THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE LEADERSHIP NEWSLETTER – AUGUST 2016
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
2. THE ART OF GRACIOUS LEADERSHIP
3. THE COST OF HOLDING ON
4. WHAT DANISH PARENTS KNOW ABOUT TEACHING EMPATHY
5. OLD PEOPLE ARE HAPPIER THAN PEOPLE IN THEIR 20’S
6. WHAT YOU’RE MEANT TO DO…
7. THIS MONTH’S LINKS
QUOTES OF THE MONTH – DAVID BROOKS & BRIAN WIEST
“Sooner or later life teaches you that you’re not the center of the universe, nor quite as talented or good as you thought.”
“Almost everybody believes they have the talent to succeed at the thing they really love. Needless to say, not everybody is correct.”
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
August Greetings, Dear Friends…
August in the northern hemisphere, especially in Europe, is vacation time, so old FW is vacationing. I hope you enjoy and get as much out of the pieces that follow as I have…
2. THE ART OF GRACIOUS LEADERSHIP
BY DAVID BROOKS, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AUGUST 26, 2016
Lately I’ve been thinking about experience. Donald Trump lacks political experience, and the ineptitude caused by his inexperience is evident every day. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is nothing if not experienced. Her ship is running smoothly, and yet as her reaction to the email scandal shows once again, there’s often a whiff of inhumanity about her campaign that inspires distrust.
So I’ve been thinking that it’s not enough to be experienced. The people in public life we really admire turn experience into graciousness.
Those people, I think, see their years as humbling agents. They see that, more often than not, the events in our lives are perfectly designed to lay bare our chronic weaknesses and expose some great whopping new ones.
Sooner or later life teaches you that you’re not the center of the universe, nor quite as talented or good as you thought. It teaches you to care less about what others think and, less self-conscious, to get out of your own way.
People who are gracious also understand the accuracy of John Keats’s observation
that “Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.” You can learn some truth out of a book or from the mouth of a friend, but somehow wisdom is not lodged inside until its truth has been engraved by some moment of humiliation, delight, disappointment, joy or some other firsthand emotion.
The mistakes just have to be made.
Gracious people are humble enough to observe that the best things in life are usually undeserved — the way the pennies of love you invest in children get returned in dollars later on; the kindness of strangers; the rebirth that comes after a friend’s unexpected and overawing act of forgiveness.
The gracious people one sees in life and reads about in history books — I’m thinking of the all-time greats like Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and Dorothy Day as well as closer figures ranging from Francis to Havel — turn awareness of their own frailty into sympathy for others’ frailty. As Juan Gabriel Vásquez wrote, “Experience, or what we call experience, is not the inventory of our pains, but rather the learned sympathy towards the pain of others.”
They are good at accepting gifts, which is necessary for real friendship, but is hard
for a proud person to do. They can be surprisingly tenacious in action. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. The grace that flowed into him from friends and supporters and from all directions made him radically hopeful and gave him confidence and tenacity. His capacity to fight grew out of his capacity to receive.
Such people have a gentle strength. They are aggressive and kind, free of sharp elbows, comfortable revealing and being abashed by their transgressions.
The U.S. military used to be pretty good at breeding this type of leader. In the years around World War II, generals often got fired. But they were also given second chances. That is, they endured brutal experiences, but they were given a chance to do something with those experiences and come back stronger and more supple.
They were also reminded very clearly that as members of an elite, they had the responsibilities that come with that station. Today, everybody is in denial about being part of the establishment, believing the actual elite is someone else. Therefore, no one is raised with a code of stewardship and a sense of personal privilege and duty.
Hillary Clinton has experience, but does not seem to have been transformed by it.
Amid the email scandal she is repeating the same mistakes she made during the
Rose Law Firm scandal two decades ago. Her posture is still brittle, stonewalling and dissembling. Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s an act of unseemly but not felonious behavior, then the futile drawn-out withholding of information, and forever after the unwillingness to ever come clean.
Experience distills life into instinct. If you interpret your life as a battlefield, then you will want to maintain control at all times. You will hoard access. You will refuse to have press conferences. You will close yourself off to those who can help.
If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad. You’ll be willing to relinquish control, and in surrender you’ll actually gain more strength as people trust in your candor and come alongside. Gracious leaders create a more gracious environment by greeting the world openly and so end up maximizing their influence and effectiveness.
