothing good in the world…except for what we do?
One day I realized:

Kästner means the idea of ‘goodness’, of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’, is human.
Doing the good things makes them become real.

I felt a lot like that during my life, which has been full of experience. I’ve seen sadness, impaired health, death and – health restored. People on the flight from war and political oppression.

Buddhism has another way of putting it, put in my own words here:

Life is full of pain. We are asked to reduce it, here and now, wherever we are at a given time. If ever possible.
That’s how it becomes bearable, again.

In everyday life this can mean that we look at what is fine – and let people know about it.
Whining as opposed to crying or weeping, I’d like to stress here as well: Emotions need to be released too, be that anger, sadness or frustration.
After that:
If things are not working out yet, do not make a lot of fuss and whine – but find solutions – and start ‘doing’.

Knowledge – Wisdom – Marketing – Stereotypes – What Reading and Thinking Can Do for You

image of beach at sunset and family walking
Image courtesy pixabay.com – Free license

Erich Fromm, Alexander Lowen, Sigmund Freud, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Alxandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, The Brontë Sisters, Shakespeare, Plato, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle,…the list goes on and on and on…. And those are only a very major few dealing with live, love, sex, gambling, man vs mankind, culture, thoughts, ideas in human life, right, wrong, and human needs. I’ve read so many books in the course of my life that I can truly say they cover a mid-sized library. A couple of thousands.

Opposed to that are the images you find in many Hollywood movies (often especially the ones drawing huge audiences), on Social Media – strange word for such a rather ‘un-social’ market place – but then, ever since the Ancient times it was common calling bad or problematic things by good names – to lessen the fear or dread of it, such as the Black Sea known to be dangerous to sailors. They called it “Pontos Euxeinos” in Greek, the friendly, kind sea.

Market places: Marketing images are everywhere – and they ‘feed’ on stereotypes.
Reading and thinking on your feet, you might say, trains the mind; trains your thinking, to go beyond common images, and be – at some point – a complete and wholesome human being rather than someone chasing the latest fashions in order to be fashionable – and be ‘IN’.

The monster, the lady in distress, the prince and the common man to rescue her so they can fall in love with her afterwards…
C.G. Jung, a Freud-disciple, called them ‘archetypes’ that have been around for many centuries in human existence, in the West at least, and patriarchal society, and thus are part of all our common (usually unconscious) heritage of ideas and wishes.

Most important in this respect to me are these ideas:

Knowing about something does not mean you had to do it first in order to  understand.

Wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge. Wisdom is the combination of empathy (know human emotions) with experience and knowledge to truly understand human life.

Less is More – Western vs Eastern Concepts of ‘Action’? – The Cards of the Game…

Image of falling cards suspendedin mid-air
Image courtesy freepik.com – Licensed

The loud and ‘active’ are equated; the fast runner and the quick result of a ‘win’ are equated; the ‘meet and talk about it’ and reaching results are equated. Why – and since when?
Hold up something that looks like a real brick of a thing – when it’s actually ‘just’ a card in a card game, nice and solid viewed from the front, but thin and without any substance viewed from the sides.

In business especially since WWII and the advent of the ‘new economy’ some ideas have been churned around for decades now, which amount to this:
Prove your work, your results and your professionalism by making lots of nice noise, present and talk about what you do. Run around a lot, talk to people a lot. That way, everybody will be impressed by your ‘busy bee’ image of the worker bee…

Yet, when all is said and done, what is work – or business, for that matter – about? About reaching results. Creating them, changing them, ultimately selling things, and earn your salary – and the revenue.

The ‘cards of the game’ can be that: A lot of noise, not to say hot air – but when you look closely, from a different angle, it’s a rather thin substance…

Do not underestimate those who have their goals and priorities straight and focused and will reach them with the least amount of ‘noise’ and the maximum amount of output. Not all who are calm – or quiet – are ‘passive’…Not all who are loud are really active…

 

Adam Smith in World Politics? – Diplomacy Beyond Popular Images

image of a world map and a compass
Diplomacy needs among other things these very basic skills: The ability to look beyond images, propaganda and popular opinion.

