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Keep your Focus January 19, 2008

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
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Diversity is death… that is a saying that I heard once at a conference a few months ago. lack of Focus is dangerous… It got me to thinking about a professor I knew in Rome. I can’t remember her name (which is probably a good thing) but I knew that she taught philosophy in English to a few English speaking students in town. I never had her myself as a teacher, but met her in a coffee bar in one of the universities I attended in Rome.

I was startled to hear how badly she spoke English- I knew she taught in English, and as I tried to strike up a conversation with her, her english just seemed to get worse and worse. Her accent wasn’t quite Italian, and it wasn’t quite German, nor could you say it was Spanish or French. I couldn’t figure this lady out really, even though her blond hair gave her away as something of the Teutonic variety.

Me fail English? That’s un-possible!

I asked her if it would be better that we spoke in Italian, as I figured maybe since she lived in town, her Italian would be better than her English. Just about anything would have been better than her English. So we switched gears into Italian, and I was started to find that her Italian was just as bad as her English. Finally, we switched into some broken Spanish (my Spanish was rusty at this point) and again, I was amazed to find that I spoke better Spanish than she did!

It turns out that she spoke 8 lanuages! And none of them well! I asked where she was from and she said Germany, but that her German wasn’t even all that good. I asked her what she spoke well, and she replied that English and Italian were her two best languages. She had apparently moved around a lot as a kid, and picked up a bit of everything as she moved.

I guess we can all be like that at times- Jack of all trades, master of none. But it is an expectation in our culture that we multitask- that we keep as many plates spinning as we possibly can without letting any of them fall. And there are plenty of people who are waiting for our plates to fall! The expectation is that we are supposed to be good at everything we do- be good soccer moms and executives- be good dads and football coaches- be members of the church and work and community- have a thousand friends who we write thousands of Christmas cards to. It can be maddening I tell ya!

But I often think of that professor in Rome- she couldn’t really speak any language well, and our conversation turned into a mismash of English, Spanish, and Italian. If we lose our focus, we will certainly be destroyed, simply because we can’t keep all those plates spinning at once.

Um… what a strange passtime

I once had a similar experience- I once took 22 credit hours one semester in college- studying 3 lanuages (Latin, Greek, and Spanish) in addition to all the philosophy credits I was expected to take. I didn’t learn any of those languages well, and I would have to say that by the end of the semester it was even hard to get my English straight! (I remember my friend jabbing me with a friendly insult, and all I could do was stare at him, because no coherent English words were going to come out.)

If we lose our focus and diversify our life so much that we spread ourselves thin, all we are going to be able to do is to stare at someone when they need a response. The same is true in our professional occupation as well- McDonald’s used to have good hamburgers, until they spread out into salads and chicken and cookies and all the other things that they do. If they focused on being the number one hamburger maker, maybe it wouldn’t turn my stomach so bad when someone suggests it as a nice pit stop on a trip.

Yuck… sorry Ronald

We can simply keep pulling the lever and hope for a jackpot- the reason slot machines work is because it is hard to take three diverse things and line them up!

So the solution is that we need to streamline our lives a little- understand what is important to us so that we can be a good focused person, and help the people around us. That means saying “NO” sometimes- that means drawing and keeping our boundaries with people and with ourselves. It means cutting out the fat and not sticking too many “irons in the fire.”

There are five areas of our life that we need to maintain- Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical, Professional, and Social. Those are the five necessary components to being a happy person, and yet we have to prioritize even those areas. Setting short term easily attainable goals in each of these areas, and cutting out the fat when necessary will make us a well rounded person. Even then, there are times in which one of these will take president over the others. We have to make sure that we are maintaining a balance in all of our lives.

Think of it like food- when I get a plate of food I might have a piece of meat, a potato, and a vegitable. Rarely do I try and eat all three at once- I like to enjoy the individual flavor of each- to mix them takes away from the flavor of each part of the meal. In the end we have to know where to quit and when to say yes. I would recommend a book by Seth Godin called “The Dip.” You can find his blog here: http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/2123/17470696

If we stop trying to spin 10 plates, it may be easier to spin 5- now we just have to decide which plates to stop from spinning.


The Flabbergasted Philosopher is moving! January 8, 2008

Posted by rengawman in Blogroll, Events, Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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I have enjoyed wordpress so much folks that I have installed it into my own domain (thanks to the help of “the Shadow,” a guy who works for wordpress).  So for now I will be moving my blog over to www.totalpossibility.com/blog.  The new posts will be there, but I will let the old posts remain here until wordpress.com gets tired of me.   (I will find some way to move them over.)

18,500 Visitors!

As of today, January 8th, 2007, I have had over 18,500 visits to my blog.  Not too shabby for a blog that is less than 6 months old! (totalpossibility.com isn’t far behind that!)

This blog has brought world peace! (OK that is a lie)

So far this blog has reunited me with old elementary school classmates, introduced me to new and exciting people, solved world hunger, and eliminated the threat of nuclear war.  Who knew a blog could do all that?!

 I am also changing the name of the blog to simply “Total Possibility,” to stay with my website’s theme. (Don’t worry, I will eternally be Flabbergasted… I hear there are pills for that…)  There will be more exciting changes to www.totalpossibility.com as well. (As you may have seen if you are a regular visitor there.)

 I will update the main website when I update the blog, so there will be regular updates to both totalpossibility the website as well as archives in the blog, so you can go to either.


Some other exciting stuff coming is that I am going to expand my blog out to some other, hand picked contributors so that there can be more of a variety to the blog on some various topics.

