Reflect on the good and positive

Posted by: | Posted on: December 25, 2008

December 24, 2008

Reflect on the good and positive

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D.

If you didn’t pay attention to the findings published in the British Medical Journal earlier this month — noted in my column last week — happiness is contagious; if you are connected to unhappy people, this is likely to increase your chances of being unhappy by about seven percent, on average.

Since smiling, singing and laughter tune up the positive emotions of the people near and around you, you can make this season the “most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes.

The holiday season is also a time of reflection. Every year I replay memories of the past, near and distant. I sigh at some, shake my head at some, smile at some. And I remember the wise counsel: “Learn from the past, but don’t live there!”

I give thanks to all that happened, the good and the not-so-good — from the not-so-good I learned the good. And I follow the wise counsel: “Live life rather than let life live you.” Make life what I would like it to be; take ownership of my actions rather than blame or praise karma.

I dust off writings by Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) who teaches that we can live “sanely, happily, intelligently,” even in a world of conflicts inside ourselves and a world of frictions outside, at work, in the community, or in the world, by living the present “in goodness.”

Briefly, Krishnamurti sees goodness as unrelated to what’s bad or evil. He defines “good” as that which is holy, related to God and to the highest principles. The holy doesn’t preach love and practice hatred, and God and the highest principles do not preach killing, stealing and smearing someone’s good name, he says.

He teaches: To live in goodness we must end the “me” that exists in our relationships, actions, thinking and way of life, by transforming our mind through meditation; and instill compassion, love and energy to transcend pettiness, narrowness and shallowness in life.

So, don’t wait for good karma. We must be responsible and take possession of ourselves, thoughts and actions.

Like the years before, as the old year nears the end and the new one shows its face, I go over my “One-day-at-a-time Therapy” booklet, purchased after I left my native land, Cambodia, the only land I knew, for college in America. It’s dog-eared now, and I have five grandchildren. But I still read and reflect on the meaning of the words.

“Sing, hum, whistle,” the booklet reads, “This moment is the only moment you have. Respect its possibilities.” I know it by heart.

If my former students in my University of Guam politics classes didn’t fall asleep under the island tropical breeze, they should recall my lecture about the importance of “this moment,” which is now, not yesterday or tomorrow; that when it passes it does not return with its moment’s particulars that provide a turning point to change one’s life. Seize the moment as the window of opportunities presents, I lectured, take steps, cross the threshold, the imaginary demarcation line. After the crossing, all should become easier and clearer. A similar moment may appear in the future, but not with the same particulars.

I wonder how many understood and if any had actually crossed any threshold.

Learning to think is hard as abstract ideas are difficult to manipulate. I remember my column in 2006 on New York Times award-winner Thomas Friedman’s “Learning to Keep Learning,” in which he appealed to “the constant ability to learn how to learn” as the “only security you have.”

Now in 2008, a Cambodian reader expressed a frustration, common worldwide, that it takes too long for learning to show what it can cause to be accomplished. Yet, the same reader reminded me of what I lectured at the Cambodian border two decades ago: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Touché!

The Chinese say, “A teacher opens the door, but you must enter by yourself.”

Learning as a process requires unlearning as well as relearning the many things as man journeys through life. French-born educator Jacques Barzun says it best: “In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for 20 years.”

The human light-bulb will pop. When it lights up it shines. In this high-tech era, learning is made simple. Thinking about what one learned is not so easy.

Last year, Time magazine had a cover story about “the savage and the splendid” that coexist in the same person: “Morality and empathy are writ deep in our genes. Alas, so are savagery and bloodlust.”

As the teacher of nonviolence, Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” All the world’s religions teach man to ameliorate the good and avoid the bad. And men and women everywhere can learn from religious teachings of compassion and love.

As Time wrote, the “overwhelming majority” of people “don’t run the moral rails,” although some “do come untracked.”

As we come to the end of the year, reflections on the good and the positive and formulating resolutions for the New Year 2009 are in order.

May Christmas Day bring you and your families happiness and joy!

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at

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