The Man Who Was Smarter Than God

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Once upon a time there was a man who was smarter than God.  At least that is what his friends said behind his back.   Michael was indeed one of the smartest men you could ever meet.  Now some might call this a blessing while others might call it a curse.  His mother was fond of saying that “ignorance is bliss” while his father believed, (though he did not practice it himself) that intellect and knowledge was everything.  A man who was smart enough could rule the world.  His father continually berated Michael to think and to use his intellect.  Michael’s father demanded that Michael read only non-fiction and in an argument stick to the facts.  The only things that mattered in the world were facts, data and evidence.  Emotions ruled stupid people and decisions based on emotions were decisions that were stupid.

Michael grew up with very little respect or tolerance for anyone or anything that was not logical and rationale.  When the first Star Trek series became popular, Michael was surprised at the admiration for Lt. Commander Spock.  Many people saw Spock as the epitome of logic and rational thinking versus Kirk’s impulsiveness and McCoy’s rampant emotionalism.  However, Michael saw Spock as divided between emotions and intellect.  He could not accept that Spock was a role model for logical thinking.  Nothing was as important to Michael as mind and intellect and the ability to ignore and suppress emotions. This of course had its negative side as far as Michael’s social aspirations were concerned.

Michael had few if any male friends and zero female friends.  Men did not like Michael because they feared his put downs and lack of acceptance of their often biased and illogical thinking.  Michael was very intolerant of what he saw as inept thinking and has no qualms about correcting anyone.  It was hard to deny that Michael was usually right, but this meant that being around him would make you feel inferior and stupid.  No one wants to associate with anyone who makes them feel insignificant.

Michael was attracted to women and would have liked to date and have a social relationship with the opposite sex.  However, most women saw him as wooden and unemotional.  This was a state that Michael was rather proud of.  Moreover, compassion and love were traits that Michael saw as incompatible with a rational human being.  There traits would lead to decisions based on emotions and not logic.  Dates that Michael went on with the opposite sex usually lasted less than an hour and calls for a second date by Michael would always go unanswered.

Somewhere along the line, some of Michael’s friends (more like acquaintances really) tagged him with the moniker “The man who was smarter than God.”  This was the source of endless jokes and laughter, all of course behind Michael’s back.  Michael grew more and more isolated from any human contact, particularly after his mother and father passed away.  Michael never even bothered to attend their funerals.  “They are dead” he reasoned, “So my going to their funeral is not going to bring them back.”

As the years went by.  Michael became lonelier and lonelier but also richer and richer.  Michael was a genius with computers and also finance.  He invested his money earned from writing software programs into a stock portfolio that he managed.  This portfolio grew to nine figures and Michael never had to worry about working for a living or where his next meal would come from.

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Michael loved to take walks to break up his work and enjoyed being outside.  One day while taking a walk, he stopped at a little bench in a park and sat down to take a short rest.  A young man about 16 years of age walked up to the bench and sat down next to Michael.  “Hi,” the young man said, “My name is Joshua and I am special.”  “That’s nice,” replied Michael, hoping to end the conversation quickly.  “I am running away from home” came back a reply.  “Oh”, said Michael, not particularly caring why.  “Nobody likes me” explained Joshua.  “My sister makes fun of me and my mom and dad don’t do anything about it.”  Somewhat curious, Michael asked “Where are you going to go?”  “I always go to this bench until its time to go home” said Joshua.  This did not make any sense thought Michael, so he continued the conversation to find out more about this strange boy.

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Joshua was fifteen years old and a developmentally disabled child.  He had suffered a fall when he was very young which left him with a severely diminished cognitive capacity.  He also suffered from some physical limitations.  He was now in high school but spent most of his time in special needs classes.  From early on, his family told him he was special.  They were very loving parents and did their best to help him cope with his limited capacities.  They knew he would never be able to live on his own.  His older sister Inez, whom Joshua loved dearly, frequently became exasperated with him.  She did not quite have the patience of his mother and dad, but right about now, she would go out looking for Joshua.  The typical pattern was that Joshua would become angry with her and “run away from home” to this park bench.  Inez would come and “find” him and take him home.  She loved him as much as he loved her.

The conversation finally ended when Inez showed up.  Joshua introduced his new friend Michael to Inez.  She said hello to Michael and that she was very happy that Joshua had a new friend.  Joshua asked Michael if he could come to visit him after school sometime if he did not live too far away.  Michael reluctantly agreed thinking that he would never see Joshua again.  In some respects he regretted this since he actually felt a stirring of compassion towards Joshua and he was moved by Joshua’s openness and lack of pretentiousness.  Goodbyes all around and each left to go home.

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A few days later, much to Michael’s surprise, who should knock at Michael’s home but Inez and Joshua.  Inez said that she would drop Joshua off if it was okay with Michael and pick him up in an hour or so.  Michael agreed and spent the next hour or so talking to Joshua about many different things.  Joshua was surprisingly able to comprehend many things that Michael would bring up and they had some interesting if eclectic conversations.

Michael learned that Joshua loved science and animals and nature.  He also learned that Joshua’s parents were not very wealthy.  Michael deduced that they did not have enough money to buy some of the things that Joshua wanted and that they often struggled to buy some of the things he needed.  Apparently, the fall did more than just brain damage to Joshua and he had some severe internal injuries which needed ongoing treatment.  Joshua never complained though and saw most of these hardships as simple facts of his life.

al_roker_marqueeThe first day that Michael and Joshua spent together turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.  Each week, Michael and Joshua would spend at least an hour together.  Some days, Michael would play video games with Joshua and other days they would do “walk and talks.”   Inez would drop Joshua off and Michael would take Joshua home.  Michael looked forward each week to seeing Joshua and spending time with him.  Michael often tried to buy Joshua some of the things that he wanted, but Joshua’s parents were very proud and explained that they would prefer that he did not.  Michael accepted their request but would take Joshua out for a hamburger or pizza whenever possible.  His parents did not mind this as Joshua had a prodigious appetite.

