Surviving your attitude!

“On the chest of her gown for all to see, Hester bore a large scarlet cloth in the shape of a letter ‘A’ which stood for - adultery.” This is the theme of the novel, The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne who lived in the first half of the 1800’s. The story continues as it describes the valiant effort of Hester to correct and atone for her past as she struggled to survive against her scarlet letter ‘A’.

In a very real sense, we all are ‘Hester’ and we also wear a large letter ‘A’ on our chest. The letter ‘A’ stands for our ‘attitude’. You know from your own experience that many people wear this ‘scarlet letter’ which is very plain to see by observant people. There is a common expression; “He has an attitude.”

Our attitude is like a computer operating program. Some inputs are not recognized and are ignored, while other inputs are processed according to the rules established by the program. Our attitude is in a constant state of change as we mature from Level to level of personality development. We have a popular’ politically correct’ notion that one person’s ‘truth’ is as ‘good’ as another person’s truth, and there are no absolute values. We fail to realize that the ‘truth’ is filtered through a person’s attitude. ‘Truth’ doesn’t change but our perception of truth is constantly being amended.

While I served in the armed forces during WW2, I was stationed in another country where the natives held somewhat different values than we have as Americans. One American serviceman in our unit fell in love with a native girl. He talked about her all the time. One evening, he happened to find her on her knees before a man. His attitude toward her changed so drastically that if her name was mentioned he would spit and wipe his mouth in anger. Because attitudes can change, as adults, it is up to us to control our attitudes instead of allowing our attitudes to control us. We acquire our attitudes from several sources. We may get some attitudes from our family. Young children may say, “I am Republican” or “I am a Democrat”, reflecting the influence of other family members in their lives and really not representing their undeveloped political stance.

Our attitudes regarding ‘what is ‘good food’ is usually formed by the way your family was fed, perhaps with ethnic cooking of favorite foods. Family entertainment may be sports, music, gardening, reading good books, and a host of other family preferences. Many people traditionally watch sports as the main pastime on weekends. Other people may use this special time for visits with family.

Another important source of our attitudes is indoctrination in our schools. A teacher with a social agenda has much power and influence over students, both in grade school and in college. We ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’ if we allow our acquired attitudes to remain un-challenged as we strive for success. Unfortunately, college students often shed their family attitudes and replace them with the attitudes of academia, consisting of the prevalent attitudes of students and faculty. Both sources can be equally damaging. This is the area where ‘wisdom’ can be of great service. There are ancient Greek philosophers who are often quoted as well more contemporary writers who have expounded upon their particular beliefs. Many of them refer to this as ‘truth’. These are not the sources that I reference.

The ‘real wisdom’ applies to the truth that people achieve as they grow old enough to have learned the hard way, by making and surviving mistakes, as in “that really hurt. I will never do THAT again”. There is another way to grow in wisdom and that is to sit at the feet of a trusted teacher – a guru of you like. Wise parents can instill this trust in their children. The problem with this approach is that a person must have acquired enough wisdom to realize that he is not yet ‘wise’. There is an old saying that says; “The beginning of wisdom is to realize that you are a fool.” As long as you carry the attitude that that says that you know everything, you don’t and you never will. This theme will be repeated throughout this book, as it is one of several pillars that are necessary to acquire in order to ‘survive life’ and become a ‘successful’ person.

How can we know that we have a faulty attitude? Well, first of all, you will likely have many people letting you know that you have a problem. You may argue with people a lot, or you may be angry with other people and the way they express themselves to you. That’s a big clue, isn’t it? It is ‘the first rule of nature’ to defend yourself against threats of any kind, so you may be always on guard and ready to challenge others when they disagree with you. You may realize that your social life is not as pleasant as you see other people experience. You may be a ‘loner’ and keep to yourself a lot. People just don’t understand you. You may not get along with those who have some kind of authority over you, such as parents, teachers, or your employer. You may have fights with your ‘significant other’. What is the character of your best friends – the ones who agree most with you? What kind of reputation do they have? Do you have difficulty keeping a job? If he following is true of you, I am very sorry. This is a very ‘sneaky’ and destructive problem that can destroy your chances of success unless it is recognized and corrected. The problem is often caused by over-protective parents and a misconception of the truth as you apply it to successful people.

