What is the value of responsibility and duty?

January 27, 2009

Today, I was moved by another one of David Brooks’ columns in the New York Times.

He explores the rarely discussed topic that he calls “institutional thinking”. He essentially asks us to consider if our modern obsession with all things individual has actually led to the erosion of some important human values.

He quotes baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg in his acceptance speech in 2005, when he said:

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect … . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game … did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

Where have we placed the concept of respect in our society? What do we respect in our culture? How difficult is it to teach responsibility and duty to children, when adults are being sent the consistent message that indulgence in individual pleasure and entertainment are the real end goals of childhood, and maybe even of life in general?

Brooks closes with a brief but thought-provoking observation that while we may mock institutions and the codes of respect that define them, the erosion of respect can lead not only to liberation but to self-destruction.

Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity.

But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life.

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Some old truths for a world of new challenges

January 20, 2009

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from President Obama’s Inaugural Address today:

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.

These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

Take this moment and let’s honestly ask ourselves these questions:

  • What difficult tasks am I facing in this moment?
  • What is my truth?
  • What defines my character?
  • What stories will I tell my children about character?

Here’s to the dawn of a new chapter in American history…


Intention setting

January 18, 2009

I attended the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco this past weekend. I’ve practiced yoga at various levels of intensity since 1999, when it was first introduced to my health club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by one of the aerobics instructors. Something about it just stuck with me. I went into myself and started to hear my own voice for the first time. It was the first time during exercise that I noticed my breath, and treated my body with care. I’ve been a devotee ever since, with my practice peaking between 2002 (in Cleveland) and 2006 (here in California).

But as with any not-quite-ingrained habit, my motivation has ebbed and flowed over the years. It seems that there’s always an excuse – either the class schedules at nearby studios haven’t fit with my schedule, or the instructors’ presence wasn’t healing for me, or I “didn’t feel like I had time” to do a regular practice. So I’ve done other things, like golf, and Spinning, and working with a personal trainer, all in an attempt to keep that connection between my mind and body which I knew intuitively was essential to my sense of well-being.

Attending this year’s yoga conference reminded me again of why the practice of yoga is an everyday essential in my life, and inspired me to include a new ritual in my teaching as an experiment in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »