Foes

Thank you Fate for all my foes. Am I being facetious? No, not really. I won’t lie though, I do wish everyone would like me. Am I all that different from others in that regard? I really don’t know the answer to that, I’m just assuming that the desire to be liked is consistent among all of us. I will say that it definitely hurts my feelings when I find out someone doesn’t like me, especially when it’s someone I respect or someone I’ve invested a lot of myself into. In retrospect, however, what could be more inspiring or motivating than an outright enemy or competitor? They keep us sharp don’t they?

People without foes cannot imagine the passions that burn within those of us who do – the fire being constantly kindled by people whose only real goal in life,  it seems, is to subvert the goals of others. A wise older man told me once that “most people don’t care if you do well, they just don’t like it when you’re doing better than they’re doing.” If you count yourself as a hard worker, a creative type, detail oriented, a smart cookie, or maybe just lucky as hell, someone out there is going to hate you for whatever it is that sets you apart or elevates your status above their own.

Thankfully, the laws of selection have likely killed off a good bit of that asshole DNA over the life-span of humanity. Our “old school” ancestors weren’t as obliged to take as much lip as we are these days and swords aren’t as readily accepted as a part of daily dress as they once were. But despite all that early character-cleansing activity, there’s still some decently pathetic people out there continuing to fertilize prick-eggs. They just keep coming. Just because one may die, you’re never going to be out of the woodwork. If you are a do’er or a leader or a facilitator – there’s always another sniper out there ready to put you in his/her cross-hairs.

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The jealousy gene is present inside all of us, especially me. If I meet someone who seems to have it all together, living the easy life, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a bit of jealousy. For a fleeting moment, not really knowing the back story of that person, I unwittingly think that I want what he or she has. The key words here are “seems” and “think”. But not everything is always as it seems. Our jealousies are oftentimes out of sync with the person’s real life – perhaps they’re living a life that we wouldn’t want for ourselves at all – we just haven’t seen it naked.

Some people, though, have a jealousy gene which is Enormously Dominant. Let’s just call this condition E.D. for now.  These people are genetically engineered to feel threatened by another’s outward successes. They are so consumed with jealousy that they actually believe that your successes (big or small), undermine their own self-confidence. Maybe they believe you will be favored or loved more than them. Perhaps they have a tinge of mental illness – your popularity or success emasculates their own self-perceptions. These folks are driven to try and derail you. It’s not personal, it’s their E.D...

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We’re really never going to know the exact reasons why these insecure folks will sell their souls to undercut your efforts, or why they are drawn to careers in finance(?%&@); we just have to recognize them for the value that they bring to our lives. Haters don’t necessarily hate you, it’s far more likely that they actually hate themselves. You become a reflection of what’s missing in their own mirror and a painful reminder of their own inadequacies.

To sum it all up, backstabbers and haters are not going away. If you lose one, you will get another. Why not elevate their status in a way that brings about positivity instead of stress? First learn to recognize them, then learn to appreciate them for the challenges they help you overcome. Perception is reality, they say.

FOES

Thank you Fate for foes! I hold mine dear

As valued friends. He cannot know

The Zest of life who runneth here

His earthly race without a foe.

I saw a prize. “Run,” cried my friend;

“’Tis yours to claim without a doubt.”

But ere I half-way reached the end,

I felt my strength was giving out.

My foe looked on while I ran;

A scornful triumph lit his eyes.

With that perseverance born in man,

I nerved myself, and won the prize.

All blinded by the crimson glow

Of Sin’s disguise, I tempted Fate.

“I knew thy weakness?” sneered my foe,

I saved myself, and balked his hate.

For half my blessings, half my gain,

I must thank my trusty Foe;

Despite his envy and disdain,

He serves me well where’er I go.

So may I keep him to the end,

Nor may his enmity abate;

More faithful than the fondest friend,

He guards me ever with his hate.

