Category Archives: Bargaining

Before the Law

What can Franz Kafka’s parable, written in 1915, tell us?

Before the Law

Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”

What exactly is “the law?”  I’m sure it’s something real, but it doesn’t matter.  Alfred Hitchcock once said that every movie is a search for the MacGuffin.  Every character in the story lives or dies in relation to quest for the MacGuffin.

How often have you confronted a gatekeeper?  That mysterious person with unknown power.  They appear to hold the key you need.  Their power emanates from the knowledge you need.  Knowledge they often don’t possess.  Their greatest power comes from your insecurity.  The gatekeeper represents your desire to stay safe, risk nothing, step back.  Thank God that gatekeeper’s there!  Otherwise, I’d have to actually step through that gate, without any obstacle to block me.

The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside.

The gatekeeper isn’t there to grant permission.  Access isn’t his to grant.  Our hero focuses so intently on every last detail of the gatekeeper that he gets to avoid thinking about what lies beyond the gate.  The biggest challenges in life aren’t delivered in the first step but in the thousandth.

The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end, he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet.

Status quo is warm and comfy.  Pursuing the mundane is safe.  Busying ourselves with the day-to-day tasks gives us something to do, but doesn’t move us any closer to what lies beyond the next gate.

The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.”

All the preparation in the world is meaningless without the desire to put that preparation to work.  To take what you’ve learned and test it in the real world.  To learn the real lessons that come from experience.  To make the mistakes that can cost you everything…and nothing.  To risk real failure, and real triumph is what makes life most interesting.

During the many years, the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper.

How long have you waited for someone to pick you?  How long have you waited for your stars to align?  Stars are part of a perfectly ordered and yet totally chaotic system.  Their alignment is rare and temporary at best.

There are about 6 billion of us on this planet.  The law of averages (and large numbers) works against us being picked.  More likely, our small piece of the world is waiting for us to choose, and run in that direction.

The gatekeeper isn’t good or evil.  He has only one function.  To guard the gate, and warn us about the challenges that may lie ahead.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death, he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.

We don’t have to grow old for our vision to fail.  That can happen at any age.  It’s easy to lose focus.  It’s easy to find darkness in the midst of all the light.  We each have beacons of light to guide us if we choose to look in their direction.

The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it. 

Woe is me!  I’m the only person in pain.  I’m the only person with these challenges.  I’m the only person struggling.  The world is so unfair.  The deck is stacked against me.  Get over yourself!

Never assume you’re the only one struggling.  I saw a quote from That Gratitude Guy (look him up) recently that said, “Never compare your inside to their outside.”  Excellent advice.

Each of us has a path to follow.  Sometimes it’s smooth.  Sometimes not.  We will encounter obstacles on our journey and even more gatekeepers.

The most powerful gatekeeper of all is fear and the stories we tell to hide it.

No one else can overcome your fear.  That task is assigned only to you.

Photo Credit:  Unsplash, Joshua Earle.  Why this photo?  Why not a photo of a gate, a bureaucrat, darkness, or fear itself?  This photo reflects a beacon of light and an “impossible” next step.  Here’s hoping he finds his way past fear and towards the light.

 

Later…

Later creates room for compromises.

Later lives for tomorrow.

Later keeps lists.

Later allows us to avoid.

Later tells us why we’re preparing.

Later delays forgiveness.

Later is born from hope.

Later connects without really connecting.

Later captures what we imagine.

We often try to create what happens later by our actions today.

Later provides direction.

Later reduces today’s expectations.

Later can hijack the present.

Later is the carrier of our dreams.

Later gains power when it remains vague.

Later simplifies execution.

Later is where many careers will find their stride.

Later is where the craziest ideas go to die.

Later tells us it’s okay to delay.

Later is where big ideas find their future.

Later makes it okay to add complexity.

Later drags us reluctantly forward.

Later makes today easier.

Later makes today harder.

Later isn’t guaranteed.  It can easily turn into never if we allow it.

Later only matters in the present. By the time we get to later, there’s a new later that will once again seem more important than our new present.

