The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

Repeat the words in the title anywhere in the world and they are immediately recognizable as referring to the United States of America.  As Michael Medved loudly proclaims on each of his shows:  “And another great day in this, the greatest country on God’s green earth.”  It is my guess that you have never thought about where the phrase “land of the free and home of the brave” comes from.  Of course, it comes from our national anthem but where did the words originally come from?  Were they from some patriot during the Revolutionary War or from the War of 1812?  Actually they came from a lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key.  He penned them as part of a poem he wrote in 1814 which was originally titled:  “Defense of Fort McHenry.” 

The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “The Anacreontic Song” (or “To Anacreon in Heaven“), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key’s poem and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song.”  —

Today, we naturally assume that the words refer to our penchant for American independence and heroism.  Our unique ability to save the world from itself and to right injustices wherever they are found.  Our vaunted American exceptionalism that gives us the moral right and categorical imperative to influence and insert ourselves in events and places the world over.  No one dares to question (or at least few in this country) the right of America to influence politics throughout the world.  No one questions the assumption that we are only in it for the greater good of humanity.  How could anyone from the “land of the free and the home of the brave” do otherwise?  Where our boots tread, soon follows democracy and prosperity, right?

But what if the “land of the free and the home of the brave” was not the reality anymore?  What if it was more accurate to say that today America has become the “land of the guarded and the home of the fearful.”  Since 911, Americans have seemed to retreat behind a cloak of ongoing surveillance and security measures that could become the greatest detriment to freedom, this country has ever faced.  As Benjamin Franklin so wisely noted; “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. 

So I have decided to do some first-hand research and go visit a few “average” Americans.  I took a little road trip across Wisconsin to find some true patriots and to see what they think about our country.  Are we really scared and fearful?  Are we willing to give up our freedom for security?  Have we become more xenophobic?  To answer these questions, I stopped at diners, coffee shops, rest areas, truck stops, libraries and Denny’s Restaurants to visit with real Americans.  Not the 1 percent who make their money from stocks and bonds, but the hardworking “Joes and Janes” who make their money the old fashioned way, by the sweat of their brows.  I will briefly post a few excerpts here from some of my interviews.

Roxanne:  The Full-Time-Part-Time Worker:

I met 36 year old Roxanne in a booth in Mc Donald’s where we talked over a Big Mac, fries and a shake.  Roxanne is a divorced mother of two school aged children whom she is raising with the help of some grandparents.   She works both a part-time day job at Benny’s Cleaners and a part-time night job at Wal-Marts.

John:  Let’s cut to the chase Roxanne. What do you think about America today?

Roxanne:  Well, John, its dam hard to make a living, I can tell you that. Without my grandparents helping me, I don’t know how I would get by.

John:  Do you think we have too much security and not enough freedom?

Roxanne:  I don’t know, seems like there is never a cop around when you need one.  I had a fight with my boyfriend the other day and called the cops, but it took them over 30 minutes to get to my place.

John:  What do you think about the Russians, Iraqis, Mexican Cartels and Obama?

Roxanne:  I think they should all go back to the countries they came from and leave us alone.

John:  Did you vote in the last elections?

Roxanne:  Who was running?

John:  Thanks Roxanne – got to go now.

Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.”  — Mark Twain

 Pete:  The Carpenter

I met Pete while stopping to fill up my gas at a Pilot Station.  I noticed the painted sign on his pick-up truck which read “Carpenters keep it up longer: Call Pete for a good job.”  I offered to buy him a coffee if he would answer a few questions.  Pete was 54 years old, married with four kids. One daughter was still living home with him.  She had been married and was now divorced.  Pete’s wife worked part-time as a church secretary.

John:  So Pete, what do your kids do?

Pete:  Well, one boy works with me when I need extra help. One daughter is married and lives out of state.  One daughter lives with us and the other son works nearby at a local manufacturing plant as a night supervisor.

John:  Do you think this country has provided enough opportunity for them?

Pete:  Yeah, I guess so

John:  What do you think about the economy Pete?

Pete:   Sucks.

John:  I guess a lot of people would agree with you there.  What are your biggest worries for the future?

Pete:  Paying my mortgage and taxes.

