To Walk with Kindness

To Walk with Kindness

2019.08.14-15

 

The greatest myths we encounter are those that influence our behavior the most. These are those myths that directly affect our psyche, our self-esteem, our attitudes about life and our neighbors. Sadly, many politicians and people with a microphone are busy weaving myths about those from whom they differ. Statistics are quoted that have no factual basis. Myths are woven about people who seem different and those different people became the enemy. Statues, temples, and even churches were erected in ancient times to protect people from the villains of myths. Churches were named after saints from whom believers sought protection.

 

“There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple. The philosophy is kindness.” The Dali Lama was not referring to mythology when he said those words but he could have been. Mankind erected temples to the deities created by the myths of the cultures on earth. The temples were evidence of our devotion, our faith. We must recognize that those temples and our modern churches are merely edifices. They hold no real power except that which our faith affords them. They offer no protection nor can they give us life. How we live is the only thing that can do that.

 

The best tool for living might very well be compassion for one’s neighbor. Although compassion is not readily available nor is there an excess of it, it is far easier to have compassion for another human being or animal than for ourselves. Here we encounter a myth. The myth is that it is selfish to have compassion for ourselves. In reality, we need to take care of ourselves. Certainly a parent cannot do this to the exclusion of providing for his or her children but being healthy for ourselves is also important. Living a healthy lifestyle is not a fad; it is a necessity for life.

 

There is a great deal of difference between practicing a healthy lifestyle and making it a priority and indulging in personal likes. Partaking of vitamin D and simple carbohydrates in a healthy portion is maintaining a balanced diet which will result in a fit human being. Eating a gallon of ice cream which contains those vitamin D and simple carbohydrate nutrients is indulgence.

 

All too often many of us have an internal voice that is overly critical and seldom, if ever, compassionate. Having the same compassion for yourself that you might have for a friend is not being indulgent or egotistical. It can be productive and inspiring. Criticism that is destructive has no place in a healthy lifestyle. It is not motivating nor should it be considered such. Helpful critiques, however, can lead to better outcomes. These include noticing what was good, even if the only good thing was that you tried. Give yourself credit for the little things and the big things will no longer be an issue.

 

We need to befriend ourselves. Most know the exercise on Facebook of responding to a friend request. How often do we send ourselves a friend request? Once sent and accepted, how often do we use our internal voice as a friend to ourselves? Very few people would tell a friend it was their fault that the plants in their garden died during a drought. Most who garden, though, expect themselves to be able to predict the weather, control the weather, and produce the most bountiful and beautiful gardens ever imagined. We seldom place impossible expectations on our friends and yet almost always place them on ourselves.

 

Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin talks about the myths regarding compassion in her aptly titled book, “Compassion”.   She discusses the isolation that we often feel when confronted with our imperfect actions. “The important thing is to remember that we have a shared humanity. We all are flawed, we all make mistakes, we all have weaknesses.”

 

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel has written a book about overcoming the imperfections we experience in life. Her book is titled “Bounce Back! 5 Keys to survive and thrive through life’s up and downs.” She offers this suggestion. “I want you to visualize this: You’re sitting on a plane and, as it begins to taxi, the flight attendant starts the safety review. You’re so used to this that you hardly hear what she’s saying. But I want you to pay attention to something she says that is very important: “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.” In order to be most present and compassionate with others, you must first practice loving-kindness and compassion with yourself. Go ahead. You deserve it.”

 

Currently it would seem that a religion of hatred has become popular. Most have heard the directive to love thy neighbor but suddenly it would seem that the “neighbor” has become the enemy. No one race is better than another and no one person deserves more compassion than another. We are all part of the fabric of mankind. Believe in the myth that allows compassion…for yourself and for others. It is a road which will lead to a healthier and more productive life for us all.

 

Feel

Feel

2019.02.10

Mindfulness – The Human Spirit

 

 

My vacation is over and I realized through it all that some things never change.  Whether we are on vacation, at a spiritual retreat, or caught up in the busyness of everyday living, we continue to feel.  For the last decade, it seems like all we hear about are opinions rather than facts and how we should feel.  It is enough to make a person want to hide.  At a time when most people need to cool down and stop spreading the hateful, nonproductive rhetoric that marked the last several years of political mudslinging in the USA and worldwide, it might seem strange that I am encouraging you to be open and feel.