There’s more to say on this subject.  I’ll probably get to it later…

Self-Talk

It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life.  It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power. –Robert T. Kiyosaki

The first person to give you feedback is yourself…in the form of self-talk.  You have 24/7 access to your internal talk track.  Your messaging is unfiltered and brutally honest.

Does unfiltered and honest mean accurate?  Does it mean valuable?  Not necessarily.

The truth is that no matter how incorrect your self-talk is, or how much you try to ignore it, you are your most trusted advisor.  You have the most power over yourself (for better or worse).

Negative self-talk is easy.  Bad news travels fast, especially when it doesn’t have to travel.

Positive self-talk is harder, and sometimes difficult to believe.  Our positive self-talk can sound a bit crazy, which makes it easier to discount.

Status quo is powered by doubt in our positive self-talk.

The most successful people I know face challenges with self-talk.  They happen to believe their positive self-talk just a little more than the negative.

The negative is right there, trying to hold them back.  Somehow they’ve found a way to focus on the positive, finding ways to push past their wave of doubt.

They’ve usually found kindred spirits who can help strengthen their positive self-talk.  A support network that reinforces their crazy ideas.  The best support network doesn’t fully buy-in to the crazy.  They merely create an environment where it’s okay to explore the crazy.  To bring it out in the open and let it breathe a little.

And, that’s the real secret of self-talk.  We all have negative and positive self-talk rolling around in our heads.  But, if we can allow the positive to get a little breathing room, that’s usually all it takes to win the internal battle against the negative.

Here’s the challenge:  The war between negative and positive is never over.  You have to win it one battle at a time.

The Power of Excuses

“If you really want to do something, you will find a way.  If you don’t, you will find an excuse.”  -Jim Rohn

Excuses have the power to stop almost anything.

Excuses are what we say to ourselves long before we use them on anyone else.

Excuses offer protection from responsibility.

Excuses help us cling to the status quo.

Excuses eliminate the need to take a risk.

Excuses stop us from reaching out to others when they need us most.

Excuses rob us of our potential.

A well-crafted excuse can justify a lifetime of inaction, with only one sentence.

Excuses are easy to find, and even easier to use.

The sad irony about excuses is that their power only impacts the person giving the excuse.

Everyone else knows the truth about your excuse, even if they have their own excuse for ignoring it.

Taking Time to Grieve

When someone we love dies, we often hear about the grieving process.  We hear that we should take time to grieve.  It’s something we can’t skip.

Grieving is unavoidable, no matter how busy or tough we think we are.

I remember when my Grandma Anne died (over twenty years ago).  My cousin, Devin, told me about DAWA, the four stages of the grieving process that he’d learned as a policeman:

Denial—we deny that the person has died, or that this is really happening.  We may also deny that it’s impacting us emotionally, or deny that we even understand the mix of emotions that are welling-up inside of us.

Anger—we realize this is real.  We wonder what we could have done differently.  We wonder how something like this could have happened.  We may question the justice in the universe, or how God could allow this.  Bargaining phrases like, “if only…” come into our mind.

Withdrawal—sometimes the only way to cope with the reality of our loss, and the emotions we can’t control, is to withdraw.  This may be within ourselves, or to some place where we can be alone.  Denial is giving way to reality.  Anger is turning to sadness.  We look within ourselves for the strength to overcome our sadness.

Acceptance—we begin to get our head wrapped around what is happening.  We start to make peace with this new reality.  Acceptance doesn’t mean we’re “over it,” or that there isn’t an irreparable rip in the fabric of our soul.  It means we start to understand how to go forward with our life.

It’s easy to list these stages and assume grief is a simple process with a beginning, middle, and end.  It doesn’t work that way.  Some people never get through all the stages, or, they may cycle through one or more of the stages numerous times.  It’s a process without a true endpoint…only the hope of eventual acceptance.

The grieving process applies to more than our loved ones passing away.  It can apply to losing just about anything else we love (whether we realize it or not).

Maybe it’s a friend who we don’t get to see anymore, a hobby we can no longer participate in, moving into a new house (and leaving the old one behind), graduating from college and saying goodbye to our friends, losing that job we thought we’d have for many years to come.