It’s tough to surrender control, but like the rest of us, Hillary Clinton gets to decide
what sort of leader she wants to be. America is desperate for a little uplift, for a
leader who shows that she trusts her fellow citizens. It’s never too late to learn from
3. THE COST OF HOLDING ON
BY CARL RICHARDS, WWW.NYTIMES.COM, AUGUST 23, 2016
Let’s start with a story from Jon Muth’s book “Zen Shorts:”
Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to
step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step
across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.
The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk; she just shoved him out of the way and departed.
As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then, she didn’t even thank you!”
“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”
There is an actual cost to holding onto things we should let go of. It can come in the
form of anger, frustration, resentment or something even worse. The question is, can you really afford to keep paying the bill?
The faster we learn to drop our emotional dead weight, the more room we create for
something better. I’m talking about everything from stewing about the guy who cut
you off in traffic this morning to still refusing to forgive an old friend for an event 20
We have only so much bandwidth. We have only so much time. We only have so
much energy. Do we really want to invest any of our precious resources – financial or
otherwise – into something that will return nothing but misery?
My question for you is, “What’s one thing you can set down this week?”
Go ahead and pick something. A fight with your spouse, something a politician said,
your team losing the big game. Pick it, drop it and then pause. For just a moment,
simply pause and savor what it feels like to no longer carry that burden and pay that
Then, I want you to invest that extra into something more productive. If it’s extra
time, go for a walk. If it’s extra peace, take five deep breaths. If it’s extra money be-
cause you decided to just pay the stupid traffic ticket instead of letting it sit on your
desk accruing late fees, then take that extra money and invest it in something that
makes you happy.
Play with your kids. Take a nap. Just do something that makes you feel the opposite
of how you felt before you let go. I can guarantee you, this is one investment you’ll
And then, after you’re done with all that, send me an email. If you’re willing to
share, I’d love to know what you decide to let go. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week’s emails were amazing, and I’m looking forward to reading more.
© 2016 The New York Times Company
4. WHAT DANISH PARENTS KNOW ABOUT TEACHING EMPATHY
BY KATIE HINTZ-ZAMBRANO, MOTHERMAG, AUGUST 3, 2015
We all want our kids to be happy. And happiness is something the Danes have supposedly figured out, with research consistently showing that residents of Denmark
are among the happiest in the world. So, it’s not a huge surprise that an article we
published on Danish parenting tips has proved to be one of our most-read. Due to
this popularity, we decided to do a deep-dive into some of the bigger philosophies
rooted in Danish culture with The Danish Way of Parenting authors Jessica Alexander
and psychotherapist Iben Sandahl leading the way. Last month we discussed the
power of play-based parenting, and this time around we’re talking to the authors
about the Danes’ belief in the importance of teaching children the concept of empathy.
Tell us how you define empathy.
“Empathy is the ability to recognize another’s emotions or more simply put—being
able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. America is much more individual based.
Being a winner and striving to be the best are very normal goals for us. This equates
to success and I don’t think we really question it. It is just part of our culture. Winning means a lot. Perhaps one of the major differences between Denmark and America is that Danes value teamwork much more than striving to be a star. And with
that, they actively teach empathy.”
How does practicing empathy connect to overall happiness?
“All the latest neurological research shows that humans get more happiness from cooperating with others than from winning alone. Scientists have discovered ‘the social
brain,’ which lights up to show that we are driven by something beyond self-interest:
We are driven towards social connectedness. Caring relationships are one of the big-
gest predictors of happiness, well above money. It used to be believed that humans
were innately selfish, but that is simply not true. We are all wired for empathy from
birth. We just have to learn how to connect the wires to make it work. Being able to
better trust and understand others are keys to achieving more happiness. And kids
can be taught this.”
How do Danish parents teach this?
“The Danes teach empathy in schools, which is quite special. Empathy is such a big
concept and it is taught in so many different ways for different ages. Three examples
would be language choice, letting children self-regulate, and reading a wide range of
Tell us about that first concept: Using language choice to teach empathy.
“The first thing that is crucial to remember when teaching empathy is that our children are mirroring us. The kind of language we use is so important. How do you describe others? Are you understanding or judgmental? Tolerant or shaming? These are all things children are copying. Talking badly about others in front of kids and saying things like ‘She is mean,’ ‘He is selfish,’ ‘She is so annoying’ is not empathic language
because it isn’t recognizing the emotions behind the action—it’s labeling. In Denmark, you almost never hear parents talking negatively about other children in front of their children. They are always trying to find ways to get their children to understand another child’s behavior without a negative label. If you remember that all children are fundamentally good and there is a reason behind all behaviors, this helps us naturally find the good in others. This makes us feel better because it teaches ‘re-framing’—another Danish Way concept that improves happiness. We can help our children find the reasons behind the labels ‘He is annoying? Do you think maybe he is hungry? Or could he be tired because he missed his nap? You know how it feels be to be hungry and tired, right?’ ‘She is mean? It sounds like she had a bad day at school. The other day you said she was sweet. She is actually sweet, right?’ Helping children understand the feelings behind behaviors and leading them to a kinder conclusion is teaching empathy. It operates on the same neural pathway as forgiveness and it fosters more trust, cooperation, and a much better sibling relationship if you have more than one child. And don’t forget that parents have to have empathy for themselves sometimes, too. Parenting is hard and we don’t always get it right and that’s ok. Being understanding and forgiving of ourselves makes us better at forgiving our children and others.”
Explain the concept of self-regulation.
“Before we can be good at recognizing the emotions of others, we have to be able to
understand our own emotions. Parents sometimes tell children what they think they
should or shouldn’t feel. They override them. If they are sad, angry, hungry, cold, or
upset, some parents tell them ‘No, you aren’t,’ ‘Don’t be sad,’ ‘You have no reason to
be angry,’ ‘You should be hungry, eat!’ Telling children how they should feel is not letting them learn to self-regulate their own feelings. As parents, we have to give our
children trust so that they can learn about their own emotional boundaries. This
builds a stronger sense of self, which is paramount to self-esteem down the road.
When they are older they will be less afraid to say ‘no’ when their boundaries are
pushed because they will trust themselves to make the right decision based on what
they feel. This is such an important lesson to teach children. We can help them with
the language use, but we need to trust them so they can trust themselves. Remember, there are no good or bad emotions. There are just emotions.”
What kind of stories can we read our children to help teach empathy?
“Read all kinds of stories to children, not only happy ones. Talking about difficult
emotions in books can be a fantastic way to build empathy. Many Danish children’s
books are shocking by American standards with the topics they cover, but studies
have shown that reading about all emotions increases a child’s ability to empathize.
The original Little Mermaid, which is a Danish story, doesn’t get the prince in the
end, but rather dies of sadness and turns into sea foam. That opens up quite a different kind of discussion! But it is incredible how receptive children are. They want to
talk about all kinds of things. It seems to be more difficult for adults sometimes than
for children. Remember, they are mirroring our discomfort. If we talk about life’s
peaks and valleys in a non-dramatic way, our children will be more resilient in the
long run. Books are a great way to teach empathy.”
4. OLD PEOPLE ARE HAPPIER THAN PEOPLE IN THEIR 20’S
BY MANDY OAKLAND, TIME.COM, AUGUST 26, 2016
A surprising study suggests that the older you are, the happier.
Despite of the physical ravages of age, older people are actually happier than
So finds a new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, in which researchers analyzed data collected from a random sample of 1,546 people from ages
21 to 99 in San Diego. After a phone interview, the people in the study filled out a
long survey asking about their physical, cognitive and mental health. Question topics
included how happy and satisfied with life they were, as well as how depressed, anxious or stressed they were.
“There’s this idea that old age is bad, it’s all gloom and doom and older people are
usually depressed, grumpy and unhappy,” says study author Dr. Dilip Jeste, a geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at the University of California, San Diego. Happiness and wellbeing are thought to take a U-shaped curve
throughout life, dipping down in middle age before inching up again later in old age.
But that’s not what the surveys said. Older people were physically more disabled and
had more cognitive impairment than younger ones—the natural deterioration of aging—but in mental health, the advantage flipped. People in their 20s and 30s reported having the highest levels of depression, anxiety and stress, plus the lowest levels of happiness, satisfaction and wellbeing. Older people, surprisingly, were the happiest.