 

I sincerely hope I get some responses to this question:  How do you feel?  I am not asking just about how you feel regarding the political verbiage.  I am asking how you feel… in general and specifically.  How do you feel?  It really is not a trick question.  Nor is it a complex one.  How do you feel?  The reason I am asking you is that feelings matter.  They comprise the very core of who we are.

 

Feelings are important.  The University of Wisconsin encourages students to consider their feelings as a barometer of their own health and emotional well-being.  “Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience — they are less “processed” and more “raw” than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current “inside” state.”

 

Eckhart Tolle explains the important of our feelings this way.  “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind – or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.”

 

Emotional competency is a popular phrase that is trending right now and learning to recognize the emotions of others as well as ourselves helps build strong relationships.  That brings me to my intention with today’s post.  How are you feeling?  Have you realized that others are feeling those same emotions?  We all experience the same feelings.  Perhaps not at the same time and not in the same consequential fashion but we all experience the same emotions.  At some point we have all felt happy, sad, proud, scared, jealous, hopeful, envious, sorry, tired, exasperated, sympathetic, upset, overjoyed, angry, elated, relieved, grateful, bored, excited….. The list could go on and on.  We all feel the exact same way although not at the exact same time.  Why?  Because we really are, at our core, similar. 

 

Some might argue that not all of these are emotions.  Some would characterize them as mental states of being.  In the 1991 book, “Emotion and Adaptation”, author Richard Lazarus lists several mental states that may be emotion related, but are not themselves actual emotions. The list includes the complex states of: grief and depression; the ambiguous positive states of: expansiveness, awe, confidence, challenge, determination, satisfaction, and being pleased; the ambiguous negative states of: threat, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, meaningless, and awe; the mental confusion states of bewilderment and confusion; the arousal states of: excitement, upset, distress, nervousness, tension, and agitation; and finally the pre-emotions of: interest, curiosity, amazement, anticipation, alertness, and surprise.

 

Again, we all experience those very same mental states of being.  Why?  Because they are related to our emotions, the very same emotions we all experience.  So how does this affect our actions?  After all, most words used to describe emotions are adjectives, not verbs.  It is relevant because our emotions often affect and determine our actions.  More importantly, when we criticize others for their feelings, we limit our right to experience those very same feelings.

 

No one is so good that they should not experience sadness and we all, at some point in time, will.  Even the bravest of us have felt fear and I sincerely hope that we all have hope.  My wish is that I get back hundreds of responses telling me people felt happy, relief, joy, gratitude, etc. but the reality is that some today experienced grief, uncertainty, or pain.  Life is not easy.  Not all feelings are going to be positive.

 

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? …As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”  This passage from Cornelia Funke’s book “Inkspell” refers to reading a book but I think it applies to our feelings.

 

Feelings broaden our perspective and when we allow others to have those very same feelings, we broaden our world.  We begin to see that the world is not made up of many different people but of different variations of ourselves.  The outside packaging might look very different but each is a version of one, at different stages.  When we learn to respond to the pain of others, listen to their feelings, then we can begin to be together, truly together, living in peace and harmony. 

Grace in Knowledge

Grace in Knowledge

Advent – 3

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Grace was also a concept given to only a few.

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church, the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexisted as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The Crusaders in the eleventh century unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

AS man delved further into knowledge, though, the question of grace had to be answered.  Do we live each day with grace or is it lived in dissension leading to the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”  How we do that is determined by the grace we show and live to each other and to ourselves.  Grace might very well be the key to a brighter future oif we extend it to each other.

 

 

Electing to …

Electing to ….

Pentecost 170

 

In 2011 author Judith O’Reilly decided to do one good deed every day.  In an article written for the London-based Daily Mail’s online publication fittingly known as “Mail Online”, columnist Bianca London interviewed O’Reilly.  ‘I didn’t realize when I made the resolution that New Year what I was taking on,’ she says in the epilogue to her book.  “I’d made resolutions before… but the idea of doing one good deed a day morphed into something else again.  ‘This year made me question what a good life is, how we give our lives meaning, and what it is to love.  ‘It also taught me that people don’t always want the good you want to do, and that doing good – believe you me – is harder than it looks.”