 In addition to that, I am planning to start a podcast, which is one of the reasons that I am moving the blog. (wordpress.com doesn’t as easily support podcasting vs. if I have it installed myself.  That podcast will not only be me yakkin’ but other contributors as well.

So go and visit www.totalpossibility.com, and help me out by clicking on some of the google ads that I have there. (I don’t pick that content by the way… google puts up there what it dang well feels like, so if there is something weird, blame google) (I try and find some way to blame google for all my problems)  It’ll only take a second of your time!

 Tell all your friends and neighbors, cats, and dogs, heck, tell that creepy guy you saw at the movie theater last week!  There was a guy who used to come into the movie theater that I worked at in High School who looked like Elvis.  Mean guy actually.  Cool hair though.

 Joshua Wagner S.T.B., M.A.
Founder, CEO, President, Mail Clerk, and Dog Trainer to:
 Total Possibility LLC
(OK there aren’t any dogs) (There are a couple of stuffed monkeys).


The Cartesian Compromise and Its Problems January 4, 2008

Posted by rengawman in philosophy.
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So I thought I would return to a little more hard core philosophy after all this talk about ducks.

I read a little philosophy every day.  I read just a little simply because I want the concepts to be able to sink in that I might be able to think about them and examine them.  I would still have to say that for the most part I remain an Aristotelian and  Thomist, although a few of those views are beginning to change.  That is simply the paradigm by which I approach most philosophical concepts.

So these days, I am doing a little self review of philosophy in the modern period.  I am doing that by simply reading 5 pages or so a day of Copelston’s History of Philosophy every day.  Again, I only read so little because I like to read every day, and I want to make sure that I don’t miss any concepts.  It is sort of like doing math or logic too quickly and leaving out a tilde or a negative sign.

These last 2 weeks or so I have been reading about Des Cartes.  To sum up Des Cartes in a nut shell, he began his philosophical inquiry by denying knowledge about anything- he did not deny knowledge per ipsum, but he denied anything that could not be proven without absolute certainty.  This is where the “cogito” statement that everyone knows comes from.  Cogito Ergo Sum to be exact.  The only thing that Des Cartes could not deny was that whether or not I know what I know to be true, whether or not I am being deceived by some greater power, like a demon or an unjust God, the fact remains that I am here to be wrong or to be deceived.  That, for Des Cartes, was an incontrovertible fact.  From there he built a metaphysics which was based on the certainty of Mathematics, of God, who must be the source of our concept of infinity (since we ourselves must be finite, the idea of the infinite must come from somewhere itself infinite, which must be God).

Some of the things that Des Cartes had to contend with was physical matter and its relationship to the metaphysical beings, such as mind, or God.  I think this has been a problem for every philosopher who admits a metaphysics, whether you be Platonic, Cartesian, Aristotelian or Thomistic.  How does the immaterial interact with the material?  That is the simple question.  I think it is a fascinating question myself that has ramifications into ethics, epistemology, as well as politics and society. 

For the Thomists and Aristotelians, they (I guess I have to make a qualified “we” there) talk about the interaction in terms of causality.  We look at the four causes, efficient, formal (metaphysical), material, and final causes.  Causality is what links the material to the metaphysical in this system.  Basically, in the substance of man, the soul and body are one thing with logical distinctions.  The soul is the formal cause of the body, and when the two are separated by death, the body ceases to be animated.  The material cause, or the mechanism which works on the material end, is the body itself.  In this system, the formal and material causes are intrinsically linked.  It is almost as if to say that there is only a logical distinction between the two.  The key word here is substance.  In the substance which is man there is a unity between formal and material causes, which is the thing in itself.  For these philosophers, the body and the soul are really only complete and functional when they are together. 

For Des Cartes, however, as for the Platonists, we seem to be souls stuck in bodies.  This process of learning something for both of them, is simply a rediscovery of innate knowledge that we already have.  There is a sort of hostile relationship between body and soul for the two of them- and for St. Paul in Romans Ch 8 by the way.  (Paul was a Platonist).  For these two philosophers, one could conclude that the soul is more at home when it is by itself and not weighed down by the body.  It is then free to remember all the things that are innate to it.

For Des Cartes, his compromise was to say that the human person (however you might define it) is really two substances.  There is the immaterial substance of the mind, and the material substance of the body.  So instantly, he changes what was traditionally thought by the Aristotelians and Thomists as substance. 

So how does a substance without extension (i.e. immaterial) interact with a body with extension (i.e. material).  For Des Cartes he says, for some odd reason, that the point of interaction was the pituitary gland. Why there and not the brain or the body? 

In reality, I believe that this is a problem for the Thomists and Aristotelians as well, although because of their definition of substance, it isn’t as much of a problem.

For the next couple hundred years, the philosophers tried to figure out this interaction between mind and body, and I think we are still working on it today.  Why is it that when I will to move my finger, my finger moves?  How are the perceptions that I am recieving though my senses getting transferred to my mind?  Are they getting transferred?  Am I really percieving anything?  What is it then, that I know?

One of my favorite follow ups to the Cartesian Compromise, and its subsequent problems is the philosopher Malebranche.  (I wrote a paper on him in College).  Malebranche basically states that our willing to move our finger is simply the occasion for God to move the material finger.  For him there is no interaction between body and mind, rather the point of interaction becomes God himself.  This is called occasionalism.  In occasionalism, if there is any interaction it is simply God allowing the movement that we will.  There are two problems with this: one- if we do something “immoral” with our bodies, it is because God made it happen.  Moral implications there!  Second is that you have the same problem- if God is immaterial, how can HE interact with the material to move it?  That must mean God himself is part material.