John:  Are you worried about freedom and security.

Pete:  Nope, got a concealed carry permit and a good stockpile of ammunition.

John: What do you think we should do about immigration?

Pete:  Send them all home.

John:  Well, thanks for your time Pete.

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.” — Clarence Darrow

 Bob:  The Tea Party Member

Bob is a 47 year old accountant. He is married with wife and no kids.  I met Bob at a local café that I had stopped at on my journeys.  He was wearing a t-shirt that read: TEA: Taxed Enough Already.   I sat down at the counter next to Bob and struck up a conversation.

John:  So you belong to the Tea Party?

Bob:  Yeah, joined about five years ago.  I am fed up with big government, taxes and the present no ethics politicians running this country.

John:  So how is the Tea Party going to change things?

Bob:  Well, for a start we are going to only elect politicians that support our views and are not going to compromise away what we stand for.

John:  So what do you stand for?  I know you hate taxes but is that all?

Bob:  Well, here look at this card.  It says it all.

John:  The card Bob gave me read as follows:

Our Core Principles

Tea Party Patriots stands for every American, and is home to millions who have come together to pursue the American Dream and to keep that Dream alive for their children and grandchildren.

What unites the Tea Party movement is the same set of core principles that brought America together at its founding, that kindled the American Dream in the hearts of those who struggled to build our nation, and made the United States of America the greatest, most successful country in world history.

At its root the American Dream is about freedom. Freedom to work hard and the freedom to keep the fruits of your labor to use as you see fit without harming others and without hindering their freedom. Very simply, three guiding principles give rise to the freedom necessary to pursue and live the American Dream:

John:  That sounds very good Bob, but I don’t see a lot of progressive thinking coming from the Tea Party.  Seems like you guys are more against things then for things?

Bob:  That’s because we want to go back to the way this country used to be run before the bureaucrats, illegal aliens, liberals and socialists took over this country.

John:  What about health care and education and social services for the needy?

Bob:  This country is full of free loaders who sponge off the hard working Americans who work for a living.

John:  So you don’t believe that there are truly needy people out there in this country?  What about new immigrants?

Bob:  No one gave me anything or my grandparents.  They came over to this country with just the shirts on their backs.  People used to believe in hard work and honesty.

John:  What about education?  It is barely affordable anymore.

Bob:  That’s because we give all of these free scholarships to students from other countries and the high salaries that those lazy professors make.  Do you realize most of them work less than ten hours a week?

John:  Well, thanks for the opinions Bob.  Time to go!  You have a great day.

 “Let us take a patriot, where we can meet him; and, that we may not flatter ourselves by false appearances, distinguish those marks which are certain, from those which may deceive; for a man may have the external appearance of a patriot, without the constituent qualities; as false coins have often lustre, though they want weight.”  — Samuel Johnson

Cassie Jean:  The NRA Member

Cassie Jean is a 33 year old single woman who works as an Assistant Manager in a small bakery.  I talked to Cassie Jean while she was on a break over coffee and a cigarette.  I had stopped for donuts and a rest break.  Cassie Jean rides a 2002 Honda Shadow 600 motorcycle.  She is an avid hunter and a card carrying member of the National Rifle Association.

John:  So Cassie, what was the last thing you killed?

Cassie Jean:  Well, got me a good sized buck this past fall and a nice turkey this spring.

John:  How long have you been shooting?

Cassie Jean:  Ever since I was a little girl.

John:  Why do you belong to the NRA?

Cassie Jean:  They protect our rights.  You know the Second Amendment.

John:  Isn’t that about militias?

Cassie Jean:  People have the right to arm themselves.   If we let them take our guns away, we will have no protection.

John:  Protection from what.

Cassie Jean:  The wackos and socialists.

John:  What about our army, National Guard and the police department.  Isn’t their job to protect us?

Cassie Jean:  They work for the liberal socialists that are destroying this country.  The only thing that stands between them and us is our guns.

John:  But what about all the gun violence in this country?

Cassie Jean:  If more people were armed, there would be less violence.

John:  How do you figure?

Cassie Jean:  Well, would you screw with someone who had a gun?

John:  But what if no one had a gun?