It doesn’t matter if we’re the ones driving the change in our life, or if the change is thrust upon us without warning.  It doesn’t matter if our loss is a stepping stone that leads us to something even greater (which is often the case).

The loss is real.

And, so is the grieving process.

Is the Treadmill You’re on Taking You Where You Want to Go?

Go in any gym and you’ll see a bunch of treadmills, elliptical steppers, and a few stair machines.

Treadmills can be set on a pre-programmed workout so speeds and inclines vary automatically.  Or, you can manually set the pace with the click of a button. Maybe you have a distance in mind, or you only have twenty minutes. The distance you run, and ultimately the time you spend on the treadmill are yours to decide.

Ellipticals simulate running without impact. You may remember those Gazelle Runner infomercials with the pony-tailed guy who always seemed so happy gliding along. I don’t get ellipticals. I see tons of people using them, sometimes for thirty minutes at a time. They never seem to be sweating. It looks like they are just going through the motions. I suppose it’s better than nothing, but just barely.

Stair machines do a decent job of simulating real stair climbing. It’s a high-intensity workout. I’ve never seen anyone spend ten minutes or more (male or female) on a stair machine and not be sweating profusely when they step off that machine.

These machines all have one thing in common. They simulate the real thing. I suppose the same can be said about weight machines, kettle bells, and TRX straps.  For many of us, these simulations are the real thing.  Hitting the gym for a workout is what we do for exercise. We spend the rest of our time doing whatever it is that we do between workouts.

I had a conversation recently that got me thinking about this topic. My friend said his life is like a treadmill every day. The speed and incline aren’t in his control. He’s running about as hard as he can, just to stay on the machine. To hear him describe things, he can’t get off.

We’ve all had times where we’re stuck on the treadmill. Working hard, hanging on, and focusing on the energy needed to take that next step. It’s all we can do to stay on the machine. We tell ourselves that if we can get control over the speed and incline settings, we’ll be alright. For a time, that works. We get to set the pace. We have some control, but we’re still on the machine, not going anywhere.

The question isn’t how to avoid being “trapped” on a treadmill, or wasting time on an elliptical machine. It is knowing that our time on these machines can prepare us for something bigger and more challenging. They can prepare us to reach for our real goals, and not just achieve the goal of staying on the machine.

We gain experience, endurance, and strength from our time on these machines. How we put these to use is up to us.

Our goals in life can only be achieved if we think about them, even when we feel stuck on the treadmill. Use the treadmill to get in shape, but remember you always control the stop button. The time will come for you to step off the treadmill. You choose the timing.

The treadmill prepares you, but won’t lead you where you want to go. That happens when you step off the machine.

Blindness and Elephants

elephant

The story of the blind men and the elephant originated in India.  It then spread across the world and through history in various versions.  Here’s the main story line:

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”  They had no idea what an elephant was. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.”

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man, who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! It’s like a rope,” said the second man, who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! It’s like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man, who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It’s like a big hand fan” said the fourth man, who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It’s like a huge wall,” said the fifth man, who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It’s like a solid pipe,” said the sixth man, who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and each of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated.  A wise man was passing by and saw this.  He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?”

They said, “We cannot agree what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like.

The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is that each of you touched a different part of the elephant.”

What part of the elephant are you holding onto?

Are you willing to listen to the way others describe the elephant?

Are you aware of your blindness?

The Bargains We Make

I came across this classic poem recently:

My Wage

I bargained with Life for a penny,

And Life would pay no more,

However I begged at evening

When I counted my scanty store.

For Life is a just employer,

He gives you what you ask.

But once you have set the wages,

Why, you must bear the task.

I worked for a menial’s hire,

Only to learn dismayed,

That any wage I had asked of Life,

Life would have willingly paid.

–by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948)

My Question for You

What is your bargain with Life?

Are you working for a penny, or something more?

How about your end of the deal?

Are you even keeping score?

If we get out of Life,

Only what we ask,

I say go for the Moon,

And reach for the stars.

But, are you willing to bear the task?