Politics of peace need them too.

The Western world in my eyes is blinded in their view of the world, politics and negotiations by something almost amounting to idealism:

It‘s about money, in any shape or form, we are about it – and everyone else is too.

This is perhaps the most tragic misconception that will endanger peace in all parts of the world again and again:

Indeed certain factions of the Christian religions in the backwater of the rise of civil society around the 13th / 14th centuries claimed, in principle:

Wealth is the sign of God‘s pleasure.

Ever since an ever larger part of the world – especially rooted in the beginnings of the US society with the first actual settlers on the Mayflower representing that idea – are exactly of that frame of mind:
Be wealthy and God is with you.

Most Eastern societies from Africa, over Russia all through Asia in one way or another – in principle that is – value the community and the dignity of the individual even more.

Dignity!

I have spent most of my adult life around all manner of extremely peaceful, knowledgeable and kind people from the Near, Middle and Far East.
I have studied Persian poems and literature and have met other people from around the globe.
I have had the privilege to call books my friends in childhood and adolescence and still do. I studied languages and culture at a prestigious university and earned my M.A. degree there.

The most tragic misunderstanding between the Western world – leaning towards Adam Smith‘s ideas of economy – and the Eastern world – leaning towards trade among dignified, respected and proud tradespeople is that:

Dignity

The European literature of certain times and people as well as later stereotypes about life in the Eastern world – or the ways and means of trade and politics – is practically steeped in this painful repetitive almost ridiculous contempt:
If you know about their ‚purse‘, you know about their interests. Anyone with a contempt for money is stupid.

This is not the real driving force of mankind: Indeed, wealth was always craved, if people had gone hungry or even starved; but dignity and respect in combination with extreme poverty can be thought of in the East – not so in the West.

In the Western world, respect and the consequential dignity of a person – or a nation – are closely related, if not tightly interwoven with their monetary means.

In most parts of the Eastern world this is not the case. Dignity is a fundamental possibility that can be envisioned easily with little or no money.

Among nations dignity is crucial. Treat them with respect, dignity and regard, let them safe face.

And remember this fine part of the Christian bible that actually was originally written in that Eastern culture:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew, 25:40)


Author’s Note (April 2022):

In view of the latest developments I’d like to enlarge on this, make it clearer yet. The question after motives and real reasons is not always easy to answer. But if we are really interested in successful negotiations we need to do that. Not always is the answer to ‘cui bono’? : ‘money only’ as stated above.
Usually the attributes associated with money, or more money are actually much more important:
Respect, attention and power in certain circles.
Bluntly put: If it was about taking the Ukraine, they would have taken it long ago.

The question “cui bono” needs to be researched and answered in all directions of cause or effect or impact. Basic human motivators.

Austria, Politics and Political Approaches

Flag of Austria with ensign
I love this country of Austria. But mine is not of the kind that makes you blind… On the contrary I can safely say, I see patterns, in politics just as much as everywhere else. Mine is surely not the definitive position on this matter. Just one among many…

In general, there are a few ‘inalienable truths‘ about politics as well.

Politicians need networks in order to get somewhere – and stay there for a while. Once they have proven their ‘staying power’, things can and usually will change:
Others are craving the place in the limelight; or the possibility to wield the power, as in: Have influence and a position in society, more or less respected…

Look into recent and older history of the world: Some politicians are and were extremely ruthless, some are corrupt, some are even cruel.

Some are ‘just’ using the age-old instruments that can be smaller or larger kinds of ‘buddies’ to build a network and sustain support.

To always be white-headed and innocent in such a system, where everyone else encourages one to take advantage – apparently is impossible. Not one single country in this beautiful part of the world – or anywhere else – can say that such things never happened to them.

And power, alas, also has the ‘power’ to corrupt people who weren’t in the first place… I still think that modern democracies that have a working system of exchanging their governments at regular intervals by some kind of voting system, are the best possible solution.

Politics are – human, therefore not perfect. One should make sure to control as far as possible the weak points – point out failures in order they can be put right. But also not expect too much, in view of the facts above.