This problem is exemplified by comments such as “This is too hard to do.” “There must be an easier way.” The problem is that you don’t know how to try. Great success is usually achieved only by great effort. Effort is controlled by ‘attitude’. In today’s society, children are taught to have a poor attitude by their parents and by the school system. Parents want their children to have a better experience than they had. This is caused by 2 factors. One is the honest desire of parents to serve their children and the other is to promote a successful social image of the parents through their children. The other factor is the abdication of school systems from promoting learning and instead promoting the extra-curricular activities of sports, etc – as if this is what school in all about. The business of school children is learning! We don’t need special programs, as socializing is automatic in a strong learning environment. I know a person who is an adult who is working at a ‘job’ because he didn’t pay attention to the reason that he was in school. Now, he truly regrets wasting his time on school sports instead of working hard on his real reason for being in school. He lost his opportunity for college because he didn’t work at getting good grades.

I am not saying that extra-curricular activities are wrong or bad. I am saying that they are in a remote second place when compared to education. Our system has various ways of determining scholastic achievement, such as the SAT test. Tests are short glimpses into the level of education that a student has. By their nature, they are not comprehensive, but they are a ‘spot check’ to sample the level of learning. Now we have the travesty of ‘teaching the test’ instead of teaching the subject. Teachers have access to the test questions which the use to drill students so they will get good grades. This is the height of folly as it completely abrogates the purpose of the test. If your attitude and the attitude of your school is to prepare you to pass a test, you are a big loser.

Generally, home schooled children are far better educated that children educated in the public school because because the attitudes of the teachers and students are different. I am not trying to fix blame anywhere. I am simply stating a fact. The most significant learning that a student can require is an understanding of how his attitude will determine his success in life.

What is wrong with everybody?

If you often wonder what is wrong with ‘everybody’, you are likely looking in the wrong place. This kind of introspection is likely to be the most difficult personal challenge that you can face, because it goes against ‘everything you are’. This adventure can also be the most rewarding and profitable experience you can have as you learn ‘who you are’ (This is a constantly recurring theme of this book.) Sometimes, your friends will tell you who they believe that you ‘are’. Sometimes, you can enter into such a conversation by saying something about yourself, such as; “I wonder what kind of work I would be good at.” They may say something like; “I always pictured you as a …”

Our attitude establishes our approach to the important elements of life that must be properly considered in order for us to be ‘successful’. A phrase that I repeat in this book is; ‘we must know who we are’. For many/most people, this is a difficult concept to grasp, as we posture and declare that we certainly do know who we are! There is a ‘grand scheme’, if you like, that describes the proper relationships between all people. If we don’t understand what this is, or even know that it exists, we can be in much trouble and not know it.

When we finally get to it, we find that ‘the bottom line’ in this concept is; people are the same regarding privileges and responsibilities towards other people. With the exception of being born into a royal family with the privileges and responsibilities that this may bring, this does not imply or require all people to be equally endowed with intelligence, strength, or other attributes in order to qualify for such universal considerations.

Success in life requires successful relationships with the people in your life, regardless of what their personal social problems may be. You must successfully relate to others by understanding who they are in ‘the grand scheme of things’. To achieve this understanding, you must know how you ‘stack up’. The generalities are; nobody in ‘better’ than anyone else. Nobody owes anything to you that you do not also owe to them. This is the starting point. Of course, people are not equally endowed, so the proper considerations must be made in that respect, otherwise, people are all the same. People make errors in both directions as they may believe that they are more important and privileged than others, or they may think that they are inferior to others. This inferiority may be true in regards to many of their attributes, but nobody owes you anything that you do not also owe them.

Knowing who you are enables you to accurately ‘see’ who other people are and make proper adjustments in your relationship to them. For instance, we instinctively know how to relate to a young child as we recognize their inability to handle some kinds of propositions. Unfortunately, unless we also ‘know who other people are’ in this context we may find ourselves inappropriately embroiled in situations that do nobody good. We wouldn’t argue with a drunk or with a policeman because we ‘know who they are’. The same principle applies to all other relationships. Boy/girl relationships can get into a lot of trouble because of this problem.

It is likely that the single most important understanding that a person should acquire in order to be ‘successful’ is to understand their attitude. First, they have to realize that they have one. Then they must understand how their attitude is different from others. Then they will see how the attitudes expressed in their life contribute or detract from their ability to succeed. Of course, nobody is perfect, but the more that you understand the importance of your attitude, and the more you can see the effects of other peoples attitudes on you life and theirs, the better you will be equipped to make good decisions and establish the relationships that will determine your ‘success’.

Written by guest author, Bob Davis!


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