Here's a snapshot of the world around me in recent weeks:
- I met with a couple who sought some advice for their daughter, a college softball player. One of their concerns was that the daughter's coach had a habit of making their daughter feel bad and cry.
- I asked a golf buddy how he fared in the state amateur golf championship. He told me that the greens were slow that week because of heavy rains. He said he doesn't like, and never scores well on, slow greens.
- Sitting in a coffee shop early on a Sunday morning, I watched a disheveled woman walk in and beg a man at the counter for a cup of coffee and something to eat. The man ignored her, stormed out, and under his breath asserted that beggars make him "so ___ angry."
My gosh. It's time we all wake up.
Our feelings come from inside of us, folks. Nothing on the outside can affect what happens on the inside, including our aptitude to perform to the best of our ability, or do good for others for that matter.
Now this is a drastic departure from the outside-in paradigm that has swept our culture. Just watch commercials on TV, peruse the websites of the world's most famous self-help experts, or simply listen to your friends hold others responsible for their own emotions or level of performance -- and it's impossible to miss what I'm talking about. One well-known self-help author has even fashioned a career by telling people what to do when external circumstances knock them down. Why in the world do we need strategies to overcome something that has no capacity to knock us down in the first place?
Indeed, just about everyone seems to be searching for an excuse for why they feel or act the way they do. I do it, too. Every now and then I fault others, or my circumstances, for how I feel and lose my way. But, thankfully, most of the time I remember that it won't help to blame my past, my environment, or someone else. Why? Because the only creator of my feelings is me. I just need to look inside when I struggle -- to the ever-changing nature of my thinking -- all my answers are there.
President Obama gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College last month. His words were indicative of his level of understanding for the fact that we shape our perceptions from the inside out and not the outside in. He said to the graduating students:
"Growing up, I made quite a few [mistakes] myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing."
But, the president implored, "We've got no more time for excuses."
Right on, Mr. President. Wise men rarely offer excuses. Sure, sometimes they think wayward thoughts (like faulting others). But they understand that -- no matter how much it looks otherwise -- their thinking and the feelings that follow have nothing to do with other people, events, or their surroundings.
I know it might sound strange, but remember: Thought is a spiritual principal, not a circumstantial one. And this, surprisingly enough, is the simple secret to avoiding excuses, finding solutions, and contributing positively to the world instead.
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