 

Today in the United States, voters are twenty-four hours away from electing a new President of the United States of America.  It has been an election that many claim is unlike any other.  A candidate considered to be ill-suited has parlayed his lack of experience into an asset.  The more experienced candidate has been criticized for living a life that – well, gave her experience.   However those voting choose to vote, I hope they  will focus on the spirit of living and remember that, through our voting, we show our the beliefs we profess to hold dear.

 

I recently got called out by a person regarding my “seemingly liberal views” in a comment.  I always enjoy feedback and often answer direct questions.  I respect everyone for having a point of view because I also have a point of view.  However, this person asked me to apologize and explain my stance so, my first deed suggestion for this series, is ….respect.

 

Earlier this year I told you about my attending a lecture series having five parts.  The last speaker talked about the environment and said several things that were, scientifically, not factual.  Did I stand up and scream “Liar!”?  No, of course I did not.  This person had the right as an invited speaker to say what they wished.  I deeply regret that some people walked out of the meeting thinking erroneous facts but respect for another required that I say nothing.  There were several courses of actions I could have taken afterwards.  One would have been to engage the speaker in some polite chatter and asked for their references, casually mentioning what I felt might have been said in error.  Another would have been to send them a letter comparing my references with theirs and asking for what clarification or reconciliation they knew.  A third would have been to accept that the series was more about gathering together than about academic learning and that others probably realized this as well.

 

I elected the third course of action, out of respect.  Was it a pleasing choice?  No, not really but I do believe it to have been the best.  I could, of course, be entirely wrong about that and would love to hear your thoughts.  I sincerely hope no one left the meeting and became a vegetarian because of the speaker’s comments that beef cattle are ruining the atmosphere with the amount of methane gas they discharge.  The truth is that dairy cattle produce twice as much methane gas as beef cattle.  Becoming a vegetarian may be the best health choice for someone but such a decision should be based on health and religious reasons, not a misspoken statement given in a speech.

 

Was I disappointed that the speaker gave out erroneous information, this being just one example?  Naturally I was but again, that is the decision this person made.  We all make such decisions, whether it is to jaywalk or pull into a parking place someone else had their eye on or even to short tip a server for their services.  These decisions reflect on our being and illustrate our own spirit of living.

 

I will not apologize to my readers for being a liberal because I don’t think of myself that way.  Reminding that the person screaming about one man’s infidelity also committed infidelity in his own marriage and did so in his multiple marriages does not necessarily make me a liberal.  It means simply that I have a brain and memory and am putting both to use.

 

I firmly believe if we put eight people in a room and ask them one question each regarding the topics of religion, faith, lifestyle choices, or even just fashion preferences, for each question we would probably receive at least twelve difference answers.  We should insist everyone think exactly the same as we do.  We must respect another person’s right to their own opinion, even when it contradicts their own actions.

 

It is that contradiction that I hope to illustrate and, perhaps, cause us to consider.  I firmly believe most of us are good people and try to live good lives.  We sometimes just don’t stop to think and yes, that includes me.  Never think I hold myself up as a sterling example.  I am, as my bio states, a struggling wanderer on the road of life and I have fallen into more than my fair share of pot holes and taken wrong turns in life.

 

Life is a journey and I hope in this blog and particularly in this series, to offer a few ways to make that journey a little more pleasurable and effective.  I hope I have, in this series for Pentecost, challenged you during this series to make this time a little less ordinary and a bit more productive – both for the world, your community, and most importantly, yourself.

 

“You were ordered to obey to Allah, and you were created to perform good deeds.”  While I do not identify as a Muslim, I really do appreciate this quote.  The author is considered to be the first person to convert to Islam, being a cousin to Muhammad.   As a collector of quotations, he is among my favorites.  Respect today that wisdom knows no labels or sectarian divides and do yourself a favor by reading up on this man and some of his quotations.

 

William Shakespeare once wrote “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”  We can all do our little part to make the world a better place.  It is, in every religion and spirituality, part of the credo for living.  Whether liberal or conservative, non-religious person or devout, doing good just makes good sense.  It doesn’t take a lot of money to create a smile.

 

As those of us in the USA go to the polls to vote tomorrow, I hope we will vote for a better tomorrow for all and not simply allow fear to be our compass.  The point of living is not to do so in sixty-second sound bites but to make a meaningful and lasting positive impression.  Richelle Goodrich sums it up very succinctly:  “Every sunrise is an invitation for us to arise and brighten someone’s day.”

 

Thankful

Thankful  

Pentecost 78

 

You can find a survey about most anything.  Facebook is certainly proof about that.  Still, I never thought I’d come across a survey like this.  It was entitled simply “Your Best Insult”.  One of the things I like best about writing this blog (Your comments and our discussions are numbers one and two, of course!) is the research I do for it.  I certainly don’t know everything; I admitted I was not perfect in yesterday’s post.  In the name of research I have read books I probably would have just passed by and attended gatherings I would have not shown up for because… well, because I am just like everyone else and varying from the norm is not a habit of mine.

 

The term “comfort zone” is simply a collection of behaviors that we continue to repeat.  It is not a location nor should it be our destination.  For most of us, our “comfort zone” is where we live, where we feel most comfortable.  It is what we do and continue to do… over and over again.  Our comfort zone is made up of those things that are common to us, familiar in their repetition.

 

None of us are born with a comfort zone, by the way.  We come into this world making the biggest leap of faith possible.  We leave a safe and protected environment and are immediately thrust into a world in which we must fend for ourselves.  We also suddenly are dependent upon others for everything.  We have no chance to develop a comfort zone because we are too busy learning and developing, acquiring new skills and trying new things.  It is called growing, surviving and thriving.

 

At some point, though, we do cultivate a comfort zone and it is often without even realizing it.  We settle in and get cozy in our comfort zone and then suddenly – BAM! An insult comes along and shatters our sense of security we have found within that comfort zone home.  Most of us try to avoid insults so why on earth, I thought to myself, would some create a survey entitled “Your best insult”, especially in an article about bettering one’s self?

 

The survey questions numbered twenty and I am not going to list them all here.  A few did catch my attention, however, so let’s discuss those.  First question: “ What insult was said to you that you actually consider a compliment?”   I remember once having my name mentioned as being the chairperson of an upcoming event.  Another stood up and said: “Not her!  She thinks life is just a collection of learning opportunities.”  The statement was said in a room of almost one hundred people and two hundred eyes instantly turned and looked at me to see how I was reacting.  A few close friends began to say something but I stood up and replied:  “I was going to protest but you know what?  She is absolutely right.  Thank you for noticing.”  I had never really thought of myself or life in that connotation but the statement was absolutely correct.  It not only became a compliment, it helped me define my approach to life.

 

More recently I received another such “insult”.  It would certainly answer the above insult survey question as well as this next one:  “What so-called “insult” will you adopt as a life mantra?”  It is no secret that I attend a church and, like many churches, this one has educational and self-growth opportunities.  One such retreat was being discussed when one of those talking suddenly turned to me and asked why I was not contributing to the conversation.  I replied I had not ever been to the retreat.  Her response was immediate:  “Oh, of course not.  You wouldn’t fit in!”  She then continued to try to talk the woman sitting right next to me into attending.

 

Let’s ignore that the purpose of a church is to share the “good news” of the faith.  Let’s ignore the fact that one of the admonitions given to those that believe is kindness and charity to all.  Let’s even forego the obvious insult in saying I was too….well, exactly what I am not certain.  While I sat there in my instant “OUCH!” reaction, which is how most of us first respond to insults, I suddenly realized just what a great compliment I had been given.

 

It is my fervent and constant belief that any faith-based group that is exclusive is more a social club than a faith-based group.  Whether they are called synagogues or churches, temples or shrines, they have doors and those doors are supposedly open to all who wish to believe.  Please reread that last sentence.  I did not say the doors were open to a select few, or those who shopped at certain stores.  They are not open only to those who know everything.  The doors are an opening through which all who wish to learn and believe can pass.

 

We can either let insults grow ourselves or we can let them be a pesticide that sucks the life out of us.  The survey concluded with some very intense questions:  At the last event you attended that included people you consider friends. Who approached you and shared a handshake or hug?  Who asked about how you were doing?  Who just talked about themselves without inquiring about you?  How do you define friendship?  How do you define yourself?

 

We often let insults define us.  We give into the pain they generally cause and let them motivate us into crawling deeper into our comfort zone.  The most recent event I attended was one in which I knew almost everyone.  Less than one tenth said hello to me, two approached me but none offered a hug or handshake and no one asked how I was.  The paragraph at the end of the Best Insult Survey advised that we need to survey our situations, not just ourselves.  At this event, people congregated in clichés, staying within their own comfort zone.  Two joined my group that only vaguely knew the others.  As one said, “My eyes know you because I have seen you around.” 

 

Surveying the situation led me to realize that my group was not a cliché and people felt comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone and joining such a group.  During the exercise, the group of strangers became a group of acquaintances, realizing those things held in common and supporting each other in those things that made them different.  A group that began with people who did not seemingly “fit in” became a group of believers and sharing, a group practicing their faith instead of just talking about it.

 

Certainly if people shy away from us we need to take stock and ask if we are subconsciously sabotaging ourselves.  Sometimes, though, maybe we need to look at the situation and not just ourselves.  We can all recognize an insult when one is given or acted out.  However, maybe we need to do a quick survey of said insult and ask ourselves if it is really painful or something for which to be thankful.  Sometimes that insult might just be the best compliment you have ever received.

 

How we react to both insults and compliments can make or break us.  No one handles everything perfectly.  We need to forgive ourselves and others for being human and imperfect.  In her book “Unglued”, Lysa Terkeurst talks about having a messy closet.  She discusses how she is not a mess of a person just because she happens to have a messy closet.

 

All too often we see the mess of life and assume the person in the middle of it is a mess.  Sometimes that person is us.  Occasionally we might be forgiving, thinking we are not alone in creating said mess.  All too often, though, we are not as forgiving to others.  One of the best insults I ever received was done in a very public place but then, in a second, it became one of the funniest events in my life and the start of a beautiful friendship.

 

Cafeterias are never easy because I always end up with more to carry than I really should attempt.  One day at a business conference I found myself trying to balance a conference packet, purse, glass of tea and a tray overladen with small bowls and one large plate.  Somehow, a small bowl of salad slipped over the edge of the tray and bounced right up onto to foot of one of the conference guest speakers.  The noisy room suddenly became silent.  The speaker squatted down and picked up my bowl and handed it back to me.  “You have to be in the top two for clumsy of all people here today.”  I was mortified as I watched my salad dressing drip from her shoes.  Certainly this was the bottom of the pit of my adult life.  Then this speaker placed the bowl back on my tray and hugged me.  “Thank heavens I found you.  I am always the clumsiest person in a group so I am glad to have found a dropsy sister in you!  My tray is over there,” she said pointing to a table.  “Come join me, please, and we can talk about other embarrassing things we have in common.”  Later I learned that earlier in the day this speaker had been floundering and felt like a failure.  “No one seemed to be listening,” she explained to me.  “Then you asked a question and after I answered, thanked me for answering.”  My one simple thank you had given her back her confidence, just as her helping me with my spilling the tray had made the whole thing less humiliating.

 

Gratitude can be a powerful thing.  All too often we forget its power and the ability it has to make the ordinary extraordinary.  Thank you for reading this.  Feel free to share how gratitude has made a difference in your own life.

Dot; Crackle; Dashing!

Dot; Crackle; Dashing!
Epiphany 24

No one will ever know exactly how early man learned how to use the puffs of smoke that resulted from fires to communicate over distance. Early aboriginal and other native tribes adopted a “Live and Let Live” attitude regarding neighboring tribes usually. At some point, though, smoke signals became a way of communication. Lights atop lighthouses also were early means of communication as were the mariner flags used by sailors. Not all were ways to fully communicate, though.

The Frenchman Claude Chappe worked with his brother to assist their beloved government during the French Revolution. France was in danger of losing and needed a way to communicate across distances. Chappe used the word “Semaphore” as the name of a device that transmitted messages over distances, a French combination of two Greek words meaning sign and bearer. Like its precursors, though, Chappe’s semaphore required good weather and was practically useless at night. Nonetheless, it was considered quite the epiphany when, in 1791, the first message was sent via the semaphore: “If you succeed, you will bask in glory.” Chappe’s semaphore began to be duplicated once the French Revolution had ended but the weather conditions needed were still a hindrance.