Cassie Jean:  Over my dead body.

John:  Well, you sure make good donuts.  Take care and happy hunting.

Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear – kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor – with the cry of grave national emergency.”  — General Douglas MacArthur

 Dick:  The Mechanic

Dick is a retired Ford mechanic who worked for a small Ford garage in upstate Wisconsin for over 30 years.  A bad back and a desire to enjoy more of life convinced Dick to retire early.  Dick is a strange sort of man as he does not like hunting or sports but enjoys literature and particularly good poetry.  He is a connoisseur of fine wines and good music and never misses an opportunity to travel with his wife Paula to see new places.  Dick belongs to a group of retired men who hang out at a local library where they can get free coffee and an occasional donut.  Despite his lack of a formal education, Dick is knowledgeable and well versed on many subjects.  His views would surprise many.

John:  What’s new Dick?

Dick:  I am going to Russia!

John:  For real?

Dick:  Yep, I like the way Putin is running things.  No BS in that country.

John:  What about freedom of speech and freedom of religion?

Dick:  Religion is a farce, just a bunch of know nothing do-gooders trying to live off the backs of hardworking people.

John:  What about freedom of speech?

Dick:  No one listens to you here anyway unless you are a billionaire.

John:  I don’t think Putin would tolerate unions and I thought you were a union man?

Dick:  Unions used to help people now most of them are just parasites as well.

John:  You sound like a libertarian.

Dick:  I don’t belong to any party.  They are all useless.

John:  When are you leaving for Russia?

Dick:  Soon

John:  How soon?

Dick:  Not soon enough.

John:  Well, I imagine many of your friends would hate to see you leave.

Dick:  Yeah, well I can send them a postcard.

John:  Do you think the libraries in Russia would have a men’s group and free coffee?

Dick:  I don’t know.  I will talk to Putin about it when I get there.

John:  Well, if I don’t see you before you leave Dick, have a good flight.


I arrived back to my starting point in Frederic Wisconsin after several days on the road.  Truly, I cannot say I had any great insights into the subject of freedom and liberty.  My “random” sample of “average” Americans would not satisfy even a lazy graduate student much less a hard core researcher.  Nevertheless, my total observations have literally been based on hundreds of such conversations over the past ten years.  My interviewees are a composite of dozens of people whom I have met and talked to from the shores of Coon Lake in Wisconsin to the rocky Casa Grande Mountains in Arizona.

Numerous books attest to major changes taking place in our country.  Are we going backwards, forwards or perhaps sideways?  Are things getting better or worse?  Are we still the place that everyone wants to immigrate to?  If not, what has changed?  We are surrounded by apocalyptic visions.  The USA will be overrun by illegal immigrants.  Socialists will take over the country.  Fascism will become the norm.  The end days are near and the Messiah will return to judge the good and the evil.  The poor will rise up and destroy America.   The country will become one vast prison with drug addicts and drug dealers on every corner.  No one will be able to afford health care or education.  Terrorists will infiltrate and bomb our most prized establishments.  The country will give in to Sharia Law.

With such gloomy visions of the future, is it any wonder that many people are fearful and ready to sacrifice their freedom for security.  More and more Americans live behind walls either in a prison or in a gated community.   Neither prison walls nor community walls seem to protect us from our worst enemies which may be ourselves.

Beck – It’s All In Your Mind, music video         (Love this Song, click on here to listen)

Time for Questions:

Have you felt things are getting better or worse in this country?  Do you think we need more or less patriots?  Do you think most people professing patriotism are really patriots?  What do you think makes a good patriot?  What do you think makes a “bad” patriot?  Where do you stand on patriotism?

Life is just beginning.







John’s New Blog Site.

I left “time parables” and started a new blog at    I wanted to explore longer themes and a greater variety of subjects. I should have left this message two years ago, but I guess “better late than never.”  If you have enjoyed my blogs here, I think you will enjoy my new site. My posts are now longer, generally 2000 to 3000 words and my subject matter more diverse.  I would like to think my writing has also improved and has more variety to it.  If you go to my new site, you might want to start at the beginning which was Feb 2013.  Hope you enjoy.