This is a peaceful country, beautiful, with many, many kind and responsible people around, let’s not forget that!

Why One Size Does NOT Fit All – or: The 32-Size Shoe

three people legs and shoes visible sitting on edge of car trunk
I see it happen all the time: People look at someone and with almost deathly certainty they ‘diagnose’ their (apparent) problem – and also have a solution ready right away. Strangely enough such people almost never are doctors themselves.
Because good doctors know that one size does not fit all.

A person appearing slightly ‘overweight’ – by today’s public standards – of course just must be in need of a new and completely changed sports and dieting plan.

A person who likes their home, sometimes stays there for a certain amount of time at a stretch just cannot possibly be happy – or healthy, for that matter – unless a new plan of being out in the open is devised and put into action.

What such ‘diagnosers’ usually ignore completely is the fact that really and truly one size does not fit all.
That is true for health, food and sports alike.

A famous food chemist put it along these lines one day :

Many such rules about what is best for you or your health are made and conducted on the following principle:
They look at who has the healthiest feet, find that those with healthy feet wear 32-size shoes – and thereafter prescribe them for everyone.
But would you wear them if you happened to have a 43-size foot?

And there is also something else to consider: What motive do such reformers have, trying to make everyone the same….?

Even the bible has a fine saying on it:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? (Matthew, 7.3)

Perhaps it ‘behoves’ all of us to be a little more careful before ‘diagnosing’ a person by a very few symptoms alone – where there may be no problem at all in the first place – and without knowing the whole story or history.

Perfect Parents – Perfect Children…? Present-Day Western Rules of Education

Happy mom holding little child with golden cup.
Since World War II, after dreadful events had taken place and crimes had been committed – as well as endured – by millions all around the globe, a general question arose:
How can this be prevented to happen again?
Education by ‘perfect parents’ raising ‘perfect children’ so it seems to this day…

The subject is not new to my blog but it presents itself in different shapes, repeatedly…

First Research on Best Educational Practices

The research done with fervour and some very valuable findings made it clear what was needed: Education as a self-determined and free-thinking individual enabled to resist dumb orders was being defined as an important aspect.

Educational best practices were formulated and are to this day:
What do parents and especially mothers do and what should they avoid in order to raise children that are prepared?

Business Aspects Taking Over

Yet, another aspect crept in a little while later, basically throughout the 1980s, when more people wanted more jobs and at the same time business limits seemed to fall, profits sky-rocketing in certain areas.

It appeared clear at the time that not just any education but only the very best would ensure a profitable job.

The result was an even more intense, not to say feverish, search for the rules of behaviour in parents that would create ‘perfectly prepared children’.

Modern Psychology Roots

Ever since Sigmund Freud had published his research on the power of mothers, and eventually parents, ideas also flourished that adjusting parents would do the trick:
Prevent mental disorders, fears and insecurities or even suppressed urges.

His research to this day stands tall. No doubt about it.

Humans Like So Many Devices…?

But the idea that humans are ‘adjustable’ and ‘tunable’ to the point of representing a perfect model or ideal, is not Freud’s.
It is the result of the above-mentioned developments and history in a modern Western world that believes in – some parts of it – the feasibility of anything.

Like putting a car into the ‘shop’ to be repaired, soul as well as body are often treated like so many parts that can just be replaced or ‘repaired’.

Well-adjusted, ‘successful’, wealthy and always top-of everything and everyone or -where, these children are also always happy.
Or are they?

Conclusion: Don’t Force Them Into a Mould

Forcing people into ‘moulds’, into ideals, can end like the famous children’s story of the piglet a farmer wanted to raise as a cube:
He put it into a large wooden box and fed it. And lo and behold the piglet became a square pig… But one day the farmer opened the box.
And nature took its course: The pig rounded out again, as pigs usually are shaped.

Forcing children into a mould in the best case ends a little like that piglet: They will find their true nature again, one day.

In the worst case they will be warped and become seriously unhappy or even sick of body and soul.

“Children are guests asking the way.”