W. Wilcox

Genesis 2.0

1

Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

Family Tree

I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

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What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

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All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

An Exercise in Envy

My wife and I, along with some friends, vacationed in the Mediterranean a few years back and while we were touring through the country of Turkey I kept noticing that the people there were consistently wearing and carrying a small blue and black figurine. Some were like small medallions on necklaces and some were made into rings and some were just carried in their hands. Of course, since the bus driver also had a large one hanging from his rearview mirror, I had to ask our tour guide what it was. He called it an “evil eye”. Since the locals seem to use it almost religiously, and since we were in a predominantly Muslim country, I was very curious. He was adamant that it was a non-religious icon which intrigued me even more.

Now that we are about to vacation in Turkey again in a few months, I thought I would do more research on the subject which also inspired me to dive a little deeper. It turns out that the Evil Eye is not religious at all but is based instead in regional superstition, similar to how we use a rabbit’s foot here in America, only instead of just bringing good luck it also gives bad luck to your enemies. The evil-eye is one of the most prevalent superstitions in many Mediterranean cultures including the Italians.

Its roots are based in envy, i.e., someone feels envious of another person, even without a malicious intent behind it, thereby bringing bad luck upon the person being envied. It is believed that the evil eye can manifest itself in the victim physically via headache and/or general malaise or it may bring about acts of misfortune. Envy, of course, is a completely natural emotion, and if you happen to believe in the Seven Deadly Sins business, well you know it is one of the biggies. But why? What is so horrible about envy?

Aside from it just not being very nice to covet your neighbor’s job, success, wife, husband, family, looks, life, whatever…, there can be very personal effects turned inward as well. Envy can prevent us from working on ourselves and our own goals. We can become so fixated on what someone else does or has (or seems to do or have) that we may neglect the importance of working on improving ourselves and our own situations. Or it can simply plant seeds of doubt that we are not good enough, not smart enough, or do not have the right genetics or connections.

Literally, envy can be one of the most potent causes of unhappiness because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but he may also wish to inflict misfortune on others. Possessing malicious envy is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. If you allow yourself to swim in materialistic desire, it begins a sort of self-destructive emptiness inside oneself that completely blinds you to the things to which God has provided to you. It is the root of pride, vanity, narcissism and eventually mental illness.

In its most malicious form, envy can even lead someone to try to destroy another’s happiness — but that extreme is not what happens with most of us. And yes, I say us. I am certainly not immune to an occasional bout of benign jealously, especially when someone shows up at the gun range with an expensive new rifle or a fancy Hensoldt rifle scope. Several years ago I began reading about various different religions and comparing the similarities, I was immediately drawn to a Buddhist concept of acknowledging feelings and letting them pass. I began my life as a Baptist and marriage has proudly made me a Methodist but even though I’ve been an undeserving Christian my whole life, I have always been profoundly interested in the teachings of all religions and their similarities to each other. Lately, in this era of terrorism, I’ve also focused on some particularly disturbing religious principles too but that’s for another blog.

In particular, this Buddhist concept speaks deeply to my soul because I’ve always sort of had this innate ability to shrug stressful things off my shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that you have to accept Buddhism as a religion in order to benefit from some of its beliefs nor should Muslims be afraid to embrace commonly held Christian teachings. Accepting a positive life principle, no matter the source, is always a good thing and there are lots of commonalities found in many religions. So, let’s get back to this principle I was talking about.

When something stressful occurs or if we have unhealthy feelings like greed, lust or envy, we simply have to decide to acknowledge our feelings and then let them pass. If that sounds too easy to you, believe me, I know the feeling. But broken down to its most basic form, it’s simply saying “let it be”. Using mindfulness to overcome anxiety, no matter where the anxiety is centered. It’s a subtle yet powerful process when you think about it. When something negative comes, you simply acknowledge it and welcome it, recognizing that we are all born imperfect and we all experience the temptation of sin. God made us that way. Having bad thoughts is not what defines us, how we react to them is what defines us.