Mans Inhumanity to Man

I am out of town this next week so I am reposting one of my favorite blogs. If you have read this one already, you might want to visit my other blog site at I have nearly 500 blogs I wrote on this site. I will have a new blog next week but this week was so busy, I decided to do a reblog. If you have not listened to the music with this blog you are really missing the essence. The music is haunting.

Aging Capriciously

I have advice from a respected friend who says it is better to be positive than negative.  Generally, I think there is much truth to his comment.  Pessimists, cynics, skeptics, and critics seem to live hard unhappy lives.  Studies show that though optimists may not live as long as pessimists, they live happier lives.  We can look around us and see misery, inhumanity and poverty or we can look around and find kindness, generosity and love.  So why would I write about “man’s inhumanity to man?”  Perhaps I cannot give you a good reason.  Sometimes it just seems so egregious to me and terrible that I feel the need to condemn it.  I can not always have a “Happy Face” in light of the inhumanity that I see displayed by other human beings.

I am not talking about a specific act of cruelty or any one specific act that has…

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The Goals of Life or Should We Live a Life without Goals? Part 2

In part one of this blog we examined the question of whether it was possible to achieve goals that gave other people health, wealth, wisdom or happiness.  Our major conclusion was that this would be a futile effort.  Thus, we turn to the question of whether or not we can set goals to achieve any of these cardinal objectives for ourselves.  Prima Facie, you are probably wondering why anyone would even ask this question.  I think this a critical point to address before we proceed further. I want you to understand that I am not being frivolous here.  I am indeed serious in asking whether we can set goals for happiness, health, wealth or wisdom.   Image

Most of us accept as well established dogma, if not fact, that goal setting is essential to accomplishing our dreams and leading a successful life.  I assure you I am not setting up a straw dog.  I bring in Dr. W. E. Deming as my expert witness and mentor.  Dr. W. E. Deming believed that goal setting could be a waste of time and effort.  He was so adamant that one of his famous 14 Principles even addressed the subject, Principle Number 11:

“Eliminate numerical goals, numerical quotas and management by objectives. Substitute leadership.”

To understand Dr. Deming’s antipathy towards goal setting a few basic points must first be established.

  1. A system can only produce what it is producing unless changes in the system are undertaken.
  2. Arbitrary changes without consideration of the system as a whole will produce random results.
  3. “Pushing” a system to produce more than it is capable of will produce undesirable and unknown side effects.   For example:  asking workers to speed up production or to work longer hours.
  4. Improving a system will improve output and increase desirable outcomes.
  5. Continuous improvement comes from understanding of the process and the various factors that contribute to the process outcomes.

Dr. Deming believed that one of the worst evils in the business world was management arbitrarily setting goals for workers and employees.  We have already looked at the futility of such efforts.  We now turn to the issue of whether or not we can set similar goals for ourselves.  Keeping in mind the five points made above, will help us to more realistically look at the feasibility of setting goals in these areas.

Happiness for Ourselves:

My goal is to make myself happy. This sounds very simple but it may be the most difficult goal of all. How many people do you know who are depressed, alcoholic, suicidal, angry, bigoted, intolerant and worse even homicidal?  Rarely do we see anyone in the news who is happy.  If so, it is a very transient state of being.  Many people are happy today and sad tomorrow.  Happiness seems like a state of mind that can only be attained for a very short space of time.  “The happiest day of my life” can be remembered by most of us, but if we could be happy all of the time, why would any one day stand out?  That they do attests to the fact that truly happy days are very few and far between for most of us.  Happy days always seem to be in the past.  Perhaps that is because we really forget the miseries that often accompanied even the so called happiest days of our lives.

ImageBuddha said about happiness that we can have a false happiness which is a search for things to make us happy.  We can try to find happiness by obtaining more money, more friends or more possessions.  This kind of happiness is transient and our “happiness glow” soon fades.  Things can never make us happy.  True happiness is a state of mind.  It is a state of mind that accepts all things and that simply observes rather than reacts.  True happiness cannot come from changing others or even trying to change ourselves.   Buddha said, “Happiness is in the mind which is released from worldly bondage. The happiness of sensual lust and the happiness of heavenly bliss are not equal to a sixteenth part of the happiness of craving’s end.”

Conclusion:  We can achieve happiness but it is not the happiness of having things or getting medals or being successful.  True happiness is a state of mind.  Happiness starts when striving for results or accomplishments ends.  Thus, setting a goal to become happy might only lead to more unhappiness. The way to accomplish this objective is a paradox since to be happy we must let go of the goal of being happy.  Jesus said to live one day at a time. 

Health for Ourselves:

My goal is to make myself healthy.  We all want good health and we can certainly make ourselves unhealthy.  Can we do the opposite and make ourselves healthy?  I think we can strive to be as healthy as possible but we have to accept the fact that some “health” is beyond our control or at least beyond our current scientific knowledge to impact.   In terms of the five points given above, we do not fully understand the biological processes that create health in human beings.

A few weeks ago, a young woman in our town died of terminal cancer at the age of 32 leaving two young children.  She died only a few months after being diagnosed.  What did she do to make herself unhealthy?  Was it something she ate?  Did she not exercise enough?  I think you could spend your lifetime looking for an answer to these questions and you would never find an answer.  Do your best to stay healthy.  Exercise, eat right, don’t smoke, avoid stress and you might lead a long and healthy life.  On the other hand, you might die in six months from some disease that you never realized you had.

Conclusion:   We can have a major impact on our health by living properly but no one person or no single effort can guarantee us health.  It is a worthwhile goal if seen as a journey and not a fixed end state.  Some days you will be healthy and some days you will be sick. 

Wealth for Ourselves:

My goal is to make myself wealthy.  I have often pondered the value of this goal.  Since I have never achieved it, though I have often stated it as a goal, I am left with two questions.  First: Did I really value wealth enough to make it a priority in my life?  Second: Would my life have been better had I become wealthy?  My answer to the first question is a tentative no.  I have valued many things more than wealth.  I have always valued time more than wealth and I have always valued my own independence more than wealth.  I would rather be out running or swimming than reading the Wall Street Journal.  I have always had a difficult time taking orders and valuing loyalty to a company whose major motive is making profit is foreign to my nature.  Perhaps (which is why I said tentative) these are the reasons I have never achieved wealth or status.  On the other hand maybe I was just too lazy, stupid or undisciplined to become another Warren Buffett.  I thought I had the brains, but somehow the billions have never come.

ImageThe second question is perhaps more interesting.  “What if I had become rich?”  Would my life have been better?  Would I have been happier?   I have thought about this question more as I have aged and I honestly think that if I had become wealthy at a young age, my life would have self-destructed.  Like many young people who become wealthy and ruin their lives with drugs or fast living, I think it entirely likely I would have been unable to handle the influence or power that money would have brought.  I certainly do not think that becoming wealthy would have led to my happiness.  As I have become older, the goal of wealth has become less important.  I would not change my present lifestyle for all the money in the world.  I am content with my life, my friends and my spouse.  I am also content with growing older and coming to the end of my time.

Conclusion:  Beware of what you ask for, because you may get it.  Few of us are wise enough or strong enough to handle the “drug” of wealth. 

Wisdom for Ourselves:

My goal is to make myself wise.  We have already seen the difficulty of giving wisdom to others. Can we make ourselves wise?  Are there activities or knowledge that we can pursue which will ultimately confer upon us the mantle of “wise one?”  I think you could go to school for 100 years every day and you still would not be wise.  There is an old saying that “knowledge helps you to make a living but wisdom helps you to make a life.”  We go to school and receive knowledge, but the world is full of educated idiots.  We all know people who know how to make a living but haven’t the slightest clue as to how to make a life.

I am nearly 70 years of age now.  I am almost at that time of age when years ago, I would have been considered one of the tribal elders.  By dint of having lived seven decades, I would have been considered wise. Perhaps years ago, that is all it took.  The older you were, the wiser you were.  Today, I see little correlation between aging and sageing.  In fact, if you look at many of the great prophets, they achieved their status as leaders at what today would be a very young age.  Jesus was in his mid-thirties when he was killed.   Gandhi was fifty three when he became the leader of the non-violent movement in India and Martin Luther King was only thirty nine when he was assassinated.  History is full of examples of people who were deemed wise without the benefit of age or education.  Thus, we are back to the question, “how does one become wise?”  If I do not know the answer, I can hardly make myself wise.  Looking at the five points noted earlier, we must address the issue of “what kind of a system can or does produce wisdom?” Until we can answer that question, the goal of wisdom will remain elusive.

