Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Stay Fascinated, My Friends!

(Photo credit: Nick White/Thinkstock)
This is of course, a take off on the popular commercial in which “the most interesting man in the world” advises us to “Stay thirsty, my friends!” which associates drinking Dos Equis beer with a life of romance and adventure.

I recently read The Coaching Habit, in which the author Michael Stanier also used that imperative to good effect, concluding his book with “Stay Curious, my friends!” I like it! But “fascinated” is a step beyond curious. Curious is good, but it is a neutral emotion. “Fascination” has some magic in it….

To be fascinated, intrigued, full of wonder, amazed, enthused, awe-inspired – is so much different, so much better than being annoyed, angry, indignant, indifferent, or simply unemotionally focused on whatever one is doing.

Computers, robots, automatons can’t be fascinated. To be fascinated is to be alive and human. Fascination implies a sparkle, a level of amazement, perhaps a wee taste of joy – an appreciation of the wonder, mystery – even beauty – in whatever we are observing or considering. Fascination has an aesthetic quality to it.

It is often difficult to see the wonder, mystery, beauty in unpleasant surprises, when our natural inclination is to respond with anger and annoyance, or disappointment, or sadness. But to step back and say – “Yeah, that really pisses me off, or “that is disgusting,” or ….”that is terrible, but isn’t it fascinating how….” puts a little different spin on the issue. It demands that we seek to understand – even appreciate – the issue from a broader perspective.

My good friend Rick Rochelle, with whom I have led numerous NOLS courses seems to have this as a default position when confronted with things that aggravate me and others. He often begins a sentence with, “Isn’t it fascinating how…” then pick your point of aggravation: Trumps undisciplined use of twitter, how the left hates Trump with the same ferocity that the right hated Obama, how people who so readily break promises are so annoyed when others break commitments. Whatever. Obviously, these things can annoy and infuriate many of us. But….isn’t it fascinating?

I have read Zorba the Greek a number of times – and the character of Zorba continues to inspires me. In the novel the narrator describes the 65 year old Zorba as:

Like the child, he sees everything for the first time. He is forever astonished and wonders why and wherefore. Everything seems miraculous to him, and each morning when he opens his eyes, he sees trees, sea, stones and birds and is amazed.

My friend retired SEAL Master Chief Mags was recently advising young men preparing to enter SEAL training, on how to deal with the pain, intimidation and exhaustion they knew were coming. He finished by advising them to occasionally change their view of what they were experiencing, and ask themselves: “Isn’t this fascinating what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what I’m going through?! Isn’t it fascinating how they make Navy SEALs?”

Of course, my wife Mary Anne, regularly pulls my chain on this, especially when she’s riled up. When the city of Tijuana dumps a 150 million gallons of raw sewage into the ocean, just up-current from where we live in Imperial Beach, she throws “fascination” back in my face with, “I do NOT find this f*cking “FASCINATING!”

And then I rile her up even more, when I smile and respond, “Isn’t it fascinating how you continue to get upset by this?”

(Isn’t it fascinating how married people needle each other?!)

Tijuana sewage dumps, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, Korean nuclear posturing, Syrian atrocities are indeed difficult and serious problems, the resolving of which are long term challenges. And while these can be upsetting, frustrating, and in some cases tragic, they are also engaging, worthy of our political involvement and concern – and interesting. Without forgetting the moral and human dimensions associated with these challenges, it’s one more step beyond interesting to see the origins of these problems, their many dimensions, their complexity, as “fascinating.”

Fascination CAN co-exist with frustration, sadness, disappointment, and a focused sense of purpose. But it CAN NOT co-exist with livid anger, righteous indignation, moral outrage. Not much else can either.

In response to whether “fascination” has any place in the worst of circumstances, I refer to Viktor Frankl’s Mans Search for Meaning. He (or his translators) didn’t use the word “fascination,” but I believe that what he described as an ability to detach oneself from the horror, to find a place of wonder and spiritual detachment, is akin.

There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

It is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.

The way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

Most of us will never need the emotional discipline and spiritual resilience necessary to cope with anything approaching the horror of a concentration camp, but we will all have our difficult times. And when we do, the wisest of us will step back and not forget the miracles of this life, and those miracles includes suffering, as well as joy.

When I am able to make a minor adjustment to my perspective, and appreciate what I am experiencing as on some level “fascinating,” it adds a bit of a sparkle to my day. If there is beauty to be seen, I am better able to see it; if there is disappointment or pain, it hurts a little less. A smile sneaks onto my face, and the world seems a little bit brighter, just a little more…. fascinating.

I may not be the most interesting man in the world, but I challenge myself, and I challenge you to
Stay fascinated, my friends!

Bob Schoultz (retired Navy Seal commander, Adjunct Professor for Masters of Science in Global Leadership program at the University of San Diego, and certified NOLS instructor for L-380) is a regular WFLDP blog contributor. Check out this and other articles on Bob's blog, "Bob Schoultz's Corner."

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