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Published:August 26th, 2013 13:20 EST
It Is the Sign that Counts

It Is the Sign that Counts

By Ignatius Fernandez

The real adult learns to love people and use things. Not love things and use people.   John Powell

The priest is engrossed in his book as Greg stands in the shadows, waiting for the priest to spot him. Conscious of a presence near him, the priest raises his head and smiles broadly as he invites Greg to join him. Tilting his head and in a pensive voice he asks Greg if there was a problem that was worrying him, because that was not the first time Greg had come to the priest for help. Greg nodded. Then setting his book aside, the priest listened with head and heart to Greg`s tale of sorrow.

      When Greg had finished his story, with a playful smile, the priest asked him, Greg, in school, did you learn Algebra?                                        A little, he replied.                                                                                            Then tell me, if I write 2, is the number complete?                                    Yes, it is.                                                                                                         Suppose I said "no`, would you agree with me?                                                 I am not sure, was Greg`s hesitant reply.                                                     See Greg, 2 is not complete. You need a sign before it. Either (+) or (-) before the number. Notice that (+2) and (-2) are not the same. When you add (+2) and (+2), you get (+4). When you add (-2) and (-2), you get (-4). But when you add (+2) and (-2) you get 0 (zero). It is the sign that counts, positive or negative. It is the same with the way we think and respond to situations. Our attitude that goes before our response counts. The priest went on to explain how Greg`s attitude mattered. How empty one`s life was, when filled only with things " which was Greg`s problem. And that no trial would trouble him if he tried to understand God`s purpose in sending it to him. When Greg left the priest late that evening, he felt relieved and consoled.

      That is the lesson for us " our positive or negative attitudes count. When good fortune visits us we are elated, literally off the ground, not stopping to think that the phase will pass. We deceive ourselves into believing that good fortune will last for ever. We become dismissive of people and our tone is imperious. We think we are in command and in control and ride roughshod over those who are reporting to us or depend on us. Pride walks before us and we gladly follow.

      And then it happens, the ladder we climbed is ripped from under our feet and we tumble to the ground in a heavy heap. The vain swagger that was our trademark deserts us and there is only pain in mind and body. For a time we pretend that all is well. But people see through the pretense and we are crushed.

      The reason we are crushed is that we do not know how to take a fall. Unlike the trained stuntman, we fall with a thud. What hurts most is our broken ego (a few broken bones, apart), because we let the wrong attitude wrap us in a sense of false security.

      Why does this happen? Why are we flying on imaginary wings at one time and earth-bound at another? We let Profit, Pleasure, Possessions and Praise determine the state of our happiness. Like puppets in a show, these impostors manipulate us. They control our state of mind and our response to others. A person is never so empty as when he is full of self. Even then, it is not late to bring God into our lives through a new code: Living for God`s approval is better than living for man`s applause; and resolving not to be a prisoner of the past, but an architect of the future.

      When that code is etched in our minds and hearts we realize that everything passes, even the storms that buffet us. Our responses are mature and our state of mind balanced " treating fortune and misfortune with wise indifference and sharing in the joys and sorrows of others. It does not mean that we do nothing to tide over bad times. Of course, we do, but we are not crest-fallen; we find new energy deep within us to conquer. With God on our side everything becomes possible.

      Many students of human nature believe that habit is the most powerful of all influences. All we need are a few repetitions. Then the  habit becomes a permanent part of us. That is why they say: Begin (the right habit), the rest is easy.

      What is an attitude? It is a way of viewing something, a way of thinking about something, which we have repeated until that way of thinking becomes a habit. An attitude is therefore a habitual way of regarding something. To change an attitude is to unlearn an old habit and learn a new one. Let an example explain the point: I may stop eating oranges and switch to grapes. The fruit is different, but the type is the same " citrus. Modification will not do; I must stop eating citrus fruits (to continue with the metaphor), if I am to cut out an old habit and start a new one. The benefit in the effort to change is not what we get out of it, but what we become by it, which is hard to quantify, because it is immeasurable.

      William James gives us reason to rejoice: The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.

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