My Uncle Ben

“The individual who wants to reach the top in business must appreciate the might of the force of habit and must understand that practices are what create habits. He must be quick to break those habits that can break him and hasten to adopt those practices that will become the habits that help him achieve the success he desires. ” J. Paul Getty 1892 – 1976

My Uncle Ben was one of my idols growing up. I never knew him except through his books and stories about him. He was well adapted to his time, which spanned from about 1860 to 1930. He had no interest in the telephone. “If someone wants me, they know where I am.” And they did. And he was there. He was an inventor, manufacturer, reader. I don’t think he had a degree of any kind, he just knew what he was doing. And he did what he loved. And he didn’t do anything else. I have his wardrobe and by the look of it, “practical” would have been his ethos. It is elegantly straightforward, as are the family tales of its owner.

His younger brother, my grandfather, was more impetuous. I was told that my grandfather Frank once tried to run after a streetcar. Ben pulled him back, “there’ll be another.” My grandfather used the telephone but thought typewriters were a lot of clacking. He demanded quiet in the office he oversaw. The transition from scriveners to typists was a moment my father would step into.

We all have to adapt whether we want to or not. My forebears stood with their ideals, they walked their talk – or didn’t – they lived as best they could in the changing times they had. The world changes, it’s what we can count on; it’s what we can know or fight or feel betrayed about.

How each one of us grasps the present defines us. It is interesting to note that while the world changes we as humans are essentially the same as we were thousands of years ago. We can’t access the thoughts of our earliest ancestors, but the ones we can read point to our human condition being pretty much the same as it’s always been. There is no concomitant growth in our natures, much as we might like. In fact there is more likely a loss, something we’ve forgotten, a piece of wisdom lost to us. We often look at those before us as not quite with it, a little old fashioned, like our parents who never had sex. But when we open ourselves to looking deeper, to listening without judging the language, which may seem quaint to us, what is written or spoken benefits our lives as we are living them right now. I often read books written a century ago, or many centuries, and am completely supported emotionally and intellectually by what is written.

Any time we feel we are plowing through new ground, we are, but it is our ground and it’s been plowed before. Computers, iPhones, Blackberries, are stepping stones to assist us. The newest technology is old as it leaves the suppliers’ shelves. Our hearts and minds are a constant through the ages. We can’t touch the past or the future with them, we touch with our hearts and minds. It is ourselves who will push through those new doors, and we haven’t changed. Don’t let your new phone get wet, but take care of yourself. Take care to practice what you want, take charge of who you want to be. Stand up for what is real for you. Do what you know. Love what you do.

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