The bright idea to use electricity appeared in a magazine in Scotland in the mid eighteenth century. A wire was used for each letter of the alphabet and the terminals were connected to an electrostatic machine. By observing the deflection of pith balls at the other end of the machine, the message could be transmitted. The pith ball was made from the spongy inner core of plant materials and conducted an electrical charge very well. Over all, the devices were considered impractical and became obsolete.

English inventor Francis Ronalds had an epiphany in the early nineteenth century and built the first electrostatic machine. In his garden he placed eight miles of wire inside insulated glass tubing. He then connected both ends to two clocks on which were written the letters of the alphabet. Electrical impulses sent along the wire transmitted the message but there was little enthusiasm for his device. Thus the first electrical telegraph was forgotten. Ten years later, Russian diplomat Pavel Schilling created another electromagnetic telegraph machine. He placed two of his designs in different room and employed a binary system of signal transmissions.

The telegraph lived up to its name by being both a transmitter and a receiver. Another combination of two Greek words, with a telegraph one could indeed write at a distance but then the receiver could also reply… immediately. Germans Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber improved on the telegraph design so that it could be used for regular transmissions and transmit over a distance of one kilometer. Their device consisted of a coil that moved up and down across the end of two magnetic bars. The induction current was then sent through two wires to the receiver which was a galvanometer. The direction of the current could also be reversed. Gauss and Weber also used a binary code for their alphabet.

Four years later American Samuel Morse demonstrated his epiphany and introduced the world to a new type of telegraph. Samuel Morse was the son of a Massachusetts Calvinist minister. A Yale graduate with noted intelligence, Morse gained a favorable reputation as a portrait artist. He traveled over Europe and was well known to the American Revolutionary heroes of the time. In 1825 he was commissioned by New York City to paint a portrait of his friend Lafayette. While doing so, a horse messenger arrived with a note informing him of his wife being critically ill. Before Morse could return home she had passed away and been buried.

The tragedy of his wife’s death led Morse to become determined to solve the riddle of fast long distance communication. A chance shipboard meeting with Charles Thomas Jackson of Boston led to Morse’s epiphany for a single-wire telegraph. Jackson was well-versed in electromagnetism and Morse used his electromagnet in his experiments. He developed the first Morse telegraph, applied for a patent and then devised a system of dots and dashes that, amid the electric crackle would replace letters of the alphabet in communicating. This rhythmic method of transmission is still used today.

The message sent on Morse’s telegraph or any electrical telegraph became known as a telegram. Later, those sent by submarine telegraph cable would be called cablegrams. Even later, a switched network of teleprinters developed a network for transmissions and a message sent over one of the teletype machines was called a telex.

It is said that “Necessity is the mother of invention”. The need for Napoleon to communicate with his troops led Frenchman Claude Chappe to his epiphany of the semaphore. Russian diplomat Pavil Schilling developed a system of on and off to duplicate the entire alphabet, a binary system used by computers today. Grief led Samuel Morse to his second career as an inventor and Morse Code which is not only used to send telegrams but also as distress codes for mariners, pilots, and anyone for whom the spoken word is not effective.

The telegraph is an invention that is universal in the contributions of those who made it the success it reached. From its early beginnings in prehistoric times as primitive smoke signals to electronic pulses of dots and dashes, it is a bright idea that shows what mankind can accomplish when the focus is on the creation and not personal greed or arrogance. Today we have quick response codes, better known as QR codes. They are black and white pixilated squares found on cereal boxes, library posters, advertisements, and receipts. A matrix barcode, the QR reader connects the printed image with digital information, a visual sort of telegraph for the twenty-first century. With one single QR code, an entire document’s worth of information can be relayed.

While QR codes are about twenty years old, there is an even older and quicker means of communicating. It is called behavior. Our actions really do speak louder than our words, even those sent over great distances or pixilated into square images. How we treat each other is a continuous epiphany, a stream of information conveying to others our intentions, our emotions, and most importantly, what we believe.