As human beings, we are all the same so there is no need to build barriers between us that don’t already exist. Whether it’s an issue of race, gender, sexual orientation or whatever, we can all find things that are common among us and we can all easily spot the sins or inadequacies of the other. We all have strengths and weaknesses, God was careful to create a diverse group of humanity, we just have to look harder to find out why. If we spend more time working on how to release negative energy rather than trying to fuel it, we’d all be better for it.

This release of negative energy has become a vital component of my own mental health. There is much more to this concept for the serious student of Buddhism, of course, but for me, a Christian trying to learn something from Buddhism, recognizing this one little aspect has been a game-changer because even though I already possessed the ability to decompress naturally, now I am more aware of what is happening on the inside which gives me more power over it. The act of renunciation is not about giving up the finer things of the world, but instead, recognizing that they all go away eventually and being completely content with that understanding.

But what do we gain by choosing to let envious feelings pass us? This is the best part. As a reward of letting go of envy, we receive the gifts of more time and increased focus to keep our eyes on our own prizes, stay in our own lanes, and not worry so much about what other people are doing and achieving. We no longer feel the urge or need to compare what is happening in our lives with what someone else is experiencing. We should measure ourselves on what we have thus far achieved versus our personal goals, not on what others achieve or of what they are doing.

Don’t fall into the trap of comparisons. Instead set goals for yourself which are realistic and complete them one by one. Your own success comes with sticking to your plan, being honest, working hard and then making sacrifices to achieve your goals. A man I respect dearly told me once, “People don’t mind you having things, they just don’t want you having more than them.” There’s a good bit of truth in that statement due in large part to this issue of envy. People who suffer from envy often have a skewed perception of how to achieve happiness. The true meaning of fortune is sometimes concealed behind a veil of other more tempting but mostly empty packages.

We each have our own unique paths, and that is exactly as it should be. Besides, keeping up with the Jones’ had become so 20th century that someone had to invent the Kardashians. Hey Kim, the 21st Century just called and we want our Jones’ back…just sayin. I mean, just watch two episodes of that show and focus on Sir Scott Disick, boyfriend and baby-daddy for Kourtney Kardashian, and you’ll see a poster child for depression, alcoholism and overall unhappiness, only with diamond Rolex watches and expensive sports cars. You can’t cure alcoholism with more alcohol; you can’t cure diabetes with more sugar; and you can’t cure envy with more stuff.

Benign envy, though, is perhaps a good thing so long as you focus your attention on what you want, then work to achieve or acquire it without wishing ill will on someone else in the process. We also shouldn’t isolate ourselves from our friends’, family and colleagues’ successes and happiness — quite the contrary! I find nothing more inspiring than watching my wife win a sales award or seeing my sister create beautiful paintings and sculptures, or being there while my son continues to grow in his maturity, confidence, and his career. In that sense, I’m not being envious of my sister’s talent in a negative way, just a little jealous – wishing I could do it too.

Happiness and success come in infinite quantities — there’s no reason to believe someone else is taking your share. If you’re fortunate enough to be the recipient of someone else’s hard work, be content. You didn’t earn it, you were just fortunate to benefit from it. Truly appreciating others’ success and happiness — but not coveting it — opens up your own path to personal and professional growth and fulfillment on your own terms, and not on anyone else’s. What could be better than that? Hmm, maybe Emily’s homemade cheesecake, but that’s about it.

As for the evil eye, well, since we are not all going to suddenly live in a world without envy, there are a few precautions you can take to combat any envious feelings coming your way. In pure Mediterranean style, you can sprinkle some salt around your house now and again, wear red, pepper your place with hanging pepperoncini – the symbol that protects against the Evil Eye, and also make the “le corna” (sign of the horns) with your hand (pinky finger and point finger sticking up, thumb holds the two middle fingers down) if and when you think someone is envying a bit too much.

Or you can always try my preferred method, attacking the dragon in its lair with a full frontal assault — though personally, I kind of think the sign of the horns is just too irresistible to ignore. Just in case.