A few years went by and Michael s life became less lonely and much happier.  Michael greeted people on the street and spent time talking to other people without correcting them or giving them advice.  Every week Michael and Joshua would get together.  Then one week, Joshua did not come by.  Michael was disappointed but simply thought that some event had come up and Joshua had to attend it.  The following week went by and again no Joshua.  By now, Michael was very worried.  He called Joshua’s parents.  Inez explained that they were at the hospital with Joshua who was very sick.  She said she was sorry she had not come by to tell Michael about it, but things had been rather chaotic.  She said Joshua had asked about Michael and when would he come up to visit.   Michael told her that he would go right now.

When Michael arrived at the hospital, he found Joshua in bed with many tubes sticking out of him and his worried parents at his bedside.  Joshua looked up when Michael entered his room and his face turned into a big smile.  “I knew you would come,” he happily exclaimed.  “I am dying,” he whispered to Michael.  “But don’t worry about it, I will be OK.”

Michael stayed for awhile until Joshua fell asleep and then went out of the room followed by Joshua’s parents.  “We are very sorry we did not call you sooner”, they apologized.  “We always knew this time would come but we thought he had a few more years.”  “Isn’t there anything they can do?” replied Michael.  “No”, said his father.  “We wish there was, but they have done everything they could.”

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Michael came up every day to visit Joshua for a week.  Then one day, when he came to the hospital Joshua was no longer in the room.  The nurse explained that Joshua had died in his sleep the night before.  Funeral arrangements were made by Joshua’s parents and Michael attended the wake.  At the funeral, Michael gave his condolences to Inez and Joshua’s parents.  Michael was nearly as devastated as they were.  Joshua had a simple funeral, but Michael made sure that there were plenty of flowers there.

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Michael went home and for the next week did nothing and said nothing.  Then one day, he thought.  I am not going to forget Joshua.  I am sitting on a pile of money that is not doing anything for anyone.  I am going to start a home for “special” children where they can come each day to play games, have meals and interact with toys that their parents could not afford for them to have.  My home will have first class aides that are well trained in caring for special needs children and we will have all the security needed to ensure that these children have a safe and secure environment when not home.  This will be someplace that parents can drop their children off when they need a break or rest.

So Michael started this home.  It had the capacity for about 150 children.  The home had numerous playrooms, security cameras in each room and a full kitchen staffed by cooks with degrees in dietary nutrition.  The home was free to qualified children which was based on need and not income.  Parents would fill out an application and it was reviewed by a board of professionals versed in the needs of special education children.

Michael came each day and spent at least four hours at the home.  During these visits, he would meet the parents of each child and spend time with all the children to find out how they were doing and what they liked and did not like about the home.  Michael was constantly making improvements to the home.  When he was not at the home, he was using his genius to earn more money that he would then plow back into the home.  Michael named the home: “The Joshua Home for Very Special Children.”  Michael was admired by parents and loved by the children for the care and compassion he put into this home.

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Twenty years or so when by and Michael passed away.  In his will, he set up a foundation and trust to manage the home.  Every penny he had was put into this foundation.  Michael specified that he did not want an elaborate funeral and wanted a very simple burial.  Despite his request, the number of people that called to inquire about his wake and funeral soon dictated that his request would go unheeded.  A number of unnamed benefactors put up money to have the funeral moved to a larger venue.  Even with a bigger church, there was standing room only.  Estimates were that over a thousand people attended Michael’s “simple” funeral.  Many people stood up to talk about his generosity and compassion and all the children that he had helped not only with the home but often with medical expenses and care that they could not afford.  And no one referred to him as: “The man who was smarter than God.”

The End

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Dick Doyscher: A Man for a Few More Seasons

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The world is full of extraordinary people, but Dick Doyscher is not one of them.  Therein lies the problem.  We are inundated with news of extraordinary people, some stupid, some evil and some great.  We have become accustomed to news of people who have won 4000 gold medals, who have made $50,000,000,000 dollars with a new line of running shoes, who are four year old virtuosos that can sing the Soprano role of Gilda in Rigoletto and dance “Thriller” better than Michael Jackson could, or nut cases who have gone out and shot 45 people with a single round that we ignore people like Dick.  Dick is not extraordinary, but he is remarkable.  To paraphrase the “History Guy”, Dick deserves to be remembered.

As we get older, we no doubt read more and more obituaries.  The typical obituary is not like an obituary for Princess Diana or Kobe Bryant.  People write books about the rich and famous.  The typical obituary for the common person is one or two paragraphs long usually ending with something like:

“They worked as an air conditioner repair person for thirty years until they retired.  After retiring they took up gardening and were known for helping their neighbors plant flowers.  They were loved by all and will be dearly missed.” 

Perhaps a beautiful life rolled up into a few paragraphs and a short sweet ending.  You still know little or nothing about the deceased except that they loved flowers and died.  So sad.

Well, I wanted to say something about Dick while he is still alive.  You should know why he is a remarkable individual because I am sure it will not be listed in his obit. He is now 80 years old as he loves to remind us.  He is fond of saying, “Well, when you are as old as I am.”  I think he knows this drives me crazy.  I will perhaps never be old enough to say “I told you so” to Dick since he will either a.) always be older than me or b.) when I turn 80, he will not be around anymore.  So really, I am writing this blog about him as a way of getting even with him for all the times he has flaunted his age in our library group.  But before I tell you why he is remarkable, a short background on how I came to know Dick.

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Ten years ago when we moved to Frederic, I discovered a bunch of guys (See the “Old Library Guys”) who meet daily in the Frederic Public Library for free coffee and donuts.  There are about seven or eight of these guys who are sometimes joined by wives or women in the library.  We are not gender exclusive, but our conversations tend to be around politics, cars, guns and local goings on.  A few years ago, we created a “Last Man Standing Bottle.”  We purchased a bottle of “Old Grand Dad 114 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (Seemed appropriate) and sealed it in a wooden case with seven of our names on it.  Two of the men on the bottle are now deceased.  Dick and I remain among the living with three other men.

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When I first met Dick, I cannot say that I was impressed.  He was a retired mechanic with a younger attractive wife (Gladys, who I will talk about later) and no formal education beyond high school.  Dick liked cars and guns and Lorie Line.  He did not show much interest in reading the great books, traveling to exotic places or listening to classical concerts.  He did like one pianist name Lorie Line than he had heard but felt little need to explore other pianists.  I nicknamed him “Dick the Stick.”  This was short for “stick in the mud.”

By all known stereotypes, Dick should have been a classic Red Neck.  Now even Red Necks can be kind and caring individuals and you might be thinking that perhaps Dick the Stick was a kind individual who lent money to other people and helped them dig their gardens.  If so, you would be dead wrong.  Dick does not believe in lending money.  He says we should go to the bank for that and he does not do much heavy lifting since he has a bad back.

So nothing remarkable about Dick yet.  But as the years went by, I started to learn more and more about Dick.  Politically, he did not conform to stereotypes.  He is one of the most open minded and creative political thinkers I have ever met.  He argued with me for years that the USA is in a sort of decline like the Roman Empire.  It took me several years to come to believe that he is probably right.  Nevertheless, he supported Obama and even voted for him despite his belief that we were wasting our time voting.

Many of our politicians seem to thrive on fear or greed.  Many of the constituents that continually reelect these self-serving politicos swoon to the melody of greed and fear.  The politicians pander to these base needs as they extort more and more money for their never-ending re-election campaigns.  The broader interest of the world is suborned to the petty greed and fear of their constituents.  Dick is not swayed by either fear or greed.  Dick is clearly a global thinker who sees beyond any narrow horizons to think about the good of others and not just his family and friends.

Now Dick has been a hunter and still has a cache of guns in his house.  But again breaking stereotypes for such men in the North woods, Dick is no supporter of the NRA nor some of the rabid positions they have taken on gun control.  Dick is a pragmatist when it comes to gun control and supports an element of sensible controls without trying to take all guns away from the second amendment supporters.

54bd1b7c4e715_-_trophy-wife-george-hamilton-1209-04-deI mentioned his “Trophy Wife” Gladys.  I will probably have to duck some punches when she next sees me for this slight, but the standard stereotype is an old guy that marries a younger woman who is a gold digger willing to give up her youth and beauty for money and support.  Gladys loves to travel, but Dick the Stick says, “My traveling days are over.”  When I first heard many years ago that Gladys was going on an exotic bike, hike or kayak trip, I thought to myself “Well, Dick, you will never see her again.  She will find some kayaking stud and that is the end of your relationship.”  To my surprise, Gladys returned home.  Over the years she has gone on many trips abroad without Dick the Stick and always comes back.   Dick is more than supportive and never questions her trips or the financial aspects.  He is one of the least jealous men I have ever met.  They respect each other as individuals, and each pursues interests both together and apart.

Gladys the “Trophy Wife” mirrors another remarkable aspect of Dicks character.  Both are very caring individuals without being obvious or obtrusive about it.  Dick befriended Brian Rogers who was one of the men in our “Last Man Standing” group.  Brian had cerebral palsy and was becoming more and more disabled from the disease.  Dick seemed to know just how to help Brian and they became very close.  Brian would not take charity or help from anyone and was very independent.  However, they formed an almost symbiotic relationship with Brian helping Dick with his depression and Dick helping Brian with his cerebral palsy.  It was a beautiful relationship which ended when Brian died.

Dick has helped other men in the group who need help.  I am often surprised by his ability to transcend insults or sometimes mean-spirited attacks by people in our group.  He will forget the insult and if he sees that the person needs help, Dick will make a phone call, pay a visit or extend a hand to help.  I will say “Screw him Dick” and Dick will say “He is not feeling well” or “He has had a string of bad luck.”  I will stick by “Screw him” but not Dick.  He is always willing to forgive and forget any slight that I have seen leveled at him.

His wife Gladys works part-time with a community church, but I have often seen her at other churches where she helps out with the events or dinners.  Many of the churches in our community have an aging population and need help with volunteers because of the older ages in the church.  Gladys has done more than her share to help other churches.  I mentioned that she mirrors Dick, but it is fair to say that it works both ways.  Dick mirrors Gladys in her compassion for others.

beaver tshirtNow less this sound too much like a soap opera, I should point out some of the character flaws that are obvious with Dick.  He once had a battle with some beavers that resided on his property.  These beavers were adept at building a dam using a stream that flowed near a road leading to Dick’s house.  The dam would cause the water to back up flooding the road.  Dick would go out there and break up the dam but faster than you could say “Dick the Stick” the beavers would rebuild the dam.  I asked Dick why he did not shoot the suckers.  Dick replied that he promised Gladys that he would not kill them but try to get them to relocate.  So periodically Dick would come in with his back aching from breaking up the dam and I would say “Give me your rifle and I will shoot the suckers for you.”  Dick would never do this.  I finally bought him a t-shirt with “Beaver Advice” on it.

new-2018-summer-vladimir-putin-t-shirts-menI mentioned that Dick does not want to travel anywhere (Except maybe Duluth).  I would attribute his “been there, done it” to a possible birth or brain defect but to be fair Dick did go to England, Peru and a bunch of other countries when he was younger.  Furthermore, unlike some people, he is always interested in hearing about the travels of Gladys and others in the group.  I am going to Russia this coming year and I keep telling him that I am going to have an audience with President Putin.  Dick often jokes about Putin and his strong political resolve.  I may bring him a Putin t-shirt when I come back from Moscow, assuming that I am allowed to leave the country.

Well, “That’s all Folks” as Porky Pig used to say.  I am not expecting Dick to go anytime soon.  But in case he does, you will all know some things about him now that probably will not be in the Frederic Inter-county Leader.  I think he is a remarkable man and maybe if he reads this, he will remember me in his last will and testament.

 

The Mean Old Man and the Single Chair

The following story was inspired by a true story about a mean old man and his single chair.  My friend Don Johnson told me this story and I have put more details into it.  Nevertheless, I must thank Don for the basic outline and for the great way he told the story which as I said inspired me to write this tale.  I hope you will enjoy it.

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When I was a young boy my parents, two sisters and I lived in a mobile home or trailer as some would call them.  Though, we never trailer-ed it anyplace.  Villagers said we lived in a trailer park and kids at school would laugh and joke about us being “trailer trash.”  I got in lots of fights with other kids over these insults.

Every day, my sisters and I would walk to the pickup site for the school bus.  Back in those days, kids could still go to school without a chaperone.  We even went out trick or treating by ourselves and kept any food or candy that we collected.  The one house we did not go to for tricks or treats belonged to a mean old man.  My parents and the older kids in the trailer park warned us to stay away from his house.  They all said that he was very nasty and hated everyone.

Each day after coming back from school, school let out at about 3:15 PM, the school bus would drop us off and my sisters and a few of my friends would walk home.  We would go by the old man’s house.  He would inevitably be sitting on a makeshift porch in front of his trailer in an old rocking chair.  We would stroll by his home and occasionally wave but he would never wave back.  As we went by, he would fix a relentlessly hostile gaze on us which could put fear in anyone’s heart.  We imagined he was mad at the world and that certainly included us.  Inevitably, we picked up our pace and tried to hurry by his place as fast as we could.

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A few years passed and the mean old man simply seemed to grow meaner.  One day after the bus dropped us off, a few of my friends and I were walking home.  As we were passing the old man’s home, he was sitting in his usual place and just staring at us.  My friends started laughing at and taunting him with various insults.  “Hey grandpa, what’s it like being so mean?”  “Hey old man, can you help us find our cat?”  I told them to stop it as he had never bothered anyone.  They turned their taunts on me and said “If you like him so much, why don’t you go talk to him.  We dare you to go talk to him.  They cried out at me: “Chicken!  Chicken!  Chicken!”

I tried to ignore their jibes, but finally, I had had enough.  “I am not afraid. I will go talk to him.”  I started to walk down the path to where the old man was sitting.  My heart began beating faster and faster.  I wondered what I was going to say.  Nothing occurred to me.  The old man was staring at me intently.  I could hear my friends laughing and hooting behind me.

As I reached the old man, he looked very angry.  “Ok”, he said, “What do you want.”  I said the first thing that came into my mind: “Well, I was just wondering why you don’t have another chair so someone can sit and talk with you?”  “None of your business”, he answered, “Now why don’t you just run off and go back with your friends.”  I could not think of another thing to say.  As I turned to leave, I said “Goodbye, have a nice day.”  The old man mumbled something which I thought might be “same to you” but I could not be sure.

Saturday and Sunday passed quickly and Monday we were back in school.  After school adjourned, I decided that I did not want to be go home with my usual friends so I took the “late” bus from school.  I got off at the bus stop and started home.  As I passed the mean old man’s house, he was sitting in his chair.  Much to my surprise, he had a single chair sitting right next to him.  Somewhat emboldened by this turn of events, I walked up the path to his house and stood in front of him again.  He looked at me and asked me “What do you want.”  I said “Well, I notice that you have a single chair free, would you mind if I sat and talked to you for a while.”  “OK” was all he said.

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I sat down and started to tell him about all the things that I was doing in school.  I told him about my classes, my teachers and my friends.  I talked about my parents, my sisters and my grandparents.  He listened intently to all I said and never interrupted or asked any questions.  Realizing that it was getting late and that my parents would be worried, I said that I was going to go home but I would see him again tomorrow.  He simply nodded and said “Goodbye.”

My trips and visits to the mean old man’s house continued for many days.  The days stretched into weeks.  Over time, we started to talk more about his life.  I found out that his name was Bill and that he had been married but his wife had died about ten years earlier.  He had not had any children.  Bill was a veteran and we talked about his wartime service and experiences.  Bill was always more interested in what I was doing and asked me many questions about my school and life.  Bill said that he did not have any friends and no surviving relatives.

I asked Bill if he did not have any friends in our local church but he said that his wife had been the church goer.  He had occasionally gone to church with her, but after she died, his stopped going.  Bill confided in me that he had never been a social person and had always found it difficult to make friends.  Most of the friends whom he once had were his wife’s friends and after she died, they stopped coming to visit.  He was all alone now.

Weeks turned into months and it became my habit to routinely stop by Bill’s house on my way home from school.  We talked and I told him about my day and he listened and asked questions which made me think a great deal about my choices and decisions in life.  I could share things with Bill that I did not share with anyone else.

Then one day when I was coming home and passing Bill’s house, I saw that someone else was sitting in the single chair.  Not wanting to interrupt, I waved and walked on by.  The next day we resumed our discussions as usual but the following day, the chair was again occupied.  Over time, the single chair was alternately occupied by myself and many other people.

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I found out that Bill had started to go to church again and he had met people from all walks of life.  Some were retired and some were not.  The people who met Bill found him to be a very interesting person. They would stop by and sit in the single chair next to Bill and talk about various and sundry things.

High school came and went.  Bill and I had many talks but just as often, he had someone else sitting in the chair when I came by.  I went off to college and saw Bill much less except when I came home to visit my parents.  Bill and I discussed writing to each other but we both agreed that we were not writers.  I finished college and found a job in another city.  My times with Bill had dwindled to a mere pittance of what they once had been.

A few more years passed by.  My parents notified me that Bill had died.  I came home to go to his funeral.  It was well attended and nearly a hundred people were there.  Many nice things were said about Bill.  Everyone talked about what a good listener he was and how he always cared more about what others were doing or thinking.  He was one of the least egocentric people you could have met.

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About two weeks after the funeral, a letter arrived in my mail.  It was from my home town but I did not recognize the address.  I opened it up and inside were two pieces of stationary.  I opened the one with the typing on it.  It read, “We were going through some of Bill’s possessions and we found this note on his bedside.  We thought he meant to give it to you but never got around to mailing it.”  I opened the second piece of stationary.  It was in rough scrawl which I recognized as Bill’s handwriting.  Bill wrote the following:

Dear Tim,

You are the best friend I ever had. 

Thanks,

Bill

I still keep this note.  It is perhaps the nicest compliment I have ever received.  Whenever, I miss Bill, I pull this note out to remember him and the many talks we had.  Bill in his rocking chair and me in the single chair beside him.

Time for Questions:

My writers group said that the “Mean Old Man” was iconic and that every neighborhood had such a character.  Can you think of someone in your neighborhood like this “Mean Old Man?”  Did anyone ever try to talk to him or find out what bothered him?  What happened to him?  Why do you suppose children are often likely to befriend such people?

