The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Literature

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I am definitely biased when it comes to literature.  Without reading, books, magazines, articles, stories, plays, parables, and fables, I do not know what my life would be.  There are few things that enrich life more than the written word.  Movies, plays, and videos would be nothing if there were no words to go along with them.  Even sports and athletic events are heavily dependent on the written word.  Talk show hosts, TV actors, comedians and many other performers hire dozens of writers to script plots and routines that are the life blood of the entertainment industry.

I woke up this morning thinking how to convey the value of literature.  There is so much that I could say.  There is so much that needs to be said.  The question is how best to do justice to the world of literature and to keep this blog from becoming a book.  The thought came into my mind, that literature is everything to me from A to Z.  This gave me the idea to use the alphabet as a device to convey the importance literature has had for me.  But more importantly I want to inspire you as I have been inspired by the many books that I have read over the years.  I want to briefly touch on how they have enriched my life.

For each letter of the alphabet, I will try to note a few authors or books that I have read and what they have meant to me.  Some of my authors will be fiction writers, some poets, some non-fiction writers but each has left me with a piece of the puzzle.  The puzzle I refer to involves the existential quest to find the meaning of life.  I suppose that I may never find the meaning, but literature has helped create many of the puzzle pieces for me.  I am still struggling to put them all together.  The process is more fun than getting the finished puzzle.

A –

Aesop, Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie, and August Wilson.  A few of the many authors whose writings have enriched my life.  From drama to morals to spies, I am sure that everyone has been exposed to these writers, perhaps without realizing it.   Numerous shows and movies have been based on their literature.  A is a good place to mention the following question, “What is the difference between someone who does not know how to read and someone who knows how but does not read?”

61aJkCcMlhL._SL500_Several of my stories have been influenced by Aesop’s stories.  When growing up, I loved reading stories of foxes, rabbits, scorpions, and other animals that Aesop used in his writing.  His parables and morals still guide my life in a myriad of ways.  I watched a few of August Wilson’s plays that were performed at Penumbra Theater in St. Paul, MN.  It was my introduction to the world of African American literature which was sorely missing in our education system.  For a good escape into the world of murder, drama and spies, MacLean and Christie cannot be beat. On countless rainy and often sunny days as well, I have curled up and said, “To hell with the world.  I am dropping out for a few hours into a world of fantasy.”

B –

I could speak of many authors here but nothing in literature has spawned more stories or ethics or plays or even religions than the Bible.   If you peruse my blogs, you will find at least a dozen stories that I have written that have been based on biblical sources.  There are many authors involved in the Bible.  The Bible notes for different books either who was the author or who they think the author might have been.  In many cases, the authors are unknown.

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Is the Bible fiction or non-fiction is a question that would create great dissention depending on who you asked?  Many would say that the Bible was the literal truth given by God to prophets to pass down to humanity.  Others would say, it was a series of stories that were embellished in the telling.   Neither of these issues ever bothered me.  The point is that the Bible is one of the greatest books in history, if not the greatest.  It has history, drama, murder, sex, morals, and good advice all wrapped up in one binder.  Read it and you will see why some people say that it is the only book they read.

C –

392278aCamus, Eldredge Cleaver, and Cervantes could not be more different.  Camus the existentialist.  Cleaver the revolutionary.  Cervantes the dreamer.  What puzzle pieces they inspired in me.  Hard to find out how they fit together but in the grand scheme of things, I would not leave any of them out.  Cleaver wrote, “Soul on Ice.”  One of the most inspiring prison writings ever written.

“From my prison cell, I have watched America slowly coming awake. It is not fully awake yet, but there is soul in the air and everywhere I see beauty…. I was very familiar with the Eldridge who came to prison, but that Eldridge no longer exists.  And the one I am now is in some ways a stranger to me.”  — Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968

Camus helped me to understand Existentialism from an applied perspective.  A great deal more helpful than a strictly theoretical understanding.  Cervantes created a character that I would like to be.  A man forever hopeful and willing to battle the world regardless of the forces arrayed against him.  A man willing to “dream the impossible dream.”   If only, I can retain Quixote’s optimism until the day I am no more.

D –

Dostoevsky, Dickens, and W. E. Deming.  I knew Dr. Deming personally.  I had dinner with Dr. Deming and took several clients to visit him at his home in Washington, D.C.  I helped out at several of his five-day seminars.  My first job after completing my Ph.D. degree was attained by reading his book, “Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position.”  A tour de force that would revolutionize American business.  A book that told me that 95 percent of what I learned in graduate school was wrong.  I learned more from Dr. Deming than I learned from all the great professors who wrote so many of the textbooks that I had been studying for 5 years.  Dr. Deming told me I wasted my time.  I was loath to accept his finding but gradually came to realize that he was right.  Eventually, the blinders were lifted from my eyes and I could see the truth of American business.  The truth that Dr. Deming had tried to share with the world.

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I cannot say that I have read all of Dostoevsky’s or Dicken’s works.  What I can say is that few writers I have read have been more articulate about the human condition than these two authors.  They are natural born psychologists.  Their insights into people are so profound that it seems a mystery to me that anyone could as accurately portray humanity as they have done in their writings.  It is not really stories that they tell so much as creating a picture of the inner souls of their characters.  It is easy to describe the outward characteristics of a character but much more difficult to portray their inner characters.  Both Dickens and Dostoevsky portray humans at their best and at their worst.  Reading either of them is better than reading a textbook on human psychology or taking a Psych 101 class.

E –

Jacques Ellul.  Jacques wrote the “Technological Society.”  I read this book in 1982 when I started graduate school.  There are many books that describe the “what” of technology.  Books that talk about computers, software, hardware, and the impact that they will have on society.  The central premise of Jacque’s book is this:  “In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”  Not exactly what we read about or think about when we hear the word technology.

But technology is technique.  It is not simply something electrical or digital.  Technology is a philosophy of life.  Ellul showed me the deeper meaning and relationship between life and gadgets.  Society is influenced by technology in more ways than I could ever have imagined.  Understanding technology has given me the ability to appreciate both its pro’s and con’s.  There is always a downside as well as an upside to new gadgets, particularly things like social media, the internet, and computers.  Each of these technologies have impacted our lives both for good and bad.

F –

BondAnatole France and Ian Fleming.  I discovered Fleming’s books on James Bond, after I saw the hit movie “From Russia with Love.”  I subsequently read every one of Fleming’s books and have seen every movie in the Bond franchise.  I loved the character so much I continued to read “Bond” books even when they were written by other approved writers.  I was attracted to the character who was everything I wanted to be.  Handsome, rugged, dashing, brave, a man’s man and a woman’s man as well.  I will never forget the line from one of Fleming’s books, “Boredom is the worst curse of all.”  Eventually, I outgrew James Bond but there will always be a part of me that wonders what it would be like to live in his world.

France on the other hand gave me a different view of the world.  I read several of his books during the early seventies when I was in my socialist learning stage.  I identified with many of his ideas.  France was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921.  His books were often both ironic and satirical.  He approached subjects steeped in religion with a perspective that might have seemed atheistic.  He challenged us to think of God and Satan and their relationship together.  I think many of my blogs have been influenced by France.  Particularly my blog titled, “A Conversation between Satan and God.

G –

Grendel-2007-Beowulf-movie-Crispin-Glover-cJ. K. Galbraith, Goethe, and John Gardner. Perhaps my favorite story as well as my favorite opera are based on a man selling his soul to the devil in return for some privilege. Goethe wrote the story and called it Faust after a learned man who wanted more than knowledge.  Gounod did the opera based on Goethe’s story.  Many other stories have been based on the idea of a bargain between Satan and humans.  One other that I have always liked was “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”  It told the story of a New Hampshire farmer who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for success.  When the devil came to collect his due, the farmer called on Daniel Webster to defend him.  This story ended happily as opposed to Goethe’s story which has a tragic ending.

Like many people, I would like to be more successful, more famous, and more admired.  Would I sell my soul to the Devil?  There have been times in my life when I would gladly have sold it.  I am at a point now where fame and fortune do not mean as much.  If I have a soul, I will depart this world with it intact.

J. K. Galbraith was a noted economist and Harvard Professor.  In his book, “The New Industrial State,” he supported much of what Dr. Deming had to say about American business.  I was particularly struck by Galbraith’s denunciation of MBA programs.  Deming also detested these programs and argued that they were destructive for American business.  Galbraith has been lionized and villainized.  Anyone with the audacity to challenge the inherent greediness of Capitalism cannot expect to win friends.  My thinking on Capitalism reflects what I have learned from both Deming and Galbraith.

John Gardner wrote several of my favorite stories.  He was a professor of literature well known for his writing and critiques.  Just when I thought I could learn everything from philosophy, I find a writer who mercilessly skewers philosophy with a character based on Socrates.  Agathon is a wise cynic who knows all about the world but nothing about life.  Gardner also wrote “Grendel” which was the Beowulf story told from the perspective of the beast.  Gardner had a unique way of turning things inside out and getting you to see an entirely different perspective.  His books often dealt with issues of morality, freedom, and justice.  From Gardner I leaned that life is seldom simple and when we look at the world it becomes complex and contradictory. 

H –

Chris Hedges.  Hedges wrote the “Empire of Illusion.”  This book portrays the American Dream as an illusion.  Hedges disparages the idea that America is exceptional and that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  The book was published in 2010 and clearly outlines the descent of America into Trumpism.  On its webpage, Amazon summarizes the main theme of Hedge’s book as:

“A prescient book that forecast the culture that gave rise to Trump — a society beholden to empty spectacle and obsession with image at the expense of reality, reason, and truth.”

No society can make progress if illusions and fantasies guide its policies rather than truth and knowledge.  America today seems to be sorely lacking in truth or knowledge.  Morris Berman another critic of American culture gave up on changing anything in this country and moved to Mexico and off the grid.  I question every day pre-Trump and post-Trump whether America is on an unstoppable downhill slide and if there is anything I can do about it.  Will I be able to help make a difference and steer this country towards the dreams and values that it was founded on?   I wrote sixteen Anti-Trump articles dealing with the menace and danger that he held for America.  A president who represented everything that was bad for the future of our country.  He lost the election but how can anyone forget that 75 million Americans voted for him.

I –

0b243a477fd3257de4b036b2c7e4e52bIvan Illich and Washington Irving.  When I was in my undergraduate program in education which I started in 1971, I decided to read as much of the counter-education literature that I could find.  My most memorable readings were “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by P. Freire, “How Children Fail” by John Holt and “Deschooling Society” by Illich.   I have read many more books on education since the 70’s but it seems to me that nothing new has been added to the schooling critique leveled by these educators.  Schools are still failing students and society.  Educators are like fish.  They live up to the Chinese saying that “The fish are the last ones to see the water.”  I have written numerous critiques of the education system in America as have many other educators, but nothing changes.  The solutions to the problems that ail our education system are rooted in a theory of education that was appropriate 100 years ago but is now obsolete.

School prepares people for the alienating institutionalization of life, by teaching the necessity of being taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to develop independently; they no longer find it attractive to relate to each other, and the surprises that life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition are closed.” ― Ivan Illich,

Washington Irving wrote my favorite ghost story.  The “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” still scares and thrills anyone reading it.  Sit outside in the fall just before Halloween on a dark night in the woods and read this story.  Keep looking over your shoulder in case the Headless Horseman is out for his night ride.  Perhaps you will see Ichabod Crane running pell-mell through the woods to escape the Horseman.  This is only one of many great stories that Irving wrote.  I learned to brave the night woods knowing that I was a friend of Irving.

J –

The-12-Personality-Archetypes-Which-One-Dominates-YouCarl Jung was one of the many theorists I studied at the University of Wisconsin for my M.S. degree in Counseling.  Carl Jung was one of the acolytes of Freud along with Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, and his daughter Anna Freud.  Each follower eventually broke with Freud and founded their own school of psychology.  Jung started the most esoteric and enigmatic of these schools.  His philosophy or methods are called Jungian Analysis and appeal to many people due to his emphasis on the interpretation of dreams, archetypes, and symbolic behaviors.  Jung gave me an appreciation for the elements in life that we might simply write off as useless or meaningless.  To undergo a dream interpretation can be a very life changing experience.  I discovered that there is no single path to self-awareness and psychological health.  Different schools of therapy appeal to different people and each may be effective.

K –

41mABQ-2vlL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_John F. Kennedy, Ezra Klein, and Daniel Kahneman.   What do a President, Journalist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics have in Common?  I learned from Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” about what integrity really means.  Kennedy may not have written much of this book but the lives of the people he shares puts an exclamation point on the values that JFK had for this country.

I read Kahneman and Tversky’s “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982 when I was in graduate school for my Ph.D. degree.  Years later they would win the Nobel Prize for Economics after having totally changed the way we think about and understand human economic behavior.  Much of the theory I was exposed to in graduate school was proven wrong by the research that Kahneman and Tversky conducted.  I learned a new way to think about economics and organizational behavior from this book.

Klein’s book “Why We’re Polarized” takes a more nuanced and data driven look at the gap that is separating Americans today.  He avoids the nauseous palliatives and bromides offered by so many writers on this subject.  You could fill an entire library bookshelf with all the authors telling us why Americans are divided and angry and how we can solve the problem.  Almost all see the division as a major problem.  Not Klein though.  He suggests it might be inevitable.  His book is laced with data proving that this divide did not just spring up with Trump but has its roots many years before Trump was on the radar.  One might say that Klein proves the adage that, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So what do these three authors have in common besides a last name that begins in K?  The answer is that each man has helped me to think about life in America and what it could be with more intelligent reflection and commitment to the values that our Founding Fathers promoted.  Economics is worthless without social commitment and social commitment is shallow without a strong economic system.  The principles of economics are not iron clad laws but continue to be better understood.  No doubt many years from now, we will see much of our economic decision making through a new set of lenses.  Kahneman has been a major force in the evolution of economic thinking.  Kennedy and Klein show us what is possible with integrity and intelligent thinking applied to politics and governance.

L –

795355R. D. Laing and Fritz Leiber. Do you know Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?  If not, you are missing two of the most interesting and funny characters in the genre called Sword and Sorcery.  Fritz Leiber coined the phrase “Sword and Sorcery” and helped birth an entire new form of literature.  When we think of fantasy, most often we think of Lewis Carroll’s, “Alice in Wonderland.”  This classic story is imbued with fantasy and magic, but no one actually does any magic in the story.  Magic is limited to Alice’s dreaming.  Many fairy tales have more actual magic than Alice in Wonderland.  Tolkien’s “Hobbit and Ring Trilogy” come to mind.

When we think of Science Fiction, a more modern form of fantasy, we think of Star Wars and stories that blend fantasy and science.  Sword and Sorcery is different.  It blends heroic fantasy with magic.  Magic is the exact opposite of science.  The Marvel character, Dr. Strange is one of the few Marvel characters to blend fantasy with magic or the occult.

“So tell me, giant philosopher, why we’re not dukes,” the Gray Mouser demanded, unrolling a forefinger from the fist on his knee so that it pointed across the brazier at Fafhrd. “Or emperors, for that matter, or demigods.”

“We are not dukes because we’re no man’s man,” Fafhrd replied smugly, setting his shoulders against the stone horse-trough. “Even the duke must butter up a king, and demigods the gods. We butter no one. We go our own way, choosing our own adventures—and our own follies! Better freedom and a chilly road than a warm hearth and servitude.” — “Swords in the Mist”

R. D. Laing was a psychologist.  When I was in school for my graduate degree in counseling psychology, as I often did, I sought out the unconventional theorists.  Besides Wilhelm Reich, and Thomas Szasz, Laing was one of the most unconventional thinkers in the field of psychology.  Much as Thomas Kuhn became a target for many in science because of his radical thinking on science and paradigms, Laing also became the target of many in his field who felt threatened by his critique of psychology.  And well they should have for Laing challenged some of the major theories prevalent in the field at his time:

“Laing maintained that schizophrenia was “a theory not a fact”; he believed the models of genetically inherited schizophrenia being promoted by biologically based psychiatry were not accepted by leading medical geneticists.   He rejected the “medical model of mental illness.”  – Wikipedia

To go where no man has walked before, one does not have to go to Mars or another planet.  There are plenty of places in the human mind where few dare tread.  You go to these places at a risk to your sanity and reputation.  The status quo must protect itself and people who move to a different drummer or question common assumptions are treated as an invading virus that must be eradicated.  The normal system has no room for mutations.  You will be barraged by assaults from those in the system who have no desire to change.  Vested interests will marshal their big guns to eradicate you if you think differently.  You will begin to question your own sanity.  Only the strong can survive.

M –

Miyamoto Musashi, C.W. Mills and Yukio Mishima.  Two out of three in this group are Japanese.  I wonder if there are more last names starting with M in Japan?  Musashi was the greatest swordsman who ever lived.  He wrote philosophy with his sword.  His “The Book of Five Rings” blends swordsmanship and strategic thinking for anyone who wants a practical philosophy for success.  Some people talk about success but Musashi put his life on the line over thirty times fighting opponents in duels to the death.  His ideas about life and death are forged in a crucible of reality that few of us could ever comprehend, much less undertake.

miyamoto_musashi___vagabond_by_asi4abarai_dd23c8p-fullviewMishima was an author, poet, actor, and modern-day samurai who wanted to reinstate the Bonsai spirit in Japanese Culture.  After WWII, Americans occupied Japan and did everything they could to drive out the Samurai attitudes and policies that dominated Japan the previous fifty years or so.  Mishima created a group of followers who thought that they could overthrow the elected Japanese government and restore the old ruling order.  He greatly overestimated support for his ideas and after a failed rebellion he committed Seppuku or Hari Kari as it is also known.  I read a few of his novels and came to appreciate his writing and even his politics to some extent.  In his “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” he states that “living is merely the chaos of existence.”  He has also noted that “I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line….”  A sentiment that I think anyone serious about literature would surely appreciate.

C. W. Mills was a sociologist, professor, and author. He became famous for many of his writings on Organization Theory.  By the time I was in graduate school, pursuing my degree in Organization Theory, he was no longer a popular theorist.  His writings were no longer mandatory readings.  I suppose I chose to read him since he had long since fallen out of favor.  My habit again of looking at those who are lepers in the establishment.

Mill’s, “The Power Elite” dispelled my nascent socialist leanings by clearly disputing the idea of a cabal of rich capitalists plotting to take over the world.  The ideas he had on bureaucracy as internalized social control had also been expounded by Max Weber.  When I was employed as a consultant at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in 1989, I augmented the prevailing quality theories I endorsed with the theories of Mills and Weber.  Mills died in 1962 at the age of 45 and Weber died in 1920 (Of the Spanish Flu) at the age of 56.  Neither man lived a long life, but their ideas were as valid in the 1980s, and even today as when they were written almost one hundred years ago now.

Conclusions:

I am halfway through the alphabet, and I realize that this blog is much too long.  After writing A-M, I do not think either you are I have the fortitude for N-Z.  I will offer to send you my list of authors for these letters.  People like Nietzsche, OSHO, Plato, Poe, Roddenberry, Idries Shah, Tolkien, Twain, Voltaire, Alice Walker, Mary Wollstonecraft, Yeats, and Emile Zola all made a big difference on my views of the world and thereby on my life.  But for now, this is enough.  If I have not yet convinced you of the importance of reading and literature both for pleasure and for learning, I am doomed to a hell for poor writers and debaters.  It will fall to a “better man than I” to convince you that reading is essential for a good life.

What is the difference between someone who can read and does not and someone who does not know how to read? –  Answer:  NOTHING!

 

 

 

 

The Alien from Outer Space – Captured in Utah

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As they walked into the large conference room, they saw the alien standing in the middle of the room.  It was about seven feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter.  The alien had what looked like four branches coming off a main trunk and four branches upon which the main trunk was balancing.  The bottom branches were probably legs and the top branches were waving in the air and might have been arms.  No head was apparent on the alien and it was impossible to tell if it had any particular gender.

QVNIMTE2NDI3MjA2The color of its trunk was somewhere between blue and green as its hues ebbed and flowed.  One minute it looked blue and the next minute it looked green.  The most striking feature of all was in the middle of its trunk about five feet above the floor.  It had a large round eye about 9 inches in diameter.  There was no mistaking it as an eye since it included a large red pupil, a green cornea, and a yellow sclera.  The pupil was about two inches wide and the cornea was about four inches wide.  The eye seemed to follow every movement in the room and when you looked at it, the alien seemed to be able to look right through you as though it was reading your mind.

I was surrounded by news reporters, army officers, soldiers with guns at rest and what were obviously many government officials.  This was what the human race had been waiting for.  An alien had been captured and was going to speak to the world.  I had been brought to this well guarded room in Washington D.C. after I had agreed to speak about my purpose in visiting a planet they called Earth.  The major tv networks had all been alerted and were on deck to broadcast whatever the I had to say to the entire world.  News reports said over two billion people had found some way to listen to my talk.

I calmly surveyed the inhabitants of this room who were only a small part of the inhabitants of this planet.  I had been surveying them for 100,000 years but they were not aware of this fact.  They soon would be.  I looked out over the gathering with some amusement.  Shichak is the name that I chose to use with these humans.  They would never have been able to pronounce my real name.  But my name is unimportant.  What is important is what I have to say to the inhabitants of Earth.  At my other visits to Earth, I always observed for some weeks than returned to my home planet.  This time I did not fly away.  My captors did not realize it, but I came to this room entirely voluntarily.  I could have destroyed all of them and a great deal of their planet with a single twist of my antenna.  I chose to stay until I had delivered my message.

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My spacecraft which could travel at warp drive speeds between the galaxies had encountered some minor difficulties.  I had intended to land briefly and repair the ship.  After landing in a remote area of Utah, my ship had been seen by a local paramilitary group which surrounded the space craft.  They threatened to open fire with some high-powered projectiles unless I came out of the craft.  Years earlier I would have ignored them, but I sensed that the weapons they had could do some serious damage to my ship.  I had been seen many times before, but I had quickly opened an invisibility cloak and returned to space.  This time would be different.  After making my decision, I left the vessel to deliver a message to this species that I was certain would surprise and astound them.

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In less than 24 hours, my captors had taken me from the Utah forest to a police station in Monroe, Utah, to a government office in Provo, Utah and to an Army base in Bluffdale, Utah.  It was not only my appearance which surprised all who met me but even more surprising to them was the fact that I spoke perfect English.  I have the ability to speak the language fluently of any species on the planet Earth or any other planet in the universe.

At each site that I was taken to, I indicated that I would only talk to the President of the United States of America.  Finally, I was put under heavy guard and taken in a military cargo plane to Washington D.C.  During my trip, I had been passed up the line from privates to colonels to generals to Army secretaries and finally to this room where the President of the United States of America and the rest of the world waited to hear what I had to say.

It was time to speak.  The President had arrived with his staff and were seated.  I made some bugle like sounds to get everyone’s attention.  They were quite surprised but quieted right down.

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I spoke, “I did not come to your planet on a mission of peace.  Neither did I come on a mission of aggression.  I come as an observer.  I have been observing you for nearly 100,000 years.  I have made many trips to your planet.  Several times in the past, my ship has been spotted by your people.  One other time, I was forced to land and effect some repairs.  My ships have varied in size and shape from ovoid to saucer shaped.”

“I come from a planet my people call Zanist.  It is 7,000 light years away in another galaxy.  Our planet is over twenty billion years old.  Our people refer to themselves as Zanes.  As you calculate your lifespan, the average life of a Zane is about 200,000 earth years.”

“The sun that heats our solar system is dying.  It has been dying for many years.  We developed interstellar travel capabilities nearly a million years ago.  When we realized that our planet was doomed, our leaders decided that we should seek out another planet to inhabit.  Many scouts were sent out to find a new home for our people.  I found your planet over 100,000 years ago.  It was perfect for us except for the fact that a new species was quickly evolving, and you were that species.  We were not sure whether you would survive.  Many other species on your planet have rose up only to disappear in a few centuries.”

“We have what you would call a prime directive.  We do not interfere with the development of a sentient species.  Many on our planet were not sure that humans were sentient.  It was evident from early observations that you were brutal and cruel to other species as well as each other.  Nevertheless, our ethics prevented us from interfering with your development.”

“I was selected to monitor your planet in the event that you did not survive or that you annihilated yourselves.  This latter possibility seemed the most likely given your aggressive tendencies.  I returned after the ice age to find that you had managed to survive.  I watched many battles over the years where I thought you might destroy each other: the Three Kingdom Wars, the Mongolian Wars, the European Wars and two World Wars.”

“Finally, with your development of nuclear weapons, we were sure that you would self-annihilate.  We were quite surprised when you did not.  With my observations on this latest visit, I think it might be close to the end for your species.  Your current disasters due to your destruction of your environment, global warming, and climate change will be your death knell.  Your planet will survive but your species will probably not.  I take no joy in this observation.  My role is simply to observe and to report when your planet will be ready for us to occupy.”

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“We will be able to fix your planet and return it to its former healthy state.  We could tell you how to do this, but it would be a waste of time.  It is apparent that you understand what you need to do but you lack the desire or will power to do it.”

“That is all I have to say.  I am returning to my planet.”

As I spoke these words, I observed one of the military people talking to several of his subordinates.  I could read his mind and see that he was intent on preventing me from leaving.  It was his intention to place me in some sort of a cell.

Milley-talk“You have taken my space craft to one of your many military bases.  Some of you wish to stop me from leaving.  That is impossible.  I have no desire to harm any of you.   I have already repaired my vessel and it is back in orbit.  I will go to my ship.  Perhaps you will see me again in the future if you survive.  I doubt it.  Goodbye.”

“Beam me up Scotty.”  A little phrase I learned from my visits to the planet Earth.

The alien’s colors gave off a burst of blinding light forcing all the participants to close their eyes.  When the gathering opened their eyes, the alien was gone.  A grave like silence blanketed the room.  Reporters, government officials, military people and the President of the United States of America were all speechless.  The first words that everyone at the gathering heard were, “Does anyone know what’s for lunch?”

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The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Art

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You may be expecting me to regale you with some long-winded bull about artsy fartsy stuff that you should absolutely have in your life.  My conscience tells me that maybe I should start this blog off with a disclaimer or perhaps a spoiler alert.  The big question I am asking myself is who am I to convince you of the value that art has for you or the rest of the world?

e9d976ac0ad1923d2a1b45f65431411aWhen I grew up, the only art in our house was an Elvis on velvet painting that my mother had hanging over the living room sofa.  We also had a wooden ship with metal sails and a clock that did not work built into the side of the ship.  It was featured prominently on the mantle over our fake fireplace.  Our furniture would have done the Salvation Army proud.  I do not remember any other art besides Elvis displayed on our walls, floors, or ceilings.  Neither my father or mother had any interest in art.  My mother liked Elvis and that is why she got the painting. 

s-l300When I think back upon my schooling, I do not recall ever having had a single class in art appreciation.  We would occasionally go on field trips but usually to a library or a science museum.  No one in my schools acknowledged the world of art.  For blue collar kids like myself, the world of art had little relevance or practical use.  Everyone knew that artists died poor.  The great Van Gogh sold only one picture in his lifetime and that to a relative.  The purchase of art was for the rich, spoiled, eccentric scions of old aristocratic families with more money than they knew what to do with. 

unnamedWhen Karen and I first moved down to Arizona, we took a day to go and visit Scottsdale.  Scottsdale is a wealthy upper-class community.  Scottsdale is generally considered the most affluent large city in Arizona.  The average income of a Scottsdale resident is $51,564 a year. The US average is $28,555 a year.  According to Zillow.com, the typical price of a home in Scottsdale is $582,292.  We walked around the downtown portion of Scottsdale and expected to see the usual mix of clothing stores, jewelry shops, antique shops, and restaurants.  We were not surprised except when it came to the antique shops. 

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Most towns we visit today seem to have an abundance of antique shops.  Not Scottsdale!  Instead of antique shops, full of overpriced cast outs from yesteryear, Scottsdale had more jewelry shops and art galleries than I could count.  It goes without saying that I do not generally go into high end jewelry shops selling Rolex watches.  In some of these Scottsdale shops, a Rolex would be a cheap watch.  Sporting my Casio, I would not even merit a sales attempt.  However, we were really surprised at the number of art galleries.  Foolishly, we dared to venture into a few of them.  Our trips inside did not last long. 

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My idea of an expensive piece of art runs in the double digits.  Most of the art in these shops exceeded my tax return from last year.  Meaning the art was well into four or more digits.  I found myself petrified of knocking something over or off of a pedestal.  My heart rate was so high, I almost called 911.  We decided we had seen enough art and it was time to find some decent tacos and beer.  We found a good Mexican restaurant and sat on the sidewalk where we could look at the expensively dressed local Scottsdale people.  I soon noticed that Scottsdale did not have any obese or overweight citizens.  I suppose that when you are really wealthy, you can afford a coach, trainer or whatever to help you diet and keep your weight down. 

HP-Hero-Header@2xArt reflects the beauty that life holds.  Paintings portray ideals and impressions that intrigue and magnify the senses.  Sculptures mirror the objects in our world that mystify us or that remind us of magnificent events.  Pictures bring us to other places and times that would be forgotten without the images the photographer captures.  Art does not attempt to simply mirror reality; it attempts to augment and enhance reality.  Art can be a caricature which like a Rorschach text enables us to see many different visions.  Art is a realization of values, norms, pain, happiness, the past, the present and the future.  Art can simultaneously create fantasy and reality.

flickr_-_cc_-_manuel_paternity_-_no_modification-_no_commercial_useYou may be rightly thinking, “But what good does art do me if I cannot afford to even walk into an art shop?”  I often asked myself this same question.  Why look at stuff that I could not afford?  It took me years before I even ventured into an art museum.  I have since visited the Louvre while in Paris and many other museums in the USA and in Europe.  My attitude is now one of gratefulness that someone has purchased these magnificent works of art to share with the public.  The vast majority of us could never begin to afford the pricelessness of these museum pieces.  I strongly encourage you to visit an art museum sometime. 

il_794xN.2697702323_8azbWhen it comes to art that I would like to own, it is simply a matter of what I can afford.  The art world is full of overpriced works of art.  Many would rebel at my labeling art this way.  My critics would say that it was high priced and not “over” priced.  That may well be.  I have talked to a number of artists and the vast majority do not get paid for the value of their efforts and creativity.  However, just like in athletics, a few stand out and are disproportionally rewarded for their efforts.    

I will also claim that there are many underpriced works of art.  I find what I call bargains done by both artisans and artists that I would have thought would sell for much higher prices.  Karen and I have visited quite a few art festivals.  When we moved to Arizona, we decided that we would decorate the interior of our house with affordable works of art.  Art that we admired and liked and that fit our budget.  We chose to find original works of art rather than just reproductions.  There is nothing wrong with reproductions, but we opted to save our money for art that we thought was unique and one of a kind.      

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I have not said what I consider quality art or great art to be.  That would be more than presumptuous.  More astute minds than mine have tried to define “great” art.  I have always subscribed to the maxim that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  I cannot define great art, but I can tell you what I like.  Sometimes, it is simply something that reminds me of another place or time and sometimes it is something that I think is beautiful.  My house could never hold all the art that I have admired over the years.  As I said before, I am grateful that there are people called artists who are willing to venture into a field where the rewards are so problematic compared to the skill and creativity required.   

If you find the world boring, if you wonder if there is more to life than you experience, if you are depressed at the bad news each day, if the daily diet of mayhem and misfortune makes you wish you were living in another time or place, then art may be the solution to your misery.  Art is a bouquet of flowers which can bring joy to your heart.  Sir John Lubbock, 4th Baronet said that, “art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness.  It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind.  As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.

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You can begin to appreciate the world of art today.  It will not cost you a single penny.  Your initiation fee is paid by the amount of time you are willing to devote to art.  There are classes on art online for free.  There are YouTube videos with tours of art museums and histories of great paintings and artists.  Your local library will have dozens of books that are collections of some of the great art works in history.  The Salvation Army and Goodwill have many used books that include works of art for you to purchase at less than two dollars a book.

10 Free Courses to Help You Understand and Appreciate Art …    

Another option of course, is to appreciate the world of art as an artist or creator rather than as a follower or viewer.  Several years ago, I took an art class.  I wanted to see if I had the talent to be an artist.  The class taught how to paint miniatures.  I did several paintings which turned out quite well.  The class also showed me the hard work and discipline that was required to be an artist.  I wisely chose to make my fortunes in the business world rather than in the more challenging world of art. 

Whatever you decide, I hope that you can let the world of art color your days like a rainbow that never dims or goes out.  The world will be a happier place when we can all learn to appreciate art.

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Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

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I have put together a selection of short stories that I have published over the years on my blog.  I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place.  If you have enjoyed any of my tales, I think that you will enjoy this book.  It contains 25 of my favorites pieces of writing. 

 

The fables in this book are unique and cover a wide range of topics.  It is a book of make believe that is designed to challenge the way that you look at life.  Some of these stories are Aesop like, and some are Mark Twain like.  Some of them will make you laugh.  Some will make you cry.  Some contain morals and parables that may help you think differently about your life and the world.

 

 Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think    Kindle Edition

by John Persico (Author), Socorro Luna (Editor) — Feb, 9, 2021, Kindle Edition, $4.99

 

If you prefer a paperback edition, it is available at the following link for $9.99

Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Music

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What would life be without the things that help us to appreciate it?  I listen to a superb singer and think how fantastic it is to be able to have this kind of talent in the world.  I visit an art gallery and look at the magnificent paintings and think about all the people that have created works of art which beautify my life.  I journey to a library to find a good book to read and I am inundated with literature that will open vast new horizons for me intellectually and emotionally.  I am sometimes ashamed that I am not grateful enough for the many appreciations that life gives me.

I started thinking a few days ago that the issue of appreciation would make a good subject for a blog.  I soon realized that the subject would be good for several blogs.  Thus, I have decided to write about the greatest appreciations in my life.  Of course, life itself is a given as the greatest appreciation of all, so I will skip it for now.  There are hundreds of things that I can appreciate.  I will limit my list to the top seven things that I am grateful for or that I appreciate on an almost daily basis.  I will try cover each of these in my next blogs.

  1. Music
  2. Art
  3. Literature
  4. Travel/Food
  5. Friends/Family
  6. Exercise/Health
  7. Peace

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Music:  Something to Appreciate

This week I will discuss the joys and happiness that I find in music.  Karen, my wife is a musician.  I am unfortunately not among the musically gifted.  I am left to be the audience for Karen and other people with the talent to perform.  I have hundreds of artists all over the world that I admire and listen to.  Many people have a steady diet of music from a particular genre.  I consider myself fortunate to have quite catholic tastes when it comes to music.

I love opera, country, blue grass, gospel, classical, rock, pop, blues, jazz, folk, as well as music from almost every country in the world.  Have you ever listened to Enka music from Japan or Fado music from Portugal?  There are hundreds of styles of music all over the world.  Increasingly I find what might be called fusion music that blends a multitude of styles.

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One currently popular group is called the Hu.  They are a rock band from Mongolia.  They use traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including the Morin khuur, Tovshuur and Mongolian throat singing with a rock beat.  They say that they are inspired by the Hunnu, an ancient Turkic/Mongol empire.  I discovered them on YouTube and liked them so much I purchased one of their albums.  I listened to it every day for a few weeks.  I had never heard anything like it before.

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Yesterday on NPR they had a music session with the noted African American operatic baritone Will Liverman.   It was an interesting conversation.   There has been a systematic exclusion of information concerning Black singers and composers in the realm of classical music.  Mr.  Liverman talked about his upbringing and how surprised his parents were that he became interested in opera and classical music.  He pursued his interests and has become one of the great operatic singers of our time.  Will observed that many great Black composers were virtually unknown to the public and even in the music world.  He decided to remedy this with an album of songs by Black composers.  You can find his album on Amazon and many of Mr. Liverman’s songs on YouTube.

The music world is full of variety, mysteries, contradictions, challenges, and respite from a world all too often full of dreary news and mayhem.  I have briefly touched on some of the variety in the music world, but what are the mysteries?  Well consider the talent that it takes to become a good musician.  Many people think that musicians are simply born with the talent.  A little knowledge of musicians will soon show you that music is a combination of talent and hard work.  Few of us will ever know if we could have been a great musician because most of us do not have the discipline to put the effort into music.  This includes me as well.  I am amazed at the practicing that Karen does each week.

Karen performing with the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble Visits The Fountains – The Fountains at La Cholla in Tucson, AZ

Karen has taken dozens of classes to help develop her skills.  There never seems to be a time when she will simply quit and say, “I have become good enough.”  She is always working and striving to become better.  Every year she develops more skills and then challenges herself with more difficult pieces, not to mention adding more instruments to her repertoire.  And here is the mystery.  Where do these people get the energy and courage to keep on challenging themselves?  Most of us would rather listen to music.  We marvel at the fantastic talent that is in the music world, but we seldom understand the practice, discipline and hard work that is involved.  I gasp in amazement at a man like Jake Shimabukuro whose fingers move over the ukulele faster than I can see.  I cannot comprehend pianists that can play an entire Beethoven symphony without looking at a music sheet.  These are all mysteries to me.

What of contradictions?  The music world is full of contradictions.  Talented players and singers who never seem to achieve the stardom they deserve.  One-hit-wonders who can create a dynamic song that tops the charts but are never heard from again.  Five-year-old wunderkinds who display abilities that defy logic.  Singers who develop followers that worship the ground they walk on.  Performers who last a few years, disappear for many years, and then make startling comebacks.  Singers who are still in the music business in their eighties.  Artists who seem to have little talent but make tons of money.  The music world is full of contradictions.

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What of the challenges I refer to?  For a musician, the world is one giant challenge.  Can you imagine getting up in front of 100,000 people or more to sing the national anthem?   Can you imagine facing the expectations of an audience that has paid a minimum of 100 dollars a seat to hear you perform and some may have paid thousands to hear you perform?  Could you handle the pressure?  Can you imagine a road tour?  Leaving your home for a year to travel the world and play in dozens of different venues in front of many different audiences.  I get anxious not sleeping in my own bed for one night.  I think the challenges also show up in the chaotic drug filled life that we often see in some musicians.  Stars like Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince, and hundreds of other great musicians who met an early and untimely death.  Is it any wonder?  The challenges may be too much for anyone.

Finally for me, the respite that music brings to my life could not be purchased for a million dollars.  It is said that “Music soothes the savage beast.”  Music takes the stress out of my life.  Music is like meditating.  It is often better than eating or sleeping.  I can watch an Andrea Bocelli performance, and everything is okay with the world.  Music helps me to forget the vicious daily news, the angry divisive politicians insulting each other, the legal eagles trying to entice me to sue someone, the maniacs on the road in a hurry to go nowhere.  I can forget the dreams I had that never materialized as I listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing, “Wayfaring Stranger” or Miley Cyrus sing, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” or Bob Dylan sing, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

I fear I have not even begun to explain the joys, beauty and wonders that music can bring into our lives.  The subject is so deep and wide, that my short missive here does not even begin to do it justice.  My goal is to inspire and entice you to find more time for music in your life.  It is truly one of the great appreciations that life brings us.  Sean Combs said that “A life without passion is unforgivable.”  It is even truer that a “life without music is a terrible shame.’

Next week I will talk about Art and what it can do to help us appreciate life more.

 

Do you read enough? Do you love ideas and books?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Book time is my favorite time. This is when I am already past the “startup” of a new novel or the introduction to a new book and I find the time to just sit down and relax with it. I often go into an old bedroom in our house as it somehow seems more peaceful. It might be just before going to bed or sometimes when I have nothing to do. The world never seems more peaceful. It feels like hiding in a cave. When I was a child, book time was when I would go to the library. I discovered libraries at an early age and it was like discovering paradise.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Libraries were peaceful and quiet and full of all the ideas, fantasies, mysteries and great things of the world. I fell in love with books there. I probably love books more than anything in the world. I love them not only because of what they represent, but because of where they can take you and what they can make you. When I was young, I was taught that knowledge was power and information was a precious resource. The balance of power has shifted now due to modern technology and the internet. Perhaps today it is more important who you know than what you know. Nevertheless, I persist in my love of knowledge and theory and ideas. I am bothered however by one major shift in our culture.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  ― Charles W. Eliot

We seem to live in a society that is more and more obsessed by sports. It is a society where star athletes are heroes and computer geeks are nerds. It is a society that places more value on baseball, football and basketball than on books and reading. Perhaps foolishly, I dream of a society where towns have signs up for leading academic students , leading music majors, leading drama classes, leading art students and not just for the “Football champions of 03” or the “ Class AAA Baseball Champions of 2011.” I dream of a society where drama coaches, music coaches and art teachers are as highly paid as NCAA athletic coaches. I dream of a society where as many students show up to watch the debating matches and chess matches as show up for the basketball games. I dream of a society where there is no such thing as nerds and geeks and where developing brain power is as sexy as developing muscle power.

Questions To Think About:

Do you read enough? Do you value ideas as much as you value “who won the Super bowl?” Would you pay as much for a beautiful work of art or a ticket to the symphony as you would for a ticket to an NBA playoff game or a Super bowl game? Do you spend as much time reading as you do watching sports? Do you concern yourself with politics and culture as much as you do with popular NASCAR and Hollywood celebrities? Do your children? Why not? Do you think your life might be different if you valued ideas more? What might change?

The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of acquiring a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

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The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual.  However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for instant gratification with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W. E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately, our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts.  Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune.  Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens.  It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight.  All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on a celebrity TV show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success.  One day PSI was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing at the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is needed for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin?”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

“Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do.  Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers.  The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits.  With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider.  To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need.  The United States provides a typical example.  The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health.  What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing.” ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success.  The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic.  These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around.  The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere.  You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles.  Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage.  The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others.  The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

The Great Divide:  An America Torn Asunder by Divisions

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The number one subject for bestselling non-fiction books in the USA today concerns the chasm that separates Republicans from Democrats.  Rural voters from urban voters.  College Educated people from non-college educated.  Conservatives from liberals.  Fox viewers from CNN viewers.  Your facts from my facts.  Your truths from my truths.  Your lies from my lies.  Your views of reality from my views of reality. 

This divide is decried by all the pundits and experts.  Not one of the writers on this subject has anything good to say about the divide.  Perhaps they harken back to the old saying, “United we stand and divided we fall.”  Or the adage that, “A house divided cannot stand.”  Whatever the reasoning, no one thinks that a USA as divided as it is with nearly 75 million people voting for Donald Trump and 80 million people voting for Joseph Biden is helpful for our nation.  Keep in mind, it is not just the sheer numbers that alarm people, it is the magnitude of the crevasse that scares people.

hate-spesechThe abyss It is so big that there is no bridging it.  None of the sides can see the other side.  None of the sides has any common ground with the other side.  None of the sides understands the language that the other side speaks.  We might as well be earthlings talking to Martians.  There is no lingua franca.  Many of the “well-meaning” experts exhort both sides to try harder to bridge the gap or to work more diligently to listen to the other side.  It seems to be assumed that all it will take to jump the gulf is good intentions.  I cry bullshit on this.  As the old aphorism goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  It will take more than good intentions to heal the wound that infests our country.

Before we can fix what ails America, we must clearly understand what brought this divide about.  What are the causes for this divide, and can they be healed?  I see three main causes for this chasm.  They are: 1. Greed, 2. Demonization, and 3. Media.  Let’s look at each of these three elements and see how they contribute to the divide and what if anything can be done about them. 

Greed:

Corporate greed and materialism have driven a wedge between the haves and the have nots in America.  A larger gap than ever before exists between the rich and the poor.  The number of people seeking free food and standing in line at food banks has only been higher during the Great Depression.  The requirements for a digital elite versus a computer illiterate fuels the growing income gap.  The Opioid Epidemic is only one symptom of this inequality in the USA.  Many people cannot afford medical care or adequate housing as well as food. 

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For years now, materialism has been touted as the backbone of American commerce by corporations and the media.  Inflammatory news events sell advertisements which drive people to the shopping malls, ball parks, restaurants, and performances.  Special events like “Black Friday” abound where people, “shop till they drop.”  There is a vicious spiral to these events since the final outcome is to keep people needy and wanting more.  The theologian Matthew Kelly says you can never satisfy wants only needs.  Pursuing wants will always leave you wanting more.  Eating, sleeping, exercise and love are needs that can be satisfied and will bring you happiness.  You can never be happy pursuing wants.

materialism and spendingThe wants advertised on the TV and in the media are never fulfilling.  We have a nation of brainwashed consumers who mistakenly think that more toys, bigger houses, more guns, and luxury cars will make them happy.  We are a nation on a never-ending treadmill of consumer materialism where like rats we keep spinning the wheel and hoping to find happiness, but happiness never comes, and drugs take its place. 

There is no sanity in our economic system.  It is a zero-sum game.  It is a great deal like the lottery.  Next week there will be 100 million losers, but one winner will get a billion dollars or more.  The value for the lottery keeps going up which entices more and more people to buy lottery tickets, but the number of losers also keeps going up.  Where do the profits for the lotteries go?  Not back to the people, regardless of what they tell you.  Our society is being sold hope where hope is the most elusive product in the marketplace. 

imagesAs the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the tensions in society grow ever more divisive.  We see more road rage, more senseless shootings, more violence between men and women, less loyalty between employers and employees.  The underpinning of society that should be based on human integrity and morality is replaced with an opportunism based on an amoral value system.  Whatever we can get as long as we break no laws is considered to be moral.  We see most politicians that have no commitment to anything except to collect more money so that they can stay in office.   Their highest goal is to help the rich get richer, which of course includes themselves. 

Jesus said that money is not evil, it is the pursuit of money that is evil.  The evil in America comes from a frenzy for more that separates Americans from each other.  Like a horse race where there can only be one winner, there are only going to be a few rich Americans and many more poor people scrambling to be the “King of the Hill.” 

I do not believe that the divide in this country can be erased until we eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor.  It is not simply a matter of conversation or discussion.  It is a matter of inequality.  A poor person cannot talk to a rich person unless they can shout over gated walls and armed security guards.  The biggest divide in America is between the haves and the have nots.  It is between the will haves and the may never haves.  The haves in America expect to have more and probably will get more.  The have nots do not know where their next paycheck will come from or whether they will be able to buy food for tomorrow.  No amount of discussion or listening skills is going to solve this problem.  

Demonization:

Speech-Bubble-Montage_2-1 (1)I am not talking about the devil here or about spirituality.  I am talking about a kind of insidious propaganda that has been spread by many groups and individuals.  In this propaganda, one side of America is labeled as moral, ethical, righteous, and just.  The other side is the opposite.  The other side is everything negative.  The other side is a composite of all the demons and evils that Americans believe in.  The other side are communists, fascists, atheists, anti-democratic, anti-patriotic and un-American.  One side is good.  The other side is evil incarnate.  You cannot talk to evil.  You cannot discuss with the devil why he wants your soul.  You cannot debate with Satan over the values that he has.  Heaven and hell do not have weekly discussion groups.  The language heard today, and what the media publishes drips with hate, innuendo, and disdain.  The language fosters violence.  I doubt the Founding Fathers ever conceived that the First Amendment would protect such speech.  There are three elements that contribute to a hate speech culture that demonizes the other side: 

  1. Malicious Labeling:

freehatespeechMalicious labeling is the name calling that goes on between both sides today wherein each side is labeled.  You can hear it on almost every talk show program in America today.  Name calling and name labeling.  Commie pinko leftists!  Intellectual elites!  Radical socialists!  Racist rednecks!  Fascist dictators!  Politicians, commentators, newscasters, and radio talk show hosts all use malicious labels to insult and demean those they disagree with.  What have we let this country become when we allow such name calling?  This kind of hyperbole demonizes the other side and creates a divide that cannot be overcome by rational conversation.

“I think the political process has degenerated into name-calling and extremism, and I think that that’s unfortunate.” — Bill Bradley

  1. Anti-Government Diatribes:

extremismword_hp111319.1200x0I do not think that the Founding Fathers of our nation believed that Government was evil.  Certainly, they felt that there could be too much government intrusion on the rights of the populace.  They invoked certain safeguards to protect both human rights and states rights.  Nevertheless, they did not demonize government and not a single one of the Fathers ever referred to government as evil.  Edmund Burke, the famous English conservative said, “The government that governs best is the government that governs least.”  He never said, “government was evil.”  It has become common place to hear refrains denigrating the role and necessity of government.  This steady drumbeat of antigovernmental rhetoric has created a group of people that have no value for government and who support the idea that government should be abolished.

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”  — George Washington

  1. Legal Advocates of Violence

loyal white knights and aryan nations in texas july 2016 from vkdotcom_0A few years ago I began to wonder why groups like the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, Antifa, The Proud Boys and many other such groups advocating violence against the government were not labeled as Terrorist Organizations.  I asked a lawyer this question and he replied, “it is all politics.”  I found that almost all the groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” were designated as “extremist groups.”  This means that they are not illegal, and they have the right to organize, march, rally and basically spread their hate across America.  In 2019, The SPLC listed 940 hate groups across the USA.  If any of these groups was labeled as a “Terrorist Group,” they would be on the same list as the Taliban, Boko Haram, The Mafia, Mexican Cartels and Al Qaeda.  What is the difference between an extremist group and a terrorist group?  It might surprise you to learn that a terrorist organization is defined as follows:

In the United States of America, terrorism is defined in Title 22 Chapter 38 U.S. Code § 2656f as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”.

In general, terrorism is classified as:

  • The use of violence or of the threat of violence in the pursuit of political, religious, ideological, or social objectives
  • Acts committed by non-state actors (or by undercover personnel serving on the behalf of their respective governments)
  • Acts reaching more than the immediate target victims and also directed at targets consisting of a larger spectrum of society.

15963If this definition does not apply to the groups that tried to storm the US Capital on January 6th, 2021, I do not know what does.  Just yesterday the Canadian government labeled the Proud Boys as a Terrorist Organization.  This delegitimizes the group and takes their rights away.  For Canada, it is a start.  I am wondering when we are going to get started in the USA on such an effort.  The First Amendment was never construed to allow hate speech and the advocating of violent actions to overthrow the government.  Why do we not have the political will to outlaw these groups?  We seem to have little compunction in penalizing Black groups like the Black Lives Matter Movement or the Black Panthers.  We have a different standard when it comes to White Supremacy groups. 

The Media:

000f25f2-6bf0-11e9-994e-1d1e521ccbf6_image_hires_015902The newspapers, TV and the Internet are today the major carriers for the hate and vituperation that has spread across America.  On one side of the divide, we find the NY Times, the Washington Post and CNN News.  On the other side, we find the NY Post, the Washington Examiner and Fox News.  There are countless other purveyors of extreme and fanatical views.  Each side reeks of headlines supporting nonobjective views and biased reporting.  If objective reporting ever existed in the USA, it has been murdered and buried by the most pervasive media to ever exist.  The media carries the hate and violence that is created by politicians, pundits, radio commentators and hate groups and ensures that it gets widely disseminated.  Without the media, much of the divide would never have occurred.  Hate needs a platform to be spread and the media is more than happy to host anything that it believes will sell itself and its advertising. 

Conclusions:

We are not going to overcome the divide that separates Americans today by platitudes and wishful thinking.  No amount of holding hands or singing kumbaya together is going to unite Americans.  We have a systemic rot in our system that is caused by the extremism in politics and media that has created this divide.  We need to enact reasonable laws to stamp out this rot while also protecting free speech but not hate speech.  There is a difference between hate speech and free speech.  If we cannot figure this difference out, we will never close the divide that exists in America today.  You can defend the First Amendment all you want, but there are limits to everything and that includes so-called Free Speech. 

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Courage: The Seventh Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Courage is number seven of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Sunday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Give me the ability and courage to make a difference today, no matter how small.

 I have been thinking about courage now for quite some time.  One of my favorite quotes is as follows:

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” — Ralph W. Sockman

Courage has been one of the most salient virtues in my life.  I think about it often.  I am afraid to be a coward but wonder if I am brave.  Is it courage to do things because you are afraid of how you will think about yourself if you do not?  I have tried to test myself often to prevent feeling like a coward.  Caesar said “Cowards die many times before their deaths, but heroes only die once.”  Perhaps, it was Shakespeare who really said this, but the point remains the same.  My father hated cowards and more than once chastised me for being afraid of something.  I can think of too many times in my life when my father would have been sorely disappointed in me.

When I was young, I always took the side of the underdog.  I would defend anyone against a bully.  I hated bullies with a passion.  I still prefer the underdog.  This might explain to some degree why I care about the poor, the sick and the homeless.  Psychologists would say I was overcompensating to try to win my father’s approval.  It really does not matter to me what they say.  There is something poignant and sad about people who have less or are needier than I am.  There is something despicable about people that only care about themselves and are too ready to say “I did it myself.”  One of my favorite poems is:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
  — John Donne

In thinking about courage, I have found that the subject is more complex than it would appear.  I believe that there are five kinds of courage.  Some of us may be stronger in one while others are stronger in another kind of courage.  I would like to list each kind of courage, give you my definition and then say a little about each one.  The five types of courage I have found are:

  • Physical courage
  • Intellectual courage
  • Emotional courage
  • Moral courage
  • Spiritual courage

Physical Courage:

physical courageThis type of courage is the most obvious and perhaps least subtle.  The mountain climber, the motorcycle racer, the football player, the sky diver all display what to some of us would seem to be a reckless disregard for life.  Each of these individuals risk life and limb for either fame, fortune, fun or to achieve some goal.  Often money is the least of their motivations for risking their lives.  These people do things that leave most of us awestruck but also inspired.  We watch their events on TV, in the movies and at live shows.  We never fail to be impressed by the exploits and daring do that such individuals undertake.  Risk is the hallmark of their efforts and we note that many of them pay for their risky behaviors.  Death is an ever present companion for these people.  Somehow though, they rise above the fears that chain the rest of us to the TV and they are out there doing what many of us only do in our dreams.

There is another group though that exhibit raw physical courage and they do it for a different set of reasons.  Soldiers, police officers, emergency medical people and fire fighters all risk their lives on a daily basis.  Most of these individuals do it for altruistic motives.  There is not enough money in the world to convince the rest of us to risk our lives like these people do.  No one can say they only do it for the money, since sadly these occupations are not very well paid.  We pay accountants, Wall Street brokers and MBA’s many times more than we pay the people who risk their lives every day to protect the rest of us.

Intellectual Courage:

Death of Socrates JacquesLouisDavidWhat do you do when someone tells you that your ideas are stupid and that you will never amount to anything?   If you are like most of us, you give up and go on to something else.  The person with intellectual courage though is different from the rest of us.  They don’t give up on their ideas.  They plod forward in the face of distain, insults and criticism.  Many times they are dead and buried before the value of their ideas are recognized.  Darwin, Mendel, Pasteur and Copernicus were all ridiculed and ostracized for many years before their ideas were accepted.  Socrates was executed for his ideas.  Indeed, here is what Socrates said at his trial:

“But some of you will ask, ‘Don’t you regret what you did since now it might mean your death?’ To these I answer, ‘You are mistaken.  A good man should not calculate his chances of living or dying.  He should only ask himself whether he is doing right or wrong—whether his inner self is that of a good man or of an evil one.’  From Plato’s Apology.

Now I ask you, was Socrates a brave and courageous man?  Would you have the conviction to die for your ideas?

Emotional Courage:

moral courageI have a good friend of mine who will not go to funerals.  They make him feel very sad and he tries to avoid such feelings.  No one of us likes to feel sad.  It takes a kind of courage to go to a funeral.  What do you say at a funeral to the friends and relatives of the departed one?  How do you act?  What if you did not know the person very well?  There are many ways to feel embarrassed or like a fish out of water at a funeral.  Easier to stay home then go.  But it takes a certain kind of courage to deal with emotional risk.  Any courage is difficult because of the risk.  Emotional risk entails looking stupid, feeling stupid or having to deal with difficult feelings.  A person with emotional courage confronts these situations with a degree of bravery and élan that escapes many of us.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  — Nelson Mandela

emotional courageOne of the greatest fears that many people have is called “stage fright” or fear of public speaking.  Many professional speakers and actors/actresses feel significant stage fright.  Actress Carol Burnett was so nervous that she threw up before many of her performances.  Most of us would never think of getting up on a stage.  I know that people call it stage fright, but it is not really about the stage, it is really about us.  Who wants to look stupid and particularly in front of hundreds or people?  It takes emotional courage to deal with life.  All of us have it, but we often choose not to exercise it.  We simply spend our lives trying to avoid situations that might make us look dumb or embarrass ourselves.  The people with emotional courage deal with these situations and take the risk that the rest of us hide from.

Moral Courage:

malalaThe world is full of examples of moral courage.  However, to my way of thinking, the amount of moral cowardice far outweighs the shining examples of moral courage.  The number of Martin Luther Kings, Gandhis, Mandelas, Parks, Kellers and Kyis are dwarfed by the number of moral cowards who turn the quote I noted above around.  These are the people who when in the majority would tyrannize the minorities.  They are the moral cowards who use their positions to foster hatred and bigotry and intolerance towards the disadvantaged and weak.  They prey on the sick and quote-moral-courage-is-a-more-rare-commodity-than-bravery-in-battle-or-great-intelligence-robert-kennedy-345839hungry and would deny benefits or help to anyone who is not a member of their tribe or affiliation.  They go through life pretending to be good people and deluding themselves that they are.

Conversely, we have those cowards who when in the minority are afraid to risk.  They are afraid to speak out when they are surrounded by racists and bigots.  They are afraid of what their friends and neighbors might think if they stand up for their beliefs.  So they say and do nothing.  They find it easy to ignore the admonition that:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”  — Edmund Burke

This group of moral cowards also includes the pious so-called Christians who feel that all they need to do to guarantee their ascent into heaven is to spout religious slogans from the bible.  They conveniently forget what Jesus himself did and what the apostle James noted:

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” — James 2:17

Jesus said:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” — Matthew 7:21

I understand both of these passages to mean that a good person must do good deeds.  It is not enough to have good thoughts or to say “I believe, I believe.”  You must also be able to say “I do good.”  “I do good.”  And what good do you do?  Do you stand up for those who are being persecuted or do you join in their persecution?  Moral courage is standing up for your beliefs.  It is standing up for other people.  It is not just thinking about “What would Jesus do?”  It is doing what Jesus would do.  Jesus would not be silent in the face of persecution of others.

Spiritual Courage:

Spiritual is the ability to face the uncertainly of life and to greet each day with a sense of awe and hope that in the world I can be a better person and that I can help make the world a better place.  If we look at the word spirit, we find the following definition:

“The inner character of a person, thought of as different from the material person we can see and touch.”  — Cambridge Dictionary

The world greets us each day with new possibilities.  Many of these possibilities entail risk.  Risk of dying in a car accident.  Risk of dying in a shooting.  Risk of being raped.  Risk of losing a loved one.  Risk of disease.  Risk of unhappiness.  The list of risks we face each day is endless.  We are sensitized to these risks by the onslaught of news and media that bombards us minute by minute and second by second with ghastly deeds that journalists love to print.

Fear is ever present in our society today and is it any wonder?  The media exalt in horror stories that should have most of us seeking sanctuary in a deep dark cave.  We long to be  hidden from the persecution that seems to engulf our daily lives.  Catholics fighting Protestants.  Jews fighting Muslims.  Shia fighting Sunnis.  Tea Party people hating liberals.  People of different cultures and ethnic groups inflicting insults and defamations on each other.  Women and children subjected to abuse every second of the day.  Wars raging in one country or another.  The wealthy despising the poor and the poor envying the wealthy.  Life is portrayed as nothing but an unmitigated disaster waiting for a tragedy to befall us or so the media would seem to have us believe.  The news becomes a drug whose side effects are to convince each of us to drop out of life and to give up on the world.

“During my 2009 service as an Air Force chaplain in Iraq, I saw countless examples of heroism.  However, the most spiritually heroic act I witnessed was the prayer of a soldier who asked God to forgive the insurgents who had killed his battle buddy.”

Hero’s Highway: A Chaplain’s Journey Toward Forgiveness Inside a Combat Hospital

I wonder that anyone has the courage to get out of bed each day.  It is astonishing to me that any of us has the desire to do good for the world or to make a difference.  It hardly seems possible to roll back the evil and injustices that pour forth each day from every corner of the globe.  So why bother?  One atrocity surpasses and begets the next atrocity.

courageroarNevertheless, in the face of all this iniquity, the majority of humankind has a spiritual courage that defies logic.  The majority of people want to do good for the world. The majority of people are good and most people try to leave the world a better place then they found it.  This is truly an amazing observation.  More people are spiritual heroes than not.  Every day those who have the courage and strength to get out of bed and to start a new day show a sense of spiritual courage.  It would be easier to hide and to do nothing then to face the daily rigors of life on our planet.  Yet, that is what the majority of people do each day.  They get out of bed.  They go to work.  They volunteer.  They innovate and create.  They campaign for their ideals.  They build.  They love.  They pay taxes.  They die.  And the cycle starts all over again for the next generation.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” — Helen Keller

Time for Questions:

What kinds of courage do you have?  What kind of courage do you wish you had more of?  Why?  What could you do to find more courage in your life?  Do you think it would make a difference?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.  Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.  We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” — Maya Angelou

Rights Versus Responsibilities

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We have an epidemic of rights today and a drought of responsibility.  A number of years ago when I was a first-year teacher I had the following experience.  I was teaching at Guadalupe Area Project (GAP), otherwise charitably known as a “dropout school.”  It was mostly a school for students who had been kicked out of the St. Paul Public School System for a variety of reasons.  The school was started and run by a Sister Giovanni.  She was a leader in migrant relations on the West Side of St. Paul.  It was a largely Latino community.  Many of the residents on the West Side were recent immigrants from Mexico or Central America.

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Sister Giovanni believed in giving kids and people a second chance.  She started GAP to help students who were displaced from the public school system.  We had kids of all types and most were not traditional “school material.”  Some were chronic truants, some were chronic troublemakers, some had chronic learning difficulties, some had chronic behavior problems, and some were just lost souls.  It was a challenge working with these young folks but one I relished at the time. 

D943_130_551_1200One day a young student came to me and complained that he felt that his rights had been violated.  At the time, I took any students complaints very seriously particularly when it concerned rights.  I listened to his problem and asked him what he wanted me to do about it.  He asked if I would intercede on his behalf with Sister Giovanni, who was our principal.  I wanted to show the young man that I was concerned and caring and so I agreed to carry his problem to Sister G as she was known.  She was feared and loved by almost all students so it did not surprise me that he thought I might have more luck with Sister G than he would have. 

unnamedI went to Sister G’s office and knocked on her door.  She opened it and welcomed me in.  We exchanged some pleasantries and she asked me what I needed.  I began to explain the issue that the student had brought to me.  Sister G listened attentively.  When I was done, she smiled and nodded reassuringly.  I thought “Great, I have been successful.”  She then spoke, “This is your first year teaching right John?”  “Yes, it is,” I answered.  “Well, I have heard the issue and I may address it later, but I want to give you an important piece of advice now.  Students just like the majority of people will always demand their rights, but they seldom demand their responsibilities.”  Then, she gave me the philosophy that I have never forgotten.  “John,” she continued, “for every right there is always a responsibility.”  That was the end of our discussion.

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It is now fifty some years later and I see a government under siege by gun toting extremists demanding their first amendment rights.  I see citizens screaming their rights to not wear a mask when required by businesses or government offices.  I see women and men yelling about their rights to get grades that they believe they deserve or that their children deserve.  Everywhere I look it seems some American is on a YouTube video attacking someone because they believe that their rights have been infringed upon.

The people that invaded the US Capital were loudly proclaiming that it was their building.  The implication was that they had a right to enter it if they choose to because they owned it.  But ownership of property implies a stewardship relationship.  If you own property, you have a responsibility to take care of it.  The vandals that broke into the Capital destroyed property, stole goods, and even shit on the floors.  Is this the way anyone takes care of property that they own? 

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Rights:

Do most Americans even know what a right is or what it means to have a responsibility?  A right is defined by “Webster’s Online as:

1: qualities (such as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval.

2: something to which one has a just claim.

In the definition above, the “just claim to something” seems to be the most common usage as it applies to U.S. citizens.  A large majority of people think that they deserve something or are entitled to something.  We have heard many pundits bemoan the entitlement mentality that is immensely popular today.  I believe that the concepts of entitlement, narcissism, and rights weave a peculiar pattern on the psyche of many Americans.  The mindset that results is overly sensitive to any behaviors or efforts that impinge on the so-called rights of these Americans. 

The Founders of the USA talked about “inalienable rights.”  An inalienable right can be defined as, “a right that cannot be restrained or repealed by human laws.”  Some examples include the following rights that are deemed as inalienable:

  • To act in self-defense.
  • To own private property.
  • To work and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.
  • To move freely within the county or to another country.
  • To worship or refrain from worshipping within a freely chosen religion.
  • To be secure in one’s home.
  • To think freely.

There is an International Bill of Rights which lists the following rights:

  • The right to equality and freedom from discrimination.
  • The right to life, liberty, and personal security.
  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment.
  • The right to equality before the law.
  • The right to a fair trial.
  • The right to privacy.
  • Freedom of belief and religion.
  • Freedom of opinion.

There is even a list of 30 Basic Human Rights.  Such lists are impressive if a bit naïve.  To say that rights cannot be taken away is ludicrous.  Rights hardly existed for many people even through much of the Twentieth Century.  Freedom and rights grow out of power.  They always have and they always will.  Without power, one may claim a right but never have any opportunity to practice it.  Government power, military power, police power and personal power all either defend or attack our rights.  Some governments giveth rights and some taketh away rights.  It is inspiring to think that we have “inalienable rights” but without power, an appeal to our rights is hollow and worthless.

bill of responsibilities

Responsibilities:

“Webster’s Online” defines responsibility as:

1: the quality or state of being responsible: such as

a: moral, legal, or mental accountability

b: RELIABILITY, TRUSTWORTHINESS

2: something for which one is responsible.

Looking at the definition of responsible, I wonder if any of the extremists ever considered the idea of moral or legal accountability?   Obviously no more than they thought of the idea of reliability or trustworthiness with the constitution of the laws of the country they profess to love.  How ironic, that they were chanting USA, USA, as they attempted to tear down the foundations that America is built on.  Nothing is more sacred to American democracy than a free and fair election.  However, these fanatics were willing to follow their deluded leader in his attempt to overthrow an election that was certified free and fair by almost every court in the country. 

Responsibilities do not grow out of power.  Responsibilities are the currency that we use to pay for our rights.  Nothing is free in this world.  Rights come with a price tag.  The price tag is paid for in responsibilities that accrue to our “inalienable” rights.  For instance, I have a personal right to swing my hand.  However, I also have a responsibility to stop swinging it when it interferes with the mobility of another human being.  I can ignore this responsibility, but the consequence can easily be the loss of my own right.  In a society we have many laws which become the responsibility of people to obey.  In return for this responsibility, personal rights are granted for a wide range of endeavors and activities.  This is the quid pro quo of rights and responsibilities. 

Another example is my right to my own opinion.  I may dislike a particular minority.  I may well be prejudiced against another race or ethnic group and believe them to be inferior to my own group.  There is no law against prejudice.  Nevertheless, we have a responsibility while a member of a multi-cultural society to avoid discrimination against other people and groups. 

Discrimination is an overt act and not simply an innate prejudice.  A society can tolerate a great deal of latitude when it comes to the stupidity of prejudice, but that latitude disappears when individuals are subjected to harassment and abuse because of the color of their skin. 

It is sad that everywhere we look today, individuals in America are clamoring for their rights.  Yelling in restaurants, offices, planes, schools, and private businesses that they have rights.  Screaming that the constitution gives them the right to do something without any responsibilities.  They protest that they are going to contact a lawyer and intend to sue someone since their rights were stolen.  None of these people want to recognize much less acknowledge that they have responsibilities.  They want their rights, but they do not want to pay the cost of their rights. 

Conclusions:

we-are-a-nation-of-narcissists-300x198-1What is the solution to the problem that we are facing today?  A poisonous cultural stew of narcissism and entitlement driven by a rights only oriented mentality that thinks they are above responsibilities.  I have reached the point in this essay where it would be easy to say, “Sorry, I don’t have the answer.” Or else, I could now list several bromides which may or may not have much effect.  I have the following solution which I believe in 100 percent.  I doubt that it would be acceptable to Americans as too many people have grown privileged, lazy, and indulgent in this country. 

imagesMy solution is for a National Required Service (NRS) that starts at the age of 18 for every man and woman in America.  Upon finishing high school and before starting college, every American would need to attend the National Required Service.  They would have two options.  The first option would be to choose between a two-year service or a four-year service.  A two-year service would be the minimum.  The advantage of a longer service would lie in the educational benefits that would accrue.  Serve two years and you would receive two years of financial credit towards any public education institution of your choice in the country including vocational education as well as liberal arts.  Choose a four-year tour of service and you would receive four years of financial credit towards the public institution of your desire.

The second choice facing the individual entering the NRS would be which track to join.  The NRS would have two tracks.  A civilian track would involve services like the Peace Corp or the AmeriCorps.  A military track would use the various branches Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force to recruit soldiers from the NRS enrollees. 

Students would not go directly into college or the work force from high school.  Every 18-year-old youth in this country would have a responsibility to give back to the country that sustained him or her. No one except someone with a severe medical or family emergency would be exempted from this service.  No matter how much money you had or how influential your parents were, you would be legally required to attend the NRS.  Many enrollees would benefit from a chance to experience life away from home and to grow up some before entering into college or vocational training.  They would further benefit by having enough monetary credits to pay for their education or training and not to come away from school in debt for the next twenty years of their lives.

This program would convey rights to millions of youths and also a sense of responsibility.  The lingering miasma of entitlement that exists today would be dispelled as American youth learned about their responsibilities to their country.  They would be gratified by the role that they played and proud to have served their country.  We do not need a war to teach people about service to their country and to help them obtain the pride that so many military people have achieved upon completing their tours of duty. 

 

 

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