“Confucius once said that there were three ways to learn wisdom: “First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” Gaining wisdom, the most prized of virtues across almost all cultures, is an exercise in life learning, careful analysis, and thoughtful action.”

If someone as wise as Socrates was purported to be could deny the mantle of wisdom, perhaps this is one of those goals which is ineffable.  No one I know would claim to be wise and certainly no one I know would anoint me with the title of “Wise Olde Man.”  This is probably a good thing.  If I were known as the wisest man in Frederic, I can only imagine what this would do to my free time.  I can also imagine the effects this would have on my spouse and friends.  I am not generally regarded as being humble now and walking around bearing a cloak of wisdom would be deleterious for my ego in the long run

Conclusion:  I don’t really know the answer to becoming wise nor do I have a formula for how to become wise.  I must conclude that at the present time, I have achieved a great deal of knowledge but the magic of wisdom has still escaped me.  I have found that trying to become wise is an exercise in futility, like looking for the Holy Grail.  Perhaps we would all be better off working to become more humble than more wise. 

Time for Questions:

What goals have you set for your life? How successful have you been in accomplishing them?  What obstacles have you faced?  How have you overcome them?  If you could re-live your life, what changes would you make in the goals you set?  Why?

Life is just beginning.





The Goals of Life or Should We Live a Life without Goals? Part 1

ImageOne of the common assumptions of modern life is that we all need to set goals.  It is said that our goals should be purposeful and measurable.  Furthermore, we are told that without such goals, we are doomed to live a life of meaninglessness.  Minus thoughtful goals, we will be like Alice in Wonderland where since Alice had no purpose or direction in Wonderland, it did not matter which direction she went.  Heaven forbid it!

But could modern wisdom be wrong?  Could common assumptions about the importance of goals be another of life’s many canards?  In my blog this week, I would like to explore the role of goals in our lives and look at whether or not they really are useful or are they simply another tyranny of a materialistic society that wants us to be running like rats on a treadmill.  Forever and forever scurrying through all eternity trying to achieve more and more and enjoying life less and less!  (By the way, I love exclamation points because they get rid of those annoying green lines that Word places in phrases that it does not like.)

Let us start our discussion by breaking goals down into two fundamental categories.  The first category concerns “goals for others.”  These are goals that we set either by malevolence or benevolence but they are destined to impact the lives of others.  Missionaries (depending on who you ask) may be thought of as having benevolent goals.  Dictators and tyrants (depending on who you ask) may be thought of as having malevolent goals.

The second category concerns “goals for ourselves.”  These are goals that we set to help us achieve either current or future objectives.  Thus, if I want to become set goalssuccessful, I may set a goal of going to college and obtaining a degree in law or politics or business.  This will be a future goal.  A more current goal would be to find some means to raise enough money to pay for my college education.  The element of time is somewhat flexible in determining whether it is a future goal or current goal and the distinction has created many an argument between people.  The indisputable element here is that we pursue these goals to benefit our own well-being. There is no altruism or charity in this category of goals.  Having said this, all distinctions are really like water. They are very fluid.  I am using these two basic categories to facilitate discussion and not with any hope of creating a uniform or indisputable and universally accepted definition.

Proceeding on with our discussion, we can identify under these two categories of goals, four specific goals that many would say are the four most important goals in the world.  I am not going to challenge this assumption.  For our discussion of goals, I will accept that these four goals are extraordinarily worthwhile objectives.  Furthermore, they are four in both of our major categories.  The four specific goals are:

  • Happiness
  • Health
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom

I am going to accept each of these goals at face value and forego any discussion of whether they are cause or effect.  I am also willing to accept that whether outcome or process they all are objectives that few of us would forego.  Thus, if a genie appeared to almost anyone on the face of the earth and said:  “Would you like to have eternal health, wealth, wisdom or happiness, there would be very few who would turn any one of these goals down.  We can put these goals into a table as follows.

Goals for Others Goals for Ourselves
Happiness Happiness
Health Health
Wealth Wealth
Wisdom Wisdom

Returning to the original question, “should we live a life with or without goals?” it is obvious that we must first answer a second question:  “Can any of these goals (In either category) ever be accomplished?”  If the most important goals we can set for life are impossible to achieve then it would seem wise to assume that “goal setting” is a waste of time.  Let us consider one by one each of these eight possible goals and see how many (or even if any of them) are really attainable.  What can we honestly expect to achieve for ourselves and others?


Happiness for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family happy.  What would you say to that goal?  If you are honest, you would probably say that it was a ridiculous goal and that no one can make anyone else happy.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot insure that the things we do will bring happiness to other people.  Happiness, you may wisely note is more of an inside job.  It depends more on our expectations and views of the world then what other people do for us.  Conclusion:  Don’t waste your time. 

Health for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family healthy.  This sounds like a goal that someone in a medical profession might pursue.  But how healthy can even a doctor make someone else?  Again, honesty would lead to the conclusion that nature and personal factors have more to do with health than even the best MD or medical practitioner.  Science has made major strides in helping populations become healthier but few are the medical people who could claim that they have made people healthy.  To make someone healthy would be almost an impossible task.  The best we can accomplish is to help prevent certain diseases and to help alleviate the effects of other diseases.  Conclusion:  We can help make people healthier but health is a state influenced by too many variables to be under the control of anyone but God.

Wealth for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family wealthy.  If I could make enough money, I could donate or leave it to my heirs or to some type of philanthropic foundation.  The skeptic in me would reject the idea that all of the donations in history have had much impact on world poverty.   I could be a teacher and teach other people how to make money or run a successful business. I could also be a consultant or business investment advisor and teach others how to wisely run their businesses or investments.  There is little doubt that we can help people have more money or even use their resources more wisely, but how many people have been made wealthy by the advice of others?  As a business instructor and management consultant for over 30 years, I can tell you that the answer is very few. When I look at the Forbes List of Richest People in the World, I see self-made billionaires, most of who were initially laughed at for their efforts.  I doubt Bill Gates, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Richard Branson or Warren Buffett depended very much on consultants or business teachers for advice.   Conclusion:  We can help people manage their money better but individuals make themselves wealthy. 

ImageWisdom for Others:

My goal is to help make other people in the world, in my life or in my family wise.  In order to see if this is possible, let us first look at Socrates.  Socrates was a teacher.  According to the Oracle at Delphi, Socrates was the wisest man in the world. Thus, we may ask the question:  Did Socrates teach other Athenians to be wise?  This is not a simple or easy question to answer.  Socrates did not accept that he was wise and went looking for a wise man but could not find one.  He never claimed to be teaching his students to be wise, but merely how to question assumptions and conventions.  Is a person who questions wise? How many wise people do you know?  Is wisdom a matter of age or does college teach you to be wise?  I would argue that school and teachers can give you knowledge but only life and your experiences drawn from life can give you wisdom.  Conclusion:  No one can make any other person wise.

If you accept the majority of my arguments so far, I think it would lead to the obvious conclusion that we cannot really make anyone else healthy, wealthy, wise or happy.  These are tasks that are far beyond our ability to have more than a minor impact on.  However, I am not yet ready to dismiss the power of goal setting.  Before I can do this we must turn to the second category of goals: goals for ourselves.  Do we have the ability to accomplish goals for ourselves?  If we can achieve even one of these objectives, then it would be ridiculous to say that goal setting is a waste of time.  In fact, given the seriousness of each of these goals, it would necessitate establishing goal setting as a serious repertoire in our lives.

In Part 2, which I will publish next week, we will look at each of these second category goals and see how much impact we can have on them.  If we really cannot make much of a difference for others, perhaps we can at least set goals that will make a difference in our lives.

Time for Questions:

Have you ever set goals for other people?  What goals have you set for others?  Have you been able to accomplish them?  What helped you or hindered you in this effort?  Do you think it was a valuable use of your time? Why or why not? What would you do different if you could do it over?

Life is just beginning.

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