Life is just beginning.

“My mother says that when Mrs. Rowley is mean, which is generally the case, it is really because she is just unhappy, and who could blame her with a husband like that . . . She says this is really the only reason people are ever mean–they have something hurting inside of them, a claw of unhappiness scratching at their hearts, and it hurts them so much that sometimes they have to push it right out of their mouths to scratch someone else, just to give themselves a rest, a moment of relief.”  — Laura Moriarty

Dear Friends and Family:  Happy Holidays and a Wonderful New Year to Everyone in 2017 in the Whole World

20161201_2055481Karen says that I should start our annual holiday letter off because I write better than she does.  Well, since it is the holiday season, I will let her slide.  For my part, (Karen will add hers in a short while), I promise not to talk about politics, religion or philosophy.  We are all sick of politics and you are probably only marginally interested in the latter two topics.  What’s left then?  Well, I was thinking that I just turned 70 in September.  I never believed that I would see 30 years of age.  Now here I am 4 decades later pondering the same mysteries of life that I pondered forty years ago.  Feeling a little nostalgic, I got to thinking about the “firsts in my life.”  For instance, my first kiss and my first job.  So how about participating in a little nostalgia here and fire up your memories as well.  I have posted a list of “my firsts” with my responses to each item.  List is on the left with my responses to each one on the right.  Can you remember your answers to my list?   I would love to hear your list of firsts.  Please post your FIRSTS in the comments section if you can remember what they are and don’t mind sharing.

  • First day at school? — I remember just walking to school by myself 
  • First job? — I was a newspaper boy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island
  • First promotion? — Got my first stripe in the USAF after basic training          
  • First car? —  1947 4 door Plymouth, cost 50 dollars in 1960
  • First apartment or house? —  Osceola, Wisconsin in 1967
  • First child or grandchild? —  Christina born in 1968 in University of Minnesota
  • First day you left home? — I joined the USAF in October of 1964 
  • First date? — High school with a friend of mines girlfriend’s cousin                     

20161008_1133251Hi all.  I think I’ll stick with my firsts for the past year.  My first Dulcimer Jamboree in April, 2016 in Mountain View AR where I met the dulcimer 9 years ago.  A fateful meeting it was.  My first chromatic travel dulcimer which I took with me to New York in Nov.  My first raised bed garden this past summer made from old discarded stock tanks.  It produced more food than we could eat and it was so easy to weed and harvest.  My first grandson, Garrick, getting married to Kat this coming spring.  My first viewing of an opera at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.  My first concert in Carnegie Hall.  My first trip up the Statue of Liberty and out to Ellis Island to look for ancestors.

20161124_1108581It’s been a full, fun and sometimes exhausting year.  We still work part time to support our “snow birds” lifestyle.  I’m working with start-up home care agencies, teaching and consulting, and ICD 10 coding.  John has taught both on-line and residence classes.  We escaped our part time work with trips down to Kentucky for Kentucky Music Week, trips to the ocean in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, and a fall anniversary trip to Bayfield, WI.  And, of course, the trips back and forth from WI to AZ where John tries to find new unspoiled routes each time we go.

20161109_1958091

Juli and Rob remain in Hastings with daughter Logan as a H.S junior this year and son Garrick and fiancé Kat are fixing up a home and planning their wedding.  Susan bought a home in Bloomington and accumulates mileage on her car with Sam (also a junior) in Northfield.  Her eldest son Zach is a college junior at Augsburg.  My son Kevin is still with LinkedIn and living in Silicon Valley, CA with his 3D printer and other tech stuff I don’t understand.  Megan works with AZ Multiple Listing Services and trains realtors on their software.  She writes the company blog and is about half way through her first novel.  She has discovered writing and loves it.

John volunteered this past year with Interfaith Caregivers in WI and spends time with the “Cucumber Guys”—the group who daily solve the world’s problems at the Frederic Library.  My “spare time” is generally spent practicing and playing with my dulcimer friends in both places.

Our good friend, Dar, frequently wears “Life is Good” t-shirts.  It’s a nice saying.  I’m thankful for our many blessings, friends, family and activities.  We wish you a very Happy 2017 and hope to see you all in 2017.

Love, John and Karen

What are the Myths and Realities of Marriage? — Part 2

Last week we looked at what I called the “Cons” or negative assumptions about marriage.  This week, we will look at some “Pros” or positive assumptions that one can make about marriage.  I offer both sets of assumptions with the thought in mind that “The truth will set you free.”  Marriage is not all sweet and sugar but neither is it all sour and vinegar.  A good marriage has its ups and downs but a really happy marriage will have more ups than downs.  Most happy marriages are based on a set of realistic assumptions concerning what marriage is all about and what it takes to make a good marriage.

  1. Marriage is a means by which two people can in time learn the true meaning of love.

Most of us are pretty young when we get married.  With the exception of second marriages, where naiveté can be attributed to a rebound effect, most naiveté in a first marriage is due to youth and inexperience.  Many second marriages show that often older people are no wiser than younger people.  Love in a first marriage is more about passion and infatuation than about true love.  Saying “I love you” about someone you hardly know means about the same as saying “I love my new car.”  You cannot really love anything or anyone until you have some history with that person.

Love is a learned trait.  Most of the time, we use love in a very simplistic and general manner.  Jesus said “True love is the willingness to lay down your life for another.”  I disagree with this definition.  I think this kind of love can be a form of courage or bravado even without any notion of love whatsoever.  How can you love anyone whom you do not know?  I might be willing to risk my life to save someone who is drowning in a frozen lake, but it would be ridiculous to think I love that person.

True love is closer to a passion that is based on respect and admiration and gratitude.  When you first marry anyone, all three of these traits may only exist in very rudimentary states.  Time and shared experience help bring more perspective to each of them.  Over time, we begin to respect each other as we learn more about each other and how we treat life.  We begin to admire our partners more as we see how they cope with problems and as we both sacrifice our own needs for the good of each other.  Gratitude is the highest state of love in a marriage.  When you are truly grateful for your partner and when you feel this gratitude in your entire being, you have arrived at the shore of true love.

“True love doesn’t happen right away; it’s an ever-growing process. It develops after you’ve gone through many ups and downs, when you’ve suffered together, cried together, laughed together.” — Ricardo Montalban

  1. Marriage is a system for raising a new generation that will carry on the best values of the old generation.

Parents have a responsibility to raise children who have sound moral, ethical and personal values.  Each new generation builds on the shoulders of previous generations.   It would be foolish to think that the values of the past should all be the values of the next generation.  The needs of each new generation demand new values to cope with problems and issues that could not have been foreseen by previous generations.  Nevertheless, there are many values and ideas from the past that an emerging generation should have knowledge and insight of.  Lessons from the past can help to inform the future and mistakes from the past can still have meaning and relevance to issues that are current today.

Parents have an obligation to help insure that any children that they are responsible for, whether adopted, natural birth or foster children, learn a set of values that will help them to be people who understand the concepts of discipline and integrity.  Too many parents see their children as means to their own end or as “mini” friends.  Helicopter parents, soccer moms and sports dads are all manifestations of parents who have little idea about their real obligations towards their children.   Such parents want to be “best” friends with their children instead of fathers and mothers.  Even worse, are the parents who want to live vicariously through their children and dream that their kids will live the lives that they wanted to live.

“To let them go on believing that the world is safe, that they will be provided for and achieve worthwhile things even if they remain stupid, shirk integrity, despise courtesy, and act only from self-interest, that they ought to rely on those stronger, smarter, and more able to solve their problems, would be the gravest disservice: to them, and to society as a whole.”  —  J. Aleksandr Wootton

  1. Marriage is a potpourri of passion, ecstasy, happiness, sadness, grief, anger and challenge.

I may be repeating myself here, but I want to emphasize that all marriages will have good days and bad days.  Some of the bad days will be due to poor judgement, selfishness and poor planning.  They are days that could have been in the range of your ability to change.  Other bad days will have little or nothing to do with you.  Friends will die.  Relatives will get sick.  Accidents will happen.  You and your partner will grow old.  You will have no control over any of these things.

Whether or not you can change things, what matters the most is that you and your partner can support each other through the ups and downs.  You need to expect that bad things will happen to good people.  When they do, how will you support the other person?

A number of years ago, my wife and I went scuba diving for the first time.  We had both received our PADI certification and done a few lake dives.  We decided to visit the Caribbean and do some scuba diving there.  We went to an island off the coast of Belize called Caye Caulker.  We found a dive shop on the island and scheduled a day of diving for a day or so after we arrived.   Karen had not had any experience with ocean diving.  I had done quite a bit of diving but it was many years before.

We suited up and went down.  We were partners on this dive and that meant that we would have each other’s back.  Karen has more problems with buoyancy control than I do but we finally got her weights adjusted correctly and down we went.  We descended with six or so other divers and the dive master.  We had a great time though Karen kept trying to bob up instead of down.  When it was clear that we had little oxygen left we decided to come up.  We signaled the dive master and most of the group also headed back to the dive boat.  We had stayed above 120 feet so the bends were not really a concern.  We still wanted to ascend slowly though as it always is a good idea to observe this protocol.  I rose with Karen until we reached the surface.  The water was pretty choppy on top.

When we hit the surface, I was feeling tired and I headed to the boat.  I totally forgot Karen and I took my tanks up and got on the boat. When I looked back to see how Karen was doing, she was still in the water. She was tired and having a hard time getting her tanks off.  Some of the other people were in the water and they came to help her.  She finally made it back in the boat very tired and exhausted and somewhat scared.  I felt really bad.  I had deserted her and thought only about myself.  It was somewhat hard for me to get out of the water and on the boat by myself but it was next to impossible for Karen.  I did not think about her and I felt guilty for the rest of the day.  I promised her and myself that from then on, I would make sure she was on the boat before I tried to get out.

It is not always easy to look after another person.  It is very easy to put our needs first and our partners needs second.   A key dilemma of marriage is how to put both needs first or how to know when one needs to go first and the other can go second.  Marriage presents us with endless possibilities to work on this problem.  Sometimes we will succeed and sometimes we will fail.  However, as with any worthwhile endeavor, the trick is to keep trying, keep working on things and when you fail to try again and to never give up.  The effort to care for another person builds trust in a relationship and this trust is the foundation for a good marriage.  Layer it with respect, admiration and gratitude for each other and you will live “happily ever after.”

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”  — I Corinthians 13:7

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been in love?  How many times?  What do you think love is?  What do you think true love is based on?  How does one create true love?

Life is just beginning.

“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end.  And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you yourself keep it.  But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word.  We are your friends, Frodo.” — ― J.R.R. Tolkien,

 

Debate versus Discussion:  Why Debates are a Waste of Time!

(Listen to the Debate Song, while you read my blog this week.)

berniedebateOnce upon a time, I thought debates were the answer to the question of “how do we discover the truth?”  I thought that if you put two intelligent people together and each took opposing positions on an issue, that through the interplay of ideas the truth would emerge.  If you think about this a bit, it is the basis for our judicial system in America.  One side argues for the defendant, the other side argues for the prosecution or against the defendant.   It is also the basis for an academic exercise called Dialectical Research or Dialectical Inquiry.

dialectical inquiryA dialectical investigation is a form of qualitative research which utilizes the method of dialectic, aiming to discover truth through examining and interrogating competing ideas, perspectives or arguments.  This latter method is often applied through the use of case studies in which students or investigators discuss real world examples of complex situations.  The purpose of a case study is to provide a more thorough analysis of a situation or “case” which will reveal interesting information to the reader.  As I use them in my classrooms, my goal for my students is to help them understand how to better form strategies for success in business.

159_TJ_Dillashaw_vs_Dominick_Cruz.0.0Unfortunately, in the real world the strategy of debate does not work.  Debates are a waste of time when honest discussion takes second place to winning or looking good.  Dialectical Inquiry is also often useless since the complexity of the subject can be beyond the ability of many students to grasp.  Real world situations are froth with uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity or as some have called it VUCA.  VUCA is an acronym used by the military to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.  Many complex situations are seldom able to be accurately modeled leading in most instances to weak images or portrayals of the actual situation.  This is why debaters opt for simple explanations rather than complex explanations.  Another example of this watering down of reality is a Hollywood movie depiction of a supposed “true” story.  Recent movies that come to mind include the following:

  • The Revenant – Story of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass.
  • American Sniper – Story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle
  • Steven Jobs – Story of the founder of Apple Corporation
  • The Theory of Everything – Story of physicist genius Steven Hawking

Hollywood loves to take stories of great enterprise and or daring do and change them into a 1. 5 hour dramatic show full of love, heroism and imaginary situations that often did not exist.  Did I say lies?  Perhaps that would be more accurate.  For often, these Hollywood epics are no more than half true.  The other half are stories added for dramatic impact.  Even worse perhaps are the often skewed biases that intrude into the movie which distort the reality of the character or situation.   For instance, here is what one critic had to say about the Steve Jobs movie:

“With all this in mind, I was disappointed in the Steve Jobs movie.  Partly because as an Apple expert I watched the film in dismay as events were pulled out of context and people appeared in locations and at times where they simply wouldn’t have been around.  I can’t help but think that in his desire to avoid the chronological retelling or Steve Jobs story, a traditional childhood to death epic, in favor of three acts (which would be better suited to a theatrical production) Aaron Sorkin constrained himself too much.  The only way he could tell the story was to pull events from all corners of Jobs’ life and present them as if they had happened in the 30 minutes before a keynote presentation.”  — Karen Haslam, 10 Nov 15

I mentioned earlier that debates cannot work when winning is the primary objective.  Hollywood’s version of winning is making money.  Making money becomes a more important objective than telling the truth.  Similarly, the truth takes second place to winning in political debates.  Winning for the networks means providing entertainment to sell ads, not necessarily a stage full of erudite rationale individuals trying to discover the truth.

The 2016 debates for both the Republican and Democratic candidates have not only been a farce but they have been an insult to the American People.  Here is one comment regarding the Republican debate on TV a few nights ago:

“The GOP debate on FOX last night was an embarrassment.  The talk show hosts said it best.  This debacle stooped to a new low. Penis size?? C’mon people.  Seriously. We need to respect our President.  It is beyond my comprehension how anybody could respect this pathetic excuse for a candidate.”

politifact-photos-Trump_gesturesI have watched several of the debates now and I see no evidence that truth is being discovered.  The debates have become hyperbolic spectacles of insults, half-truths, reality distortions, innuendos and petty personal attacks.  I doubt if anyone has found much truth in these debates never mind elucidations of complex policy positions for any of the candidates.  Trump 2495-so-funny-and-true-rhetoric-wallpaper-427x454will build a giant wall.  Cruz will fix Syria.  Rubio will fix health care.  Sanders will fix inequality in America.  Hillary will fix Obamacare.  Do you know how any of the candidates will accomplish these lofty goals?  Of course not, since they know that the “debates” are no place for such a complex discussion.  Trump perhaps realizes this fact better than anyone and has kept his discussion and clarification of his policy positions to less than fifteen second descriptions.  The general consensus seems to be that if a candidate cannot explain their position on any subject in less than fifteen seconds, they are doomed, i.e., they lose.

In their book, Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, (1988) Jamieson and Birdsell make a case for the importance of Presidential debates but only if certain changes are made to the usual format.  Their book was written over twenty five years ago and if you have watched the recent debates, you will note that their recommendations were not heeded.  Furthermore, the present debate formats have probably encouraged worse excesses in rhetoric and sophistry than either Jamieson or Birdsell could have imagined in 1988.  Looking historically at debates, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were the epitome of rationality and decorum.  Today, the networks want drama and entertainment.  Debates such as took place between Lincoln and Douglas would never qualify as either drama or entertainment.

debate parrotsOn a more personal level, I have a problem with debates.  I have a few friends who love to debate.  I have noted as a result of recent discussions with them concerning the Presidential elections that do not want to understand or clarify any issues, they just want to argue or perhaps debate.  I say that they want to argue, because their main agenda seems to be looking good or advancing their points and not understanding my points.  They often enter into these contests (Since that is what a debate means to them.  It seems to be a contest between winning their points and looking good or losing their points and looking bad.) with a pretense of trying to understand why I think or feel a certain way.  Sometimes, they start the “debate” with a flat out rejection of my position or with a declaration such as “you are dead wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about.”  I confess that such latter utterances often preclude my disposition to have a rational discussion with them.   I see no point in it.

Have you ever changed anyone’s mind which was made up?  Have you ever tried to have a rational discussion with someone who was being emotional?  Have you ever tried to explain something to someone whose main objective in talking with you was to score points or make you look stupid?  Under the rubric of “debate,” are we to think that our antagonists give one farthing for the truth or where we stand on an issue?  There is a big difference between debating me on an issue and discussing an issue with me.

The result of these “debates” with erstwhile friends have led me to two inescapable conclusions.  First, I don’t need or even want debaters in my life.  I have little time left for scoring points or winning games by making someone else look bad or proving that they are wrong and I am right.  Second, debates do not start from an honest position of fruitful and objective inquiry and thus cannot lead to truth or relevant knowledge.  Rather, most debates start from a position of “I am right and you are wrong.”  The antagonists goal being to show you or the audience how right and smart they are and how wrong and stupid you are.  Is there a point to such an exhibition?  I presume winning is the payoff and reward.  As Vince Lombardy once said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

If your objective is to understand something or if you want to find the truth, I suggest that you think more of discussing and less of debating with others.  A good discussion aims to find an understanding and comprehension of complexities that is often beyond our singular abilities to understand.  The truth can usually (but not always) be found between two extremes.  However, the process of truth seeking is more important than the process of truth finding.  The truth will inevitably change over time.  You will never have found a truth that will be good for all eternity.  There will always be a new truth to be found somewhere.  Thus, the process of truth seeking becomes a way of life that outfits the seeker for a journey through the cosmos that may take the seeker to the end of the universe and back to the beginning.

Well, if you finished my blog and you think I did not give a fair presentation on the evils of debate, then please listen to the song I noted above.  This song makes a case for the value of debate.  It does it in an Indian Rap song with great visual effects, music and choreography.  I am probably undoing my entire argument by including this song but Amen or so be it. 

(Listen to the Debate Song, it makes a great case for the value of debate)

Time for Questions:

Do you seek first to understand or first to be understood?  Do you debate others or discuss with others?  Are you more concerned with understanding or looking right?  How do you grasp complex issues?  How do you insure that you truly understand and are not being duped by charlatans trying to sell you simple answers to complex issues?

Life is just beginning.

“And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:”  — The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777.

 

What the Hell Do We Need Morality For?

morals and ethics

This blog is about the subject of morality.  Once upon a time, they taught morality in school and in church.   The first system of morality that many older Americans were exposed to was probably the “Ten Commandments.”   This was a code of rules given to the Israelites by Moses on Mount Sinai.  I have always thought it ironic that a set of morals from the “Old Testament” was supposed to be the foundation for a Christian America.  Even today, advocates of this code of morality want to hang it in town halls, schools, courts and government centers.  This is a part of the Bible that promoted an “eye for an eye” and stoning adulterers.

Jesus did say “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus added at least one commandment to all others that was even more valuable than the ten TenCommandmentsMoses gave.   Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John: 13:34).  I would be much more in favor of seeing this posted in my neighborhood than the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps even more importantly in terms of a system of morality, Jesus gave a sermon where he proposed what has been called:  The Eight Beatitudes:   (Click here to hear the The Beatitudes Song

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  —- Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

It is my opinion that the Eight Beatitudes constitute one of the greatest systems of morality to come out of the Bible.  I would rather see these taught (if we are going to teach a system of morality) than the Ten Commandments.  I would also not mind these being posted in schools and other public places whereas I am sick and tired of those who want to post the Ten Commandments.

I noted that once upon a time, we taught morality in schools and churches.   Actually, we not only taught morality but morality was also imbued in our social fabric by many traditional stories and the media.  Children from an early age were exposed to Fairy tales, Uncle Remus stories, Aesop Fables, and Tales of the Arabian Nights.  These stories were full of morals on how to live and behave properly.  Early TV was also full of morality tales.  Shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith each week clearly conveyed stories of morality and what was right and what was not right in terms of behavior.

sin-guilt-causes-body-pain-sicknessSomeplace along the way, we started losing our sense of morality.  Some have blamed it on becoming a multi-cultural environment.  Some have blamed it on the decline of religion and church going.  Some have blamed education while still others have blamed progress and a business culture that has no room for strict morality.  I am not sure what the actual cause was.  I am more concerned that it did happen.  Studies have shown that our culture has become more amoral than moral and that narcissism now plays an increasing role in our society.  People are less moral and more self-centered than ever before in the history of this country.  A book by Joel Marks (Ethics without Morals: In Defense of Amorality -Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory, 2012) is one of several that makes an argument for amorality:

“In clear, plainspoken, engaging prose, Joel Marks presents the case for abandoning belief in morality. Anyone who wants to defend the practice of making moral judgments will have to confront the issues Marks raises, and the alternative to morality he proposes.” – Mitchell Silver, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA 

In the book “The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality (2009)” the author Hans-George Moeller advances the following case for amorality:

“Justice, equality, and righteousness—these are some of our greatest moral convictions. Yet in times of social conflict, morals can become rigid, making religious war, ethnic cleansing, and political purges possible.  Morality, therefore, can be viewed as a pathology—a rhetorical, psychological, and social tool that is used and abused like a weapon.”

In an article “Why Is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?”  by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn (2014), Gray notes the following:

“For the past three decades or a little more, researchers have been assessing both narcissism and empathy using questionnaires developed in the late 1970s.  Many research studies have shown that scores on these questionnaires correlate reliably with real-world behavior and with other people’s ratings of the individuals.  For example, those who score high in narcissism have been found to overrate their own abilities, to lash out angrily in response to criticism, and to commit white-collar crimes at higher rates than the general population.[1]  Those who score low in empathy are more likely than the average person to engage in bullying and less likely to volunteer to help people in need.[2.]

Over the years, these questionnaires have been administered to many samples of college students, and analyses that bring all of the data together reveal that the average narcissism score has been steadily increasing and the average empathy score has been steadily decreasing ever since the questionnaires were developed [3.]  The changes are highly significant statistically and sufficiently large that approximately 70 percent of students today score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than did the average student thirty years ago.

What accounts for this historical rise in narcissism and decline in empathy?  There is no way to know for sure, based on the data, but there are lots of grounds for speculation.”

I think we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  I agree we need to keep the State separate from the Church.  I also agree that we don’t need the Ten Commandments as the foundation for moral thought in America.  Nevertheless, I do believe that we all need a code of morality to live by.  Whether it be Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Agnostic, Atheist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, or other, we need a set of morals as a template and foundation for our behavior.  We need a baseline that each of us can start from so that we can assess what is good and what is right.  We need to have some system of ideas about what is correct behavior and how we should live in a socially interconnected world.

When I was a kid, (somewhere along the way) I was taught the Seven Deadly Sins.  Sometimes they were called the Seven Deadly Vices or the Seven Cardinal Sins.  I assume that since I attended a Catholic school, it went along with the teaching.  The Seven Deadly Sins included the following:

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

7 deadly sins

Some of you might think that this list is old fashioned or out of date.  How could this set of implicit moral values make a difference in our society?  They are so old; do they really have any relevance anymore?

Take a close look around you at the world.  You have only to look for a few minutes to persuade yourself that these “sins” are at the top of the list of major problems.  Greed, envy, gluttony and lust appear pervasive in our culture.  (See my series on Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins) TV shows, movies, magazines, radio, supermarkets, superstars, sports, credit services, escort services, pornography, Las Vegas all portray an American brand of materialism that is nothing short of sick.  Get it now, get it fast, and get more and moreMore is better!  Bigger is better!  Shop till you drop!  He who has the most toys wins!

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely greed must be the father. Children of this odd couple are named: Laziness, Envy, Greed, Jr., Gluttony, Lust, Anger and Pride.”  ― John R