Hobbes takes the extreme approach and says that there is no metaphysics- everything is just motion without any real rationality.  But experience tends to tell us that there is immaterial things, like mind and spirit.

 These days I am rethinking some of my previous notions of metaphysics and substance.  While I still claim to be a Thomist and Aristotelian, I believe that what Des Cartes has done (and what philosophers have been contending with ever since) is to raise a very important question about the nature of… well… everything.

The mind is very very powerful- when it is focused, it can make the physical body do just about anything.  It can move mountains!  I think that there are a lot of ways that the interation between the material and immaterial are being explored through fields such as quantum physics, which has opened the doors to all sorts of new theories and philosophies of the interaction between mind and matter. 

I think that the material and immaterial interaction problem has been a constant one since the beginning of philosophy.  As I have said in previous posts, I believe that the solution is to return to an exploration of being itself.  Of course, the question must be asked if it is even possible to know being in itself and its “nature.”  (I guess therein lies the problem).  I am not sure how to do this at all. 

 Any ideas?

The Big Red Button (Accepting the Consequences of our Actions, the 5th Duck) January 3, 2008

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
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Recently, that is, in the last few years, Staples, the paper and office supply company, had an advertising campaign where whenever someone pushed a big red “Easy Button,” office supplies would magically drop from the ceiling.  Whenever I see those commercials, and the big read button, I curl up into a ball and fall on the floor.  Maybe I even cry a little bit.  See, I have a thing for giant red buttons… PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). 

When I was about 12 years old, my Dad got transferred with IBM from our lush, expansive, peaceful, serene, and tranquil farm in Elida, Ohio, to the big bustling city of Dallas- Ft. Worth Texas, where IBM had its education center, and a hub for a big portion of its computer network.

I’ve Been Moved

Routinely, I would go to work with my Dad, and I would either spend hours playing with hole punches and staplers, or he would set me up at a computer where I could enter the world of computer role playing games, like Space Quest, or King’s Quest, which were popular at the time.  World of WarCraft has nothing on King’s Quest III if you ask me.

One of these times, we were in the big mainframe room at one of the centers in Irving, Texas, where the IBM education center was.  This room was expansive- so much so that if you threw a baseball, I doubt you could get it from one side of the room to the other.  OK, I can’t throw a baseball from home plate to first base, but you get the point! 

 This room was filled with huge mainframes, tape machines, terminals, and always had these gigantic air conditioners on keeping the whole place nice and cool.  My dad found me a workstation and I began to solve the puzzle which was King’s Quest IV.  I didn’t like that one because you had to be a girl, unlike the previous couple of King’s Quests, but I was content to play it anyway.

I got into the game, and began to realize that I needed to go to the bathroom.  I waited for as long as I could, and the pain told me that we had a critical situation brewing.  So I went over to my Dad and told him of my dilemma.  He pointed out that the bathrooms were around the corner outside of yonder door (pointing to yonder door).  He told me that when I wanted to get back in, I had to push the button beside the door (which was probably some kind of door bell.)

I had to go to the bathroom so badly that my brain was floating, and some of the instructions that he had given me may have been misinterpreted… so I walked over to the door and saw a button.  All I could remember was to push the button.  The button was large, and red, and had a plastic cover over it… kind of like the kind used to launch nukes in a movie.

I shrugged my shoulders and lifted the plastic cover, and pushed the big red button.  All of sudden, the lights in the big room went off, as did all the computers, as well as the air conditioners, terminals, coffee pots, Ferris wheels etc.  I had pushed the emergency cut off switch for the room.  Not only that room, but three of the buildings it was connected to.

All I remember is my Dad looking up in horror and asking me what I did. 

I still had to go to the bathroom, so my Dad walked me down to the bathroom where I stayed for the next couple of hours.  You would be surprised at how much flushing toilets can entertain you after awhile.

To this day when I see big red buttons, I feel nervous and anxious like I did that day.  Shortly after, IBM issued a memo that family members were not to be in the building.  Luckily, it was a Sunday, so it didn’t disrupt commerce too much, although several guys had to be called in to reboot the buildings I had shut down.  (Dad didn’t get fired by the way, although he came awfully close.)

Whether we mean it or not, choose or not, intend it or not, we have to learn to live with the consequences of our own actions and choices.  As creatures of free will, we are given the ability to make hundreds of big and small choices every day, one choice affecting the next.  In our culture, it is very easy to try and escape the consequences of our own choices.  That is a choice in itself, and eventually, we will have to face up, one way or another, to the choices that we have made.

It is impossible to escape consequences.  We can’t simply wait for things to work themselves out, as inactivity and indecision is itself a choice that we make.  Living with the consequences of our actions can have both positive and negative effects.  However, we are not ever bound and determined by choices we have made in the past.  That is just because we made a choice that got us here, or into a particular situation, or set of circumstances or consequences, doesn’t mean that we have to make those same decisions in the future.

Nor does it mean that we have to be determined by the consequences of other people’s actions.  What it means is that we must take responsibility for every choice we make, both good and bad, active and inactive, and work within the particular outcomes of each choice.

I didn’t mean to push the wrong button that day, but I did.  I had to accept and live with the potential consequences of that action.  I could have either faced them, or run away from them, but either way they would have caught up with me.

