Insights on wisdom from Arianna Huffington

“Wisdom” is one of four keys to redefining success in Arianna Huffington’s new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. (March 2014)

She assumes we are all busy pursuing the first two metrics of success: money and power. (She is! She is super-busy and visible as the co-founder, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.) After a wake-up call in 2007 – a nasty fall she blames on exhaustion – she began to reassess her values.

To make a fulfilling life, she recommends the pursuit of well-being, wisdom, and wonder – as well as a commitment to giving. Together, these are what she calls “the third metric” – the key ingredients that were missing from her life.

Naturally, I found her chapter on wisdom the most interesting. Here are a few of Arianna Huffington’s insights:

  • “Wisdom is about recognizing what we’re really seeking: connection and love.”
  • “There is nothing that we need more today than having proportion restored to disproportion, and separating our everyday worries and preoccupations from what is truly important.”
  • “In our daily lives, moving from struggle to grace requires practice and commitment. But it’s in our hands. I’ve come to believe that living in a state of gratitude is the gateway to grace.”
  • “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.”
  • “One big source of wisdom is intuition, our inner knowing. . . . Our intuition is like a tuning fork that keeps us in harmony – if we learn to listen.”
  • “We have little power to choose what happens, but we have complete power over how we respond…. No matter how much hardship we encounter… we can still choose peace and imperturbability.”

She also includes these two memorable quotes from other people:

  • “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” – Carrie Fisher
  • “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal

I don’t share her focus on the relentless pursuit of money and power, but I did find that she had points worth making and ideas worth considering.

What about you? Are you pursuing money and power? Or did you discover, before Arianna did, the importance of well-being, wisdom, and wonder – as well as giving back?

The nine women in Warm Cup of Wisdom discovered these insights long ago. Yet I suspect they would still nod their heads in appreciation at the above quotes.

Arianna Thrive cover

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How do you manage your relationship with your grown children?

Do you feel disappointed and disillusioned with your adult child? Or wounded by his silence, distance, or harsh words?

Or are you an adult child yourself who feels feel angry toward your parents because of their judgmental and condescending attitudes?

I know of several cases where parents and children are estranged – sometimes for months, sometimes for years, with no contact at all. It’s true that some parents are alcoholics or mentally imbalanced, but in other cases parents have done their best, with good intentions, yet their grown children pull away and reject them. And I know of adult children who want to move on but just can’t help feeling they deserved better parenting.

Some of the nine women I interviewed for Warm Cup of Wisdom seemed to have established warm and loving relationships with their children – but others struggled. The problem centers on what parents call “guidance” or “advice” – and what adult children call “meddling” or “nagging.” While children are growing up, parents take responsibility for guiding their children and it feels unnatural – wrong, even – to suddenly stop caring what happens to your kids when they become adults. You brought them into this world, and you want to see them happy and stable.

But how much advice is too much? And how can you word your suggestions in a way your son or daughter will hear as constructive? Sometimes adult children are particularly sensitive to what they perceive as criticism – often when they are most insecure and uncertain. It’s true they need to be independent, to learn from their own mistakes. But it can be painful to watch. Your kids, after all, are among the most important people in your life.

Here are some words of wisdom from the women I interviewed, who learned the hard way how to relate to their adult children.

  • Expressing your disapproval is not a good idea. They have made their choices.
  • Try not to be too involved in their lives. Hands off! Unless it’s “serious business.”
  • Learn how to listen, like a good counselor. Then let them talk will they come up with their own solutions.
  • Bite your tongue. If they ask for advice, give it. If they don’t ask for it, don’t.
  • Ask them for advice sometimes.
  • You can relax and be a little more open and human than you were.
  • Sometimes helping your kids (especially with money) is not the right thing to do. We need to lose our need to help them.
  • Accept them for who they are – and love them that way, truly.
  • Hang in there with them.
  • As parents, we need to lose our need to make them be the way we want them to be.
  • Let go. Try not to be controlling.
  • We are each responsible for ourselves. If you feel rejected by your kids, you need to deal with your own feelings.
  • More than anything, help your kids believe in themselves.

When I wrote Warm Cup of Wisdom, I did not know of any books giving advice to parents about relating to their adult children. Since then, I have found a few, which received high reader ratings on Amazon:

  1. Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship between Adult Children and Parents, by Jane Isay, a former book editor who edited Reviving Ophelia. (2008)
  2. When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along, by psychologist Dr. Joshua Coleman. (2008).
  3. Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children, by Ruth Nemzoff. (2008)
  4. How to Really Love Your Adult Child: Building a Healthy Relationship in a Changing World, by Gary D. Chapmen and Dr. Ross Campbell. Chapman is a relationship counselor and author of The 5 Love Languages. These authors also wrote Parenting Your Adult Child: How You Can Help them Achieve Their Full Potential in 1999.
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Thanks for your tips on raising teenagers!

One of my goals for this blog is to start an interactive discussion – raising provocative questions and encouraging readers to answer.  This approach fits with my belief that wisdom can be found in ordinary people – if we seek it. Here are some great tips offered (from my Facebook friends) when I asked for tips on guiding your child through the teenage years.

Sidney (age 93, father of four adult children):

“One key: both give clear guidance AND be an all-round friend of the child, not just a parent. Works wonders. We never had that sort of teen-age alienation, and I think it was because both parents were pals of the four kids and they liked to spend time with us.”

Who knew we'd travel to Thailand together someday?

Who knew we’d travel to Thailand together someday?

Shelley (currently raising a teenaged son):

“If you already laid the foundation of respect – mutual – just keep it up. As always with kids, focus on what’s really important. Just the right amount of age-appropriate trust in them goes a long way. They still need clear boundaries and expectations. Lots of laughing around them. They’ll notice.”

Audrey Bennett (mother of two young adult children):

“On my father’s side of the family, every other person is a lifelong alcoholic. I was honest early on with my children about the importance of taking care of their bodies. I started out talking about eating the right food and as they asked more questions, introduced the ideas of not smoking and not drinking alcohol. As they got older, I explained that those who wait to try alcohol until they are 21 or older typically have fewer problems with alcohol. Many parents are glad when their teen is popular and included in lots of parties. Not me. I was thrilled to have homebodies who avoided drinking. They’re both in their mid-twenties, and as far as I can tell they’ve both avoided the family curse.”

Gregg (father of three young adult sons):  “Remember: they raise you, too.”

Thanks to all of you!  If any one else has a comment, let me know. I’d love to add to this list of wisdom.

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Any tips on how to raise a teenager?

I hope you have some – because, frankly, most parents are at sea when their little darlings reach those teenaged years.

These three teenagers turned out great!

Teenagers! These three turned out great

“An alien inhabited my son’s body when he turned twelve, and it didn’t leave till he was in college,” a friend once told me. “It seemed like a long time, but the alien finally departed.” I’ve repeated this wisdom to other friends many times, and it seems to help. When you’re suffering from the throes of your teenager’s angst – often aimed directly at you! – it seems that little monster will never go. Maybe your beloved child will be rude and disrespectful forever!  Well, maybe. But in most cases, your child’s basic personality returns sometime during college. That’s a huge relief.

The women I interviewed for Warm Cup of Wisdom seemed divided on this question.

  • One said, “Your job now is to trust them and let you know you trust them.”
  • Another said, “My children all did horrendous things. Just trusting doesn’t work.”
  • Another said, “I’d go to bed crying a lot because she was just so awful to us.”
  • Another said, “You have to accept them for who they are, not what you want them to be.”
  • And another: “If you try your best, then you shouldn’t beat yourself up about how they turn out.”

The trick is to balance guidance – and they do need guidance during what could be dangerous years – with the need to let go and encourage independence.  With every kid, the balance is different.

What’s your experience?  I’ll bet it’s as unique as you  – and your children.

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How do you know what kind of work is right for you?

And what advice would you give to a young adult – or a middle-aged one – who is trying to find work that aligns with core values?

All right. Everyone knows the “right answer” to this one: Find your bliss and pursue it. Do what you love, and the money will follow.

But that doesn’t always work. If your bliss happens to be writing, art, music, acting, or photography, the money doesn’t always follow. Even if you prepare yourself well and work really hard. I know far too many creative people who have found this out the hard way. For every bestselling author and rock star there are tens of thousands of wannabes who struggle to earn any money at all from their passion.

I myself was a history major, but I’ve arm-wrestled with some of my good friends about the value of a liberal arts education. Fortunately, my dad gave me some great advice at the age of eighteen. He set me straight about how hard it is to earn a living as an author and suggested journalism. At his advice, I pursued paying internships in journalism and worked on the college newspaper while I was earning my beloved degree in history. Only later in life did I combine my passions and my training by writing historical novels.

This is the advice I’d give a young person: Take lots of courses to find an area you love – but also pursue summer jobs and classes that will prepare you for the workforce. Don’t neglect either passion or pragmatism. If you do, you may regret it.

But what about a middle-aged person? Some of us have enough financial stability at midlife to shift gears and pursue something we love. One lesson I learned is that life has many seasons, and the season for raising small children may require putting aside other ambitions. Once the kids are grown, a new season offers fresh possibilities – sometimes with more risk than you were willing to undertake when the family depended on your income. For me, that meant a move from journalism to book writing.

One woman I interviewed for Warm Cup of Wisdom became a preschool director at midlife. “Sometimes parents would send me the nicest notes about how happy their children were at our preschool,” she told me. “Those notes made me feel like I was doing something important.” With positive feedback like that, work undertaken at midlife can provide satisfaction and fulfillment on a deep level.

What about you? What advice have you given?

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Can we re-create ourselves?

Midlife can be an age of new possibilities and opportunities. Many of my friends, male and female, embarked in new directions in their fifties or even sixties, pursuing long-suppressed dreams or exploring on an unexpected path. This came as a delightful surprise to me. Back in my twenties, I thought we were all making decisions for life.

For women, especially, midlife can be freeing. For mothers, it is usually a time when children leave the nest. Women who have left the workforce sometimes return to work full time in some area they once wished for – or find work they never imagined. Many of those who have spent decades in one field quit their jobs and find meaningful new endeavors. Now that we’re living longer, healthier lives, midlife can be a great time to go back to school, start a company, take up art or poetry, or devote your energy to a heartfelt cause.

Of the nine women I interviewed for Warm Cup of Wisdom, all switched directions at midlife. Two did so reluctantly, because of divorce, but found new passions to guide them in the second half of life. Most of the others took deliberate actions and created a new self-identity after the age of fifty. Several went back into classrooms to get master’s degrees. One founded her own consulting company, after realizing she didn’t want to be a partner in someone else’s firm. One began working for a local sculptor and then decided to collect stories about him for a book. Another became the director of a growing preschool – and led it for eighteen years. Another took up acting – and even now, in her eighties, appears on local TV commercials.

I admire their midlife gumption – and consider it a sign of wisdom. That’s one reason I found them to be good role models. I spent my fifties making the switch from journalism to book writing – a dream I had cherished since childhood.

“I think that the fifties are a remarkable decade,” one of them told me. “Maybe because the kids are off to college or gone, and you’ve decided what your strengths are. You have this period where you are still very vital, sought after, respected. I’ve watched many of my friends blossom and comes into their own in their fifties.”

What’s your story – from your life or that of someone you admire?  What’s the advantage of finding a new direction at midlife?

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Can we truly forgive?

Since forgiveness is a core teaching of Christianity, which is a core belief system in America, why is it that so many Americans find it hard to believe that it’s truly possible to forgive? My friend Sidney Rittenberg recently asked me this challenging question. Sidney is a man who was falsely imprisoned in China for 16 years, yet at age 93 he is remarkably free of bitterness or anger toward those who mistreated him.

His question feels especially relevant today, after the news that ISIS militants have beheaded a second American journalist in the Middle East. Our first reaction – often – is to demand revenge. When someone does something that is brutal or “unforgivable,” it seems only human to respond with violence. When I read in the paper about a woman who forgave the man who killed her husband while stealing his cell phone, I found that hard to believe. I wondered: Did she just say that because she knows her religion teaches that, or did she truly forgive?

When I asked the nine women I interviewed for the book Warm Cup of Wisdom “Can we truly forgive?” I found that several of them gave similar answers. The point of forgiving, they said, is not to let the perpetrator off the hook – or excuse what terrible things he did. You forgive because you need to let go of past hurts in order to move on with your life. “Forgiving can be extremely difficult, but if you do it, it is totally freeing,” said one woman who managed, after great effort, to forgive someone who had abused her when she was a little girl. “It made me realize what a burden I was carrying by keeping such pain inside.”

Another woman agreed in principle but has not yet forgiven some terrible things done to her during her childhood. The word forgiveness, she said, brings up “a knot here in my gut.” “Healing needs to happen before forgiveness,” she said. “You shouldn’t rush into forgiveness.” She is appalled by people who counsel battered wives to “forgive and forget.”

Responding to violence with more violence is obviously not wise. Nor is rushing into forgiveness before you are ready – or putting yourself in harm’s way again, or letting criminals get away with the same crime a second time.

What do you think?  Have you managed to forgive something that seemed unforgivable?

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