The study was just a snapshot in time; it didn’t follow people to track how their answers changed throughout their own lives. But taken as a whole, “as they got older, it looks like things started getting better for them,” Jeste says. “It suggests that with age, there’s a progressive improvement in mental health.”
What’s so terribly hard about being young? After the turbulence of adolescence, real
life begins, with its many financial, educational, romantic and career-oriented demands, Jeste says. “There is constant peer pressure: you’re looking at others and always feeling bad that you’re not succeeding like some of them, and you feel like you have lots of choices but you’re not really making use of them.”
Older people are much better able to brush off life’s small stressors and accumulate
a valuable thing called wisdom: being emotionally stable and compassionate, knowing yourself and being able to make smart social decisions, Jeste says.
Some evidence suggests that life today also really is easier for older folks than it
used to be; one study found that depressive symptoms in late life have declined
from 1998 to 2008. Other research supports a worsening trend for younger adults,
who seem to have more depression and anxiety than youth in recent decades.
Though the reasons why aren’t yet clear, “it is conceivable that the changes in societal functioning because of progressive globalization, technology development, increased competition for higher education and for better paying jobs and changing roles of women in the society are likely to impact young women and men more than they might affect older people,” Jeste says. “Any relatively rapid changes tend to bring in stress for the people most affected.”
6. WHAT YOU’RE MEANT TO DO…
BY BRIAN WIEST, PERSONAL GROWTH, MEDIUM.COM, JULY 25, 2016
You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love.
You’re Meant To Do What You’re Good At.
When people learn that I’m a writer, more than half of them will immediately tell me
about how they have an idea for a book, or that they need an editor for their autobiography, or that, though it sounds crazy, they are certain they have this one idea
that would be a mega bestseller. Like, one of the biggest books in the world.
I have not known one of them to have published anything — nor are they working on
their (supposedly brilliant) bodies of work. They aren’t asking about how to write
5,000+ words a day. They aren’t strategizing their marketing plans, or researching
agencies, or pitching queries to publishing houses.
In other cases, writing a few articles a day becomes too much labor, their ideas dry
out after a month. They’re frustrated. They’re at odds with themselves. The very
thing they love is proving to be a wrong fit. How can this be?
We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and
pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate what they really love and
what they love the idea of.
But more importantly, you are not meant to do what you love. You are meant to do
what you’re skilled at. Imagine an aspiring doctor with a low IQ but a lot of “passion.” They wouldn’t make it through medical school, and you wouldn’t want them to.
If that person didn’t know better, they’d develop an inferiority complex and spend
the better part of their life bitter and assuming themselves to be failures. They didn’t
get to do what they thought they loved, so they haven’t actualized their lives as they
were supposed to.
Premeditating what we think we’d love to do without actually being in the thick of it
is the beginning of the problem, and having too much ego to scrap it and start over
is the end. When we try to anticipate what we’d love, we’re running on a projection,
an assumption. Almost everybody believes they have the talent to succeed at the
thing they really love. Needless to say, not everybody is correct.
If everybody did what they thought they loved, the important things wouldn’t get
done. To function as a society, there are labors that are necessary. Someone has to
do them. Is that person robbed of a life of passion, because they had to choose a life
of skill and purpose? No, of course not.
You can choose what you love to do, simply by how you think of it and what you focus on. Everything is work. Everything is work. Everything is work. There are few jobs that are fundamentally “easier” than others, whether by virtue of manual labor or brain-power. There is only finding a job that suits you enough that the work doesn’t feel excruciating. There is only finding what you are skilled at, and then learning to be thankful.
The real joy of daily work is in what we have to give. We are not fulfilled by what we
can seek to please us, but what we can build and offer. It is not fame, or money, or
recognition that makes for a thoroughly meaningful life, it is how we put our gifts to
use. It is how we give.
Think about the structure of that phrase: “Do what you have to give.” What you have
to give. What is already within you. Your gifts are not random, they are a blueprint
for your destiny. There’s more to your life than just what you think will make you
happy. Your real talents may not stroke your ego as much, but if you apply to them
the kind of higher thinking that allows you to find the purpose within them, you will
be able to get up every single day and work diligently. Not because you are stoking
your senses and stroking your ego, but because you are using what you have.
You are doing what you came here to do.
7. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:
A GREAT OLDIE: POWERS OF TEN: SEE THE SIZE OF THE UNIVERSE…
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