It is easy in our culture to try and run from consequences.  We have a lot of means at our disposal for doing that- drugs, alcohol, work, titles, uniforms, relationships.  Using these things to try and hide from consequences will only lead to more dire consequences in the future.  The key here, as I mentioned above, is acceptance.  Accepting what we have done in the past, understanding where it has brought us, and attempting to make better, more educated choices in the future.

There is a reason this is the last “duck,” that we need to put in a row- simply because it is the duck that is the culmination of the other 4 “ducks” that came before it.  If we understand our self worth, if we understand our need and fulfill our ability to love and be loved, if we defend ourselves, and deal with our own inner confusion, the consequences in every area of our life will be good, more or less.  We will be able to handle any consequence that comes along because it is itself the consequence of putting our ducks in a row.

If we don’t put those other 4 “ducks” in a row, we will have other consequences to deal with- being unhealthy- being scattered- never taking responsibility for our actions and trying to correct ourselves and stay on course.

This requires a lot of work to “keep our ducks in a row.”  Constant work, but the consequences of that work, of self examination, of proper love of self and neighbor, will itself lead us into good healthy decisions and consequences.  So what we have to do is to accept where we have been, and use it as a jumping off point for where we would like to be.

Are your ducks in a row?  Do you understand your worth?  Do you love yourself and others?  Can you defend yourself in a proper way?  Where does your inner confusion lie?  Do you accept the fact that you are where you are because of choices you have made?  I know that personally, I have only been putting my ducks in a row in the last couple of years, and it requires a lot of constant work and vigilance.  The consequences are worth it though.

Stuck in a Car Wash! (Dealing with Inner Confusion) January 1, 2008

Posted by rengawman in cars, Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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Oh this is a great story…

Last year, during a cold snap in February, the roads were covered with salt, which meant my car, Lucy, was also covered in salt.  So on my way home from a friend’s house late one night I was concerned for Lucy and the many layers of salt she had on her, and before acrewing a new layer, I figured I would give her a quick run through the car wash.

Now I understand the absurdity of the idea of washing my car in below freezing temperatures, with salt coating the roads, and having to avoid the army of salt trucks I saw on the way home, but for some reason it seemed like a good idea. So I went to one of those “touchless” car wash, put my credit card in, the door opened and I pulled in, business as usual. The car wash ended and I am sure Lucy looked nice and clean. When it came time to leave, the garage door in front of me wouldn’t open, and the one I came through was closed… so basically, I was trapped. I got out and pushed the emergency release button, and the door was still shut.   Frozen solid!

I was trapped…
I was trapped… there was no door to the outside for humans either, and since I have not experienced the resurrection, and I am not GOB or David Copperfield (the fictional character nor the magician) I could not walk through the walls, and I felt a certain sense of dread come over me… Plus, inside the touchless carwash there is always water shooting from all directions, so to get out of my car was like walking through an obstacle course of water. At one point I was standing there thinking about what to do for a minute, when I realized that one of the streams of water was hitting the upper part of my right leg which I didn’t feel for about 30 seconds, as the water was also warm… I don’t have to tell you what that looked like… or felt like, as the water was very warm. Plus there was steam everywhere which fogged up my glasses. I was in a bad position. I did begin to laugh at this point, and realized how funny the situation was. THEN I moved out of the way of the stream of water. HA!!!There was also no phone number posted to call, plus it was 10:30 at night. Anyway, I walked over to the other adjoining carwash chamber (great descriptive word there) (reminds me of the carbon freezing chamber from Star Wars), and I hit the release button for the garage door and that one opened. Instantly the steam increased 3 fold as it contacted the arctic air outside, and I must have looked like an alien emerging from the belly of the space ship.

Too bad nobody was there to see it. So it’s cold wet and steamy, and my pant leg was drenched but I had my sweet freedom. Except Lucy herself was still trapped. I called a number that I finally found and left a message for “Greg.” Greg never got back to me, so I went back into the car wash, backed Lucy up to the back door, went around and bought another car wash, which opened up the back door and I backed her out into the cold, again in the midst of all is steam, Lucy emerged. Great story huh?

There were moments while I was trapped in that steamy mixture of cold air and hot water that I just didn’t know what I was going to do.  I was terrified at moments that I was going to have to spend the night in the middle of the car wash.  Did I call 911?  If I did, was it enough of an emergency and would I get in trouble?  Worse yet, would the cops get there and just laugh at me?  Talk about inner confusion!  I was at my wits end!  There were seemingly a thousand options that I could have pursued in securing my freedom, and none of them seemed adequate.  Plus, once one door opened (literally!) all the other ones in front of me were still closed.

The cops would have laughed at me…

I think this is a great analogy to how a lot of people view life.  They are in situations which baffle them- really it isn’t the situation that baffles them, rather it is their own interior confusion that makes life-situations baffling to most people.

All of us deal to some extent with inner confusion.  A lot of us like to avoid it because it makes us feel uncomfortable in our own skin.  We are sort of like that car wash in some ways- like the water that was squirting in all directions, clouding up the cold air with steam, so we are often a flurry of emotions, thoughts, fears, rationalizations, and any number of things that “fog up” our interior “lenses,” and prevent us from understanding who we really are, and what we need to do.

Inner confusion

Dealing with this confusion is a basic human need.  All of us get stuck in the car wash from time to time.  Maybe we can relate to my little foible in the car wash last year- we know we are stuck in the steam and the sprays of water, closed behind doors that won’t open due to our choices or circumstances, and we are too embarrassed or afraid to ask for help.  I was afraid to call the police to get help because I figured they would laugh at me.  Maybe some of us are ashamed about our own inner confusion and rather than seek help and be ridiculed or hurt, we prefer to spend the night in the chaos of our own “inner carwash.”

Eventually, I took the time that night to think my way out of the carwash, and if we take the time, calm down, and really begin to look at our inner confusion, both the causes and the effects, we may just figure out a way to free ourselves from the bondage of our own inner confusion.  That takes work- it also invariably requires another person, or people to help us.

The first requirement is a relationship with a Higher Power.  God made us, he can help us to figure out what is going on inside of us.  He can calm us and give us a new perspective on our own inner confusion.  Really we are wonderfully designed, and what seems like chaos to us is actually working properly.  Going back to our carwash, the streams of water, the steam, and all the other elements of the confusion car wash told me that everything was working properly!  It just seemed confusing to me!  Once I figured out the glitch, I was free in a matter of minutes.  Often what seems confusion to us is confusing because of a matter of perspective.  God has the ultimate perspective on how we are supposed to work.  Unlike “Greg” at the car wash, when we call on him he will come and help us fix the problem.  We have to call Him first though.

Second, we need a community of support.  Maybe that is family, maybe it isn’t.  Maybe it is friends or a support group.  The first step to managing the seemingly unmanageable inner confusion we all face is admitting that we might have a problem, or a glitch in the mechanism.  Once we do that we can go to people that can help us.

As I have mentioned in other blogs, you can’t see your own face without a mirror.  We need someone outside of ourselves to be vulnerable to- both human and divine, that can help us sort out our inner confusion.  This is an ongoing process if we want to be happy and free.

Of course, there are inappropriate ways to deal with inner confusion as well- avoidance behaviors that try and suppress the inner confusion we all face- Drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, or any number of things.  These things not only are ineffective against suppressing our inner confusion, they make it worse.

In the end of the day, we simply need to make sure that we are rigorously honest with ourselves, our friends who we trust, and with God.  We need to be humble enough to make that call when we need to when we are stuck in some situation, even when fear is telling us not to, or we are afraid of being hurt or made fun of.  Only then can we begin to sort out that inner confusion which at one point or another, plagues us all.

American Gladiators are Back!!!!! (The Third Duck: Defending yourself) December 28, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
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This is the third in a series about “Getting your Ducks in a Row.” 

Thank goodness for this writer’s strike, because it is bringing back one of the greatest TV shows to ever grace the screen: American Gladiators.

Back in the 80’s I remember sitting through horrible episodes of Saturday Night Live (ok they weren’t as bad as some of them now) just to watch American Gladiators.  I am not sure why the show ever went off the air, other than the fact that they messed with some of the more popular games, eliminating some of them all together, or replacing them with goofy substitutes that they thought would liven things up.  I mean, who liked that stupid swinging one anyway?  That was just dumb if you ask me.


It was a great concept- average Americans- Americans just like you or me taking on buff, steroid induced machines in some really physically challenging competitions.  Well, some of them were physically challenging anyway.  Like the Eliminator at the end of every show, or the one where they had to out-clime one of those buff Gladiators on a climbing wall.  It was great competition as the Gladiator, who was always in much better shape than the opponent scaled the wall like Spider-man to pull down his contender. 

There were games though that required almost no physical prowess whatsoever.  I can’t remember the name of it, but one of the games gave the Gladiator a high powered gun that shot tennis balls at the contender.  The contender had to hit a target just above the Gladiator’s head to win, using only tennis balls thrown by his arm. (OK he had some weapons of his own, but they never seemed to have great aim.)  The Gladiator would just sit up there and fire tennis balls at mach 5 at the contender’s head.  Now that is good TV.

Unfair advantage…

Sadly, the original Gladiators Zap, Laser, Gemini, Mitch, and Sneezy, (I may have some of those names wrong) got canceled and had to go back to working at Pay-less, as the most buff shoe salesmen ever.  They faded into obscurity, only to be seen in re-runs.

Now they are bringing back the Gladiators thanks to the writer’s strike, and the world will be a better place.  Once again we get to see average American’s get the crap beat out of them by over juiced men and women… I hope congress doesn’t ask THEM about steroid use…

Still, you have to give those average athletes credit… I would never want to go against a person who calls themselves Viper or Ice.  They often stood up against these big people and defended themselves well.  My favorite event by far was the pugel-sticks, where they stood up on big pedestals with giant cue-tips and attacked each other.  It was great.

Nobody stood there and took it though- they defended themselves, even if unsuccessfully, they still had to learn somehow along the line how to defend themselves.  This is the third “duck” in the series of 5 ducks that I mentioned in a previous post.

One of our basic human needs is to learn how to defend ourselves.  That can be hard to do- there are a lot of people that get into situations that prevent them from learning how to do this- how to defend themselves physically, emotionally, or psychologically.  It seems that they are going up against someone much more scary than any American Gladiator could ever be- be it a parent, a spouse, a family member, or even a boss.

Some people think that in order for people to love them, or in order to love someone (the second “duck”) that means that they have to let someone roll over them.  That is not the case- each one of us needs to learn how to defend ourselves, in order that we might love ourselves and others.  Being rolled over is not a loving thing to do for anyone.

Some people learn how to defend themselves inappropriately too.  Some people turn to addictions to insulate themselves from their own emotions or fears.  Drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, food or whatever you want to put in that list (because you can be addicted to just about anything or anyone) is a quick and easy alternative to actually standing up to what we fear and defending ourselves in a healthy and appropriate way.  In the end, those quick fixes that we use for self defense end up isolating us from others and ourselves, they prevent us from loving or being loved, they add to our confusion, and diminish our self worth.

Another unhealthy way to defend ourselves is to try and control the situation- to roll over other people so that they cannot hurt us, or to try and manipulate situations so that we are always king of the mountain.  Ultimately to roll over other people to defend ourselves is also self defeating for the same reason that addictions are.  Basically, you begin to isolate yourself from other people as they come to fear you and your attitude and reactions to things. 

The King of the Mountain is always lonely

Defending ourselves does not mean to isolate with addictions, or to try and control every single situation by rolling over people.  In the end, it is more damaging to do either, and you will end up alone, fearful, and angry at the world.  I have seen it happen in people’s lives.

How do we properly defend ourselves?  I believe the key is in setting healthy boundaries and then keeping them. 

If we have someone in our lives that is toxic or dangerous to us, we have a right to set our own boundaries with that person.  That doesn’t mean imposing boundaries on them (that probably wouldn’t work anyway) but it means that if we have a toxic person in our lives, we choose when to see them or not, the setting and the circumstance.

That means that defending ourselves is to not put ourselves into a situation that we will get hurt by.  It means knowing ourselves well enough to set boundaries that are healthy, not exclusive, and it also means uttering the most difficult word: “No.”

Setting boundaries means saying no to some things.  Loving someone doesn’t mean you always say yes to every desire that they have.  Loving someone sometimes means you have to say no- it sometimes means that setting a boundary means that for their own good you have to put some distance between them and you.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them, but what it means is that you love them enough to protect both yourself and them.


You don’t even necessarily have to tell difficult people about your boundaries- it is you that has to keep them, not the other person.  That may mean removing yourself from a dangerous or abusive situation.  That may require you to ask for help in order to preserve yourself.

Really defending yourself and loving yourself aren’t too different.  It would be silly for that contender in American Gladiators to just stand there and take a beating from someone twice his size.  We, like that contender, have a right to healthy self preservation- to say no- and to make sure that we are in an environment that is happy and healthy. 

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Thermostat in my Car December 21, 2007

Posted by rengawman in cars, Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
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A wise man once said- “Walk right side of road, squished like grape.  Walk left side of road, squished like grape.  Walk middle of road, you safe.”  That wise man:  Mr. Myiagi from the Karate Kid series.  He could also beat up guys half his age and twice his size- AND catch flies with chopsticks.  Which go great, by the way, with a little soy sauce and Cantonese rice.

He could render a man, or a fly, unconscious in 10 seconds with those chopsticks.

 It is funny- I have never been the kind of guy to walk down the middle, although I am certainly learning.  I am a guy that if I do something, I want to do it all the way and absolutely- giving everything I am and have to a particular pursuit.  Sometimes that has worked out for me- like in school or in work, and other times it hasn’t worked out so well for me like eating that has plagued me in my past.

He even makes standing in the street look cool.

A great analogy for who I am, and I suspect who a lot of people are is the thermostat in my car.  If it is hot outside, I always put the air-conditioner on full blast, fan all the way up, knob turned all the way to the cold side of the dial.  I love getting it so cold in my car that you can see your breathe and draw things on the frosted glass of the car.  Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than getting out of a cold car into a hot day. 

Ahhh… summertime.

Once it does get too cold for the yeti (or bigfoot as he is commonly known in West Virgina, according to my friend Doug Ondeck) I don’t merely turn the thermostat down- nope, I turn the fan all the way off.  Then when it gets hot again, I turn the fan all the way on full blast.  There isn’t a lot of middle ground with me.

What the dashboard of my car looks like- it is red like Knight Rider (3rd reference)


 The same thing happens when it is cold outside.  My car, the coolest car ever in the world, has a remote starter on it.  So what I do is I start the car, making sure that the heat is all the way in the red part of the dial, and the fan is on 4.  Then I set a lump of dough on the seat, and by the time I get out there, the car is so hot it can cook the lump of dough into bread.  Who doesn’t like fresh bread on their way to work?  I know I do.  Then I usually turn the heat all the way off.  Not much middle ground there either.

OK I don’t turn up the thermostat quite this high.


I guess Mr. Myagi is right though.  I notice that I have done a lot of things like that in my life.  Some have said that it is an all or none proposition with me.  I suspect that there is a little area in everyone’s life where it is all or none, or there is a lot of excess. 

The greeks defined virtue as the golden mean- walking down the middle of the road, not too much one way, or too much to the other but virtue is found in the middle- in moderation.  That is something I am actually learning about in my life right now.  You can in fact have too much of a good thing.

I think we should take the European view of life.  If you ever eat in France you know that their portions are never big- it is just enough to get a taste, and not enough of anything to fill you up (except for that one Christmas dinner I ate there.  That is another blog).  Here in the States when you go to a restaurant the portions are so big, you usually need to get carried out on a stretcher!  Thanks a lot Cheesecake Factory!

Typical meal at the Cheesecake Factory


That is how life should be I guess.  We should try and set the dial to something that is consistent- not too hot, not too cold.

I am actually trying to do that in my life right now.  I notice that when I am in the car, the fan is on about 2 or 3 (out of 4) and the knob is set at a comfortable quarter point, never too hot or cold.  I am trying to learn how to walk down the middle of the road so I don’t get squashed like a grape.

