These Things Think Upon

In the “Food for Thought” Sunday posts, by nomination of Citizen Tom, and snuck in barely on Sunday after a period of traveling:

Philippians 4 has an exhortation that is appropriate for Thanksgiving — and it is a reminder to be optimistic, and to manage your thoughts. In the Young’s Literal Translation:

8 As to the rest, brethren, as many things as are true, as many as [are] grave, as many as [are] righteous, as many as [are] pure, as many as [are] lovely, as many as [are] of good report, if any worthiness, and if any praise, these things think upon;

It is good advice, whether you are a believer or not. And it is exceedingly difficult in some respects.  When I encountered this, decades ago, it struck me as a worthwhile goal but challenging.  Much later I saw it echoed and amplified in a quote by Christian Larsen that hangs upon by wall near my desk where it has hung for most of two decades:

Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet. Make all your friends feel there is something special in them. Look at the sunny side of everything. Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give everyone a smile. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. Be too big for worry and too noble for anger. — Christian D. Larsen

That quote is often ascribed to Norman Vincent Peale, and it does sound rather like him.  There is one point of conflict between the Larsen quote and Philippians 4, and that has to do with “as many [things] as [are] grave….”  It does seem to me that there are grave issues facing the world in general, and the United States as a nation, and I am inclined to write about them.

I don’t have any sense of hate, nor even anger. But I do feel a sense of disappointment, and some sadness, regarding certain aspects of human interactions, from the conflicts now raging and those imminent in the future, to science and politics and the unhappy collision between them. To the extent that I think, write and talk about these issues, I am not a good follower of the advice in the Larsen quote, though these “grave” issues might be shoehorned into the instruction in Philippians 4 with some rationalization.

What is the difference between “worry” and “concern” in a context like this?  Am I guilty of worry?  Perhaps. I don’t feel a personal anxiety about these matters, but I do have a great concern and I am motivated to influence a better outcome if at all possible. It does not keep me up, does not raise my blood pressure, and does not affect affect my disposition; I am “naturally” optimistic.

I use “naturally” in quotes because these are habits developed over long practice, so that by now they are natural enough. But this wasn’t always true, and I can pinpoint the night I decided to change my thinking patterns.  One way in which this change manifests is in how I think about work.  Fortunately, I learned it right about the time I first started working for a regular job. I did not generally enjoy my early work mowing lawns and delivering papers, but not too long after I started punching a timeclock at age 12 I worked out the “Jedi mind trick” of enjoying my work.

But despite my generally positive thinking patterns, much of my writing here may seem negative enough; I point out problems in topics ranging from the political to the religious to the scientific. I am endlessly fascinated by the universe we live in (though we perceive only a small part of it), and I am always a seeker after knowledge. And in sharing a bit of knowledge here, I am forced to learn more — and this is good for me.  I can quote various events from history or political doings well enough, but when I dig into sources to support these things, I learn some additional details and subtleties that expand my own knowledge — especially since that involves more research on the credibility of the new bits.

I will do what I can to keep these writings positive and constructive, despite the fact that there are substantial course changes to be made.  There are core aspects of these writings about which I am very optimistic: the essential and inspired value of the US’s Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  We have strayed from these in the direction of statism, and to this extent the changes are bad for the country, and thus for the world. But it is, I think, fixable enough.

Philippians 4 follows the line quoted above with this note:

the things that also ye did learn, and receive, and hear, and saw in me, those do, and the God of the peace shall be with you.

For those believers, or even non-theists like myself who find worthwhile instruction in the Bible, striving to develop the habits taught and to follow the commandments can be rewarding. And indeed, may you succeed in your endeavors, and may peace be upon you all.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle