Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Too soon old, too late smart

I just finished a book given to me by one of my dearest friends - Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know, by Gordon Livingston, M.D. I had to hurry to finish it because my friend P, who's traveling with me this week, picked it up while I was "cooking" dinner one night, it might have been tuna sandwiches, and immediately started saying, I love this! It's going home with her.

It's just a slim little book, 168 pages, one you'd see at the bookstore and dismiss as pop psychology. It's not. The thirty essays offer common sense reflections on the issues that affect us all: relationships, choices we make (or don't), motivation, change. Some of them were so spot on it felt like the author was talking to me, starting with the first chapter.


The author says, "I have learned that our passage through life consists of an effort to get the maps in our head to conform to the ground on which we walk." We all compare our idealized life to our actual life to one extent or another. Now think how much rationalizing, excusing, ignoring, or compromising we do to make the reality of our life match up with what we want it to be. Any sane person knows no one's life is idyllic but the choices we make can mitigate the amount of jockeying we have to do, starting with how we choose our friends or partners.


If I'm ever again in the market for a life partner, and God knows if I'll ever be ready to risk that again (the topic of another essay called Happiness Is the Ultimate Risk), I'll follow Dr. Livingston's advice. He says to look for a list of virtuous character traits, the list being topped with kindness, from which a capacity for empathy and love naturally follows. We may not be able to define this emotional art form, but we know when we're in its presence. 


This is the part that resonated with me: "The best indications that our always-tentative maps are faulty include feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal, surprise, and disorientation." Yes. The map in my head and the map on my ground were in such dissonance that I lived with these feelings often and for a long time. Isn't it disconcerting what we get used to and come to accept?


I took particular note that brooding, distance, and coldness are nowhere on his list of desirable traits. I know better now and will always be alert to the alluring presence of kindness, empathy, compassion, and love, whether I'm looking for a partner or a friend. Life is too short, and the possibility of sweetness too fleeting, to have to align maps again and again.


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Thought of the day:


Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open. (Elmer G. Letterman)

6 comments:

  1. This sounds like a good read, I am going to have to look for it.

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  2. I read an essay at a time. I think this book is meant to be read in small bites.

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  3. His wisdom regarding the traits we seek is so simplistic. Kindness is absolutely necessary. If the individual is kind, trust can grow. One other trait I've always rated highly is a sense of humor. If you have encountered someone without one, you know to run for the hills. Brooding does not beget love.

    Another gem.

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    1. My comment regarding being simplistic was not intended to read too simple. It was intended to read as so simple we often overlook it.

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    2. Sometimes the simple truth has to be pointed out to us. Is it because it's so simple we dismiss it as too easy? Or because it's not flashy and so easily overlooked? I don't know, but this book cuts to the heart of the matter.

      I totally agree about a sense of humor needing to be high on the list. Very high. Life can be grim if we can't laugh at its absurdities, including ourselves.

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  4. Somehow we fear the simple solution can't possibly be correct or someone else would have seen it before us. I'll have to check the book out.

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