Maybe you have something that is a little extreme in your life.  The way that we move back into the center is to do it slowly and consistently.  It is funny how when you work on one virtue, they are all connected and when you find the golden mean in one area of your life, you find it in others.

Peeking Duck- Self Worth December 21, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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As I mentioned in previous posts, actually, about 3 days ago, I mentioned my fondness for Chinese food.  Usually when I go into Chinese restaurants, the entrees that I order always have some similar elements: They are chickeny, the contain some kind of nut, and they are spicy.  Every so often though, I like to order duck, as it is a nice change of pace from my nut-chicken-spicy combo that I usually get.

The only reason I wrote that above paragraph was so that the title of this post might at least have some reference to Peking Duck, often served in Asian restaurants.  I did that so that the pun I used in the title might also have a reference.  Other than that, the above paragraph has absolutely no purpose in this blog.  Thank you for reading.

Anyway, as I mentioned yesterday, I was visiting my spiritual director from Toledo.  A great Jesuit who I got to know in Rome 7 years ago when he was the director of spiritual formation at the North American College.  When I arrived in Rome, tired, smelly from the flight, and covered in ketchup (that is another story) they shoved us into the refectory for our first Italian meal.  My now spiritual director was at my table, and was the first people I ate with in that city.  I remember him making bruschetta (pronounced Bru-sk-ett-a) out of the bread on the table when he toasted it an poured cheese and olive oil on it.  He was a good salad maker as I recall as well.  Beyond that, I really never knew him until I got a friend’s ordination a few year ago in Michigan, and he offered to be my Spiritual Director.  He has stuck with me in these last years in thick and thin- he has been a real blessing to me, and I am sure others who have struggled through the years.

I was covered in Ketchup the day I arrived in Rome… mmm … ketchup

One of the things we talked about this week was, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, getting my ducks in a row.  Those crazy ducks.

The first of the five ducks, or psychological needs that we have to wrangle up, is that of self worth.  Man have I struggled with that.  Where do we get our self worth?  How do we find it?  What are the sorts of things that prevent us from realizing our self worth?

Primarily, as I have mentioned in previous posts, we are made in the image and likeness of God, which has two implications by nature.  One is that we have free will, or we should have it, and second is that we are capable of entering into relationship with other people. (See my post on the Trinity and its interior relationship if you need material to put you to sleep).  Free will and the ability to enter into relationship culminates in love.  Love, as my director tells me, is willing the good of another.  I always say that love is a choice, not a feeling, so even if it hurts, we have to do what is the greatest good for ourselves, our communities, and our neighbors.

That being made in the image and likeness of God is what primarily gives us our self worth.  No other creature, not dogs or angels, can claim to be made in God’s image and likeness.  They cannot express free will, or enter into relationships in love the way that we can.

The problem is that we have a hard time perceiving that we are made in that image and likeness.  The primary cause of that: Sin.  Now, I am not going to go into depth here about sin, but I already have in this post here.

Sin primarily detracts from the beauty and worth of every person, not because it destroys the fact that we are in the image and likeness of God, but because it tarnishes it like a mirror can get tarnished, making it difficult to see our reflection of God’s divine nature.  When we sin, in any of the stages, our instant reaction is like the of Adam and Eve’s- we see that we are naked, and we are ashamed of ourselves, heck, we even become ashamed of the fact that we are not living up to the image and likeness of God in which we were created.  That leads us to do what they did- they cover themselves- they cover their nature.

So it is sin that detracts from us seeing our self worth- that dignity that we have been made in God’s image and likeness- each and every person.  From the greatest saint, to the greatest murderer, nothing can take that image and likeness to God away from us, but sin can make it harder for us to see.

So we are constantly having to rediscover our self worth- we really do need to have this duck in a row if we are going to get the others in line.  We want to know we are worth while, and we will, without a doubt, seek some kind of validation of that self worth, or we will try to cover it like Adam and Eve, and we will be ashamed of something that is so beuatifually created by God.

Some of the ways that we try and find validation is through relationships.  That is ok if the relationship is healthy.  Often though we seek people that we relate to, or are similar to, in order that we might validate ourselves in them.  Sometimes that means multiple marriages, sexual partners, remaining in abusive situations, or any number of things.  There are people that constantly seek the validation that only God can give to them.

There are ways of covering it up too.  People who are ashamed of themselves cannot face or accept that they are worthwhile and try to cover their nature with booze, or drugs, or shapping, eating, jobs, uniforms, or any number of potential addicitions that are out there.  We can even be addicted to people or ideologies!

In the end if we truly want to find our self worth, we have to “peek” (ahh there is my title reference) into ourselves- take the good with the bad, and see that underneith it all, we still have that beauty and that dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, despite the fact that we are a bit tarnished at times by our choices to turn away from the inherent dignity that is in each person.

The other way to find self worth requires a bit of spirituality I think.  We need to see ourselves as God sees us.  He doesn’t require us to be handsome or smart or funny or have a great job or a great car or any number of things that give us validation in our culture.  Rather, he loves just because we exist.  Unconditionally.  Whether we love Him back or not.  That is the ultimate validation of our self worth.

Once we begin to realize that we have self worth, it directs us toward putting our second duck in a row, which I will talk about tomorrow- the need to love and to be loved.

Getting your Ducks in a Row December 20, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Humor with a point, life, Motivation, philosophy.
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About a year ago, it was time for my mom to move out of the house that I had gone to High School in, and which she had lived for the previous 14 years.  There were a lot of memories in that house- it is the house where my Father passed away- it is the house that I “left home” from, and that I often returned to, to visit my parents, and our dog, Snuggles.  I did not name the dog- we adopted her.  Admittingly, she was a cock-a-poo, so while Snuggles actually kind of fit her, I am pretty sure she hated that name.  I would have named her Bone Crusher, or Megatron, after one of the Transformers if I had my druthers.  But I never have my druthers.  I am druther free.  No druthers for me.

Not the actual Snuggles, but close enough for our purposes

As we were in the process of moving mom out of her house, where she was by herself and only using about 20% of it, and into her condo, mom had a phrase that she liked to use.  Nothing could go on in life, until she got her “ducks in a row.”  There were many ducks to get into a row when we were moving mom- I know.  I helped move all those damned ducks with my brothers.  Actually, the ducks in a row thing become something of a joke between all of us and we often laughed about it.

When the moving guys came to move the big stuff that would have otherwise given my brothers and me back trouble and hernias, I remember looking out the window at the moving truck, and not thinking much of it.  Then I saw it.  There was a giant duck on the side.

Me and the duck- I look upset at the giant duck.

I pointed this out to my family, and we all shared a chuckle.  Mom said she didn’t hire them because of the ducks.  I am beginning to wonder.

At any rate, “ducks in a row” is a phrase that my spiritual director likes to use as well.  He says in that in our lives we have 5 basic psychological needs- five ducks as it were- that we have to keep in line if we want to live a happy and sane life.  The problem with these psychological and emotional ducks is the same problem with real ducks: they tend to wonder around and get out of line.  There is nothing worse, I imagine, than trying to wrangle up a bunch of stray ducks.  It is probably a constant struggle if you yourself are not a duck. 

In short, we are trying to get our ducks in a row all the time, or we should be.  I think a lot of people don’t try to keep their ducks in a row by good healthy means, but through things like trying to get the ducks drunk, or to feed them until they can’t move, or by spending lots of money on things they don’t need.  There is a lot of ways to try and cage the “ducks” rather than keeping them in line- but the catch in our lives is that not only do we have to keep our ducks in a row, we also have to do it in freedom- not by some artificial means.

So what are these 5 ducks that my Spiritual Director told me about?

1. Self- Worth
2. Ability to love and be loved
3. Ability to defend myself
4. Ability to deal with my own inner confusion
5. Ability to accept the consequences of my actions

I think these are pretty good ducks, and a lot of the spiritual direction that I get from him concerns these ducks.

Over the next couple of days I will take each of these ducks and look at them in depth- both generally, and in terms of my own life… enjoy wrangling your ducks!

For my next trick… December 19, 2007

Posted by rengawman in Motivation, philosophy, Theology.
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I am really happy to announce the publication of my first book, The Flabbergasted Philosopher Gets Motivated, which is for sale at this link.  This is sort of a “Best of Josh Wagner” book, sort of like a Beetles Anthology, but without the music… or the fan base… or Yoko Ono.  Don’t think she hasn’t tried to horn her way into my creativity with her “Plums floating in Perfume in a Man’s Hat.”  She is crafty alright.  I hope whoever buys a copy enjoys it. 

It would make a great gift…  now only if there was some kind of gift giving holiday where someone might enjoy this as a gift.  Oh well…

The Resplendent Garment

Ignatian retreat

The first book will be called “The Resplendent Garment.”  This last summer I was able to go on a 30 day silent retreat in Morristown New Jersey, where I did the Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I tell you what… 30 days sitting and listening to God will certainly give you a lot of insight into His great love for us, how and why he created us and the universe, as well as knowledge of the great world of groundhogs.  Yep… groundhogs. His name was Harvey.  Harvey the Groundhog.  I guess you will have to wait for the book to know exactly what I mean.  All I can say is what God said to me: “Be the Groundhog.”

 There was so many good and rich spiritual experiences in those 30 days that I knew one of the things I was supposed to do with my time was to write a book about those experiences.  The theme of the resplendent garment of God’s divine love kept coming up through the retreat, and so I intend to share that with people through writing a book about it.  I had started to write it shortly after the retreat, but I needed a few months to process all of the wonderful graces that God had given to me during that time.  I plan to start writing that shortly, within the next week.

 Title to be announced

The second book will be a collaboration between me and a friend and his miraculous journey through a life threatening illness.  My friend should have probably died, but somehow managed, with the love of God, his friends and family to become miraculously healed, changing not only his life, but the life of those around him. 

What Makes your Heart Burn?

Finally, I would like to do a compilation book where I interview people, get their stories about life and what motivates them in terms of all aspects of life- spiritually, intellectually, professionally, physically, and socially.  It will be a collection of vignettes similar to what my first book looks like, but integrating other people’s stories, in addition to some of my own.

This is where I need your help!  If you think that you have a story worth telling, or have had an event that changed your life or the lives of others, that you think would help other people, let me know through an email! (joshua.john.wagner@gmail.com)

Due to my short attention span (maybe I have ADHD, who knows) I will be working on all three simultaneously, a little bit every day.  I have a day by day approach to things, and I have a “vitamin” mentality.  That is, like vitamins, you take one pill a day, not a hand-full once a week.  You can really achieve any goal like this.  I read once that Jerry Seinfeld sits down and writes one joke a day- one joke!  Imagine the virtually endless amount of material that he has acquired over the years doing that.  I figure if I write 2 or 3 pages a day, I will have a book in draft form in a month or so.  But like all things, sometimes it is just tough to get started.

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