Tuesday, May 29, 2018
A few weeks ago I wrote about Choices. The pursuit of Freedom and Happiness versus accepting Responsibility and fulfilling your Commitments. This isn’t something that just popped into my head. It’s always there, for all of us, whether we want to face it or not.
I closed that blog entry with a quote from Jordan Peterson: “If you fulfill your obligations everyday you don't need to worry about the future.” If you haven’t read or listened to Jordan Peterson, I recommend him highly. His book, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is one of the best of its kind I’ve ever read. It certainly makes my short-list of books I’ll read more than once. Another one on that list is David Brooks’ “The Road To Character”. You should read that one too.
Here are just a few quotes from these two books:
“Humility is the awareness that there’s a lot you don’t know and that a lot of what you think you know is distorted or wrong.”- David Brooks
“The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability, rather than status and power. Status you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity.” – Jordan Peterson
“Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.”- David Brooks
“In a crisis, the inevitable suffering that life entails can rapidly make a mockery of the idea that happiness is the proper pursuit of the individual.” – Jordan Peterson
“Sin is not some demonic thing. It’s just our perverse tendency to fuck things up, to favor the short term over the long term, the lower over the higher. Sin, when it is committed over and over again, hardens into loyalty to a lower love.”- David Brooks
“But the story of the golden calf also reminds us that without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions—and there’s nothing freeing about that.” – Jordan Peterson
“Change your behavior and eventually you rewire your brain.”- David Brooks
“What you aim at determines what you see.” - Jordan Peterson
And interestingly enough, both Brooks and Peterson include this quote in their books: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I have been thinking a lot about what Brooks and Peterson have to say in these books and why I am so inclined to agree with them. And I keep coming back to Mamaw, my maternal grandmother. Mamaw had a rough life. One of 11 children growing up on a hard-scrabble farm southwest of Fort Worth. And then a farmer's wife until the day she died. She worked from dawn to dusk and beyond everyday of her life. She focused on her family. She took care of everybody. Raised her kids and then just about raised her grandkids. She had a good husband, my Papaw. He was as good as they come. But she was the rock. Tough as nails and knew that this life was no picnic.
She also knew that prayers often go unanswered, or you don’t get the answer you want. She also knew that cursing God and shaking your fist at Him would only make things worse, not for Him but for you. She had faith in the future, not in this life, but in the next. And she believed that it was her job to make a positive difference in the here and now because the here and now needs all the help it can get.
Jordan Peterson talks a lot about the suffering that comes with living life in these bodies on this planet. He also says that the purpose of life is finding the largest burden you can bear and bearing it. Take up your cross, that sort of thing. It’s a hard message, but it’s the truth. Mamaw was right.
Saturday, May 19, 2018
Yesterday a 17 year old student in Santa Fe, Texas killed fellow students and teachers, 10 in all. It would have been more had he been armed with semi-automatic weapons. In this case the killing was done with a .38 revolver and a shotgun. So the gun control debate will expand and become only more heated.
I am on the record as being for a ban on high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons. Certainly assault rifles at minimum. Tighter regulations and more enforcement of existing laws would be good things. But it wouldn’t have stopped this event. (Unless it would have kept this shooter’s father from owning a revolver and a shotgun. And even then, my bet is that this young man would have found other ways to wipe out his tormentors. Perhaps not as effective or perhaps much worse).
If stricter gun regulations are not enough, what else and what now? We can tighten security at our schools and public gathering places. It might help and it probably doesn’t hurt. But those with a strong motivation to kill people will find a way. Establish security check points and a killer will target those waiting to go through security. Protect the buildings, but be prepared to pick up the dead in the parking lot.
Do all you can do to protect people and limit the death toll. More gun control and better security. These are givens. Just do it. But understand that “the virus” is out there ready to infect anyone who feels mistreated, disrespected or dismissed. And like any virus it will adapt and continue to spread. And there seems to be no cure. Cain killed his brother Abel and it’s been all downhill from there.
These days those with an ax to grind have plenty of options and more than enough examples of how to “get even”. We can limit those options and take more stringent security measures. But in a world that increasingly believes all truth is relative, that right and wrong depend on your perspective; and personal responsibility is something you only have to consider when it’s your fault, and it’s never your fault; our stories will all too often be written in blood.
Saturday, May 5, 2018
“If you want any one thing too badly, it's likely to turn out to be a disappointment.” – Gus McCrae, from Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
I’m an old guy. Old enough to remember my family telling stories of the real old days. Old enough to have heard first-hand stories from family members about the dust bowl and the depression. Old enough to have had a father and uncles who fought in WWII. Old enough to remember how we lived without central heat and air, or more than one bathroom, or color TV (much less 200 channels), or cell phones, or the internet, or hip and knee replacements. Old enough to remember when divorce was rare and few children were born out of wedlock. I grew up in a time where kids were free to wander all over the place until after dark and neighbors knew who you were. Experienced the cultural revolution of the 60’s & 70’s, the “greed is good” era of the 80’s and 90’s and now the digital age and the battle for social justice and equality.
So I have lived some life and gained a bit of perspective. And I have learned. Mostly learned the hard way by making bad choices and suffering the consequences. What I have learned is that life often comes down to choices between Commitment and Responsibility versus Freedom and Happiness. Most of the pain in my life has resulted from decisions to pursue Freedom and Happiness at the expense of Commitment and Responsibility.
I think it’s fair to say that since the end of WWII, our country has pretty much gone down that same path. Where Freedom and Happiness too often take precedence over Commitment and Responsibility, societies breakdown. Certainly the desire for Freedom and Happiness has been a positive factor in the advance of civilization. Fire, the wheel, the remote control, Viagra…all in the pursuit of Freedom and Happiness. So Freedom and Happiness are not bad things.
America itself was born out of an innate human desire for Freedom and Happiness. And when Freedom and Happiness are balanced with Commitment and Responsibility, the outcomes tend to be very positive. Are they perfect? Of course not. We can all point to abuses and oppression thrust upon groups of people under the guise of Commitment and Responsibility. There just has to be a balance.
Today, in America, the pendulum has swung way too far in the direction of Freedom and Happiness. Forsake Commitment and Responsibility for Freedom and Happiness and you end up with too many divorces, too many children born out of wedlock or raised by single parents, or a relative or a stranger. Make Freedom and Happiness a priority in education and you end up with a lot of people unprepared to live or make a living on their own. Make Freedom and Happiness a priority and those in power pass laws and establish policies to benefit those in power and those whom they need on their side in order to remain in power. Make Freedom and Happiness a priority and the rich will get richer until the poor have had enough. (And we are getting there, if not there already). Make Freedom and Happiness a priority and you will vote for Hope and Change or to Make America Great Again even if the person you’re voting for is unqualified.
My sense is that we are close to a tipping point. While Millennials are often criticized for being spoiled and pampered or too wrapped up in social justice causes, I think a lot of them have learned from the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. Maybe buying all of the house you can afford, isn’t such a good idea. Maybe putting your career ahead of your family isn’t the best life strategy. Perhaps spending a Saturday on a community service project instead of on the golf course will make you and your community better. Some are going back to church or at least thinking about it. Some of them are even listening to us old guys who have made the mistake of pursuing Happiness and Freedom at the expense of Commitment and Responsibility.
“If you fulfill your obligations everyday you don't need to worry about the future.”
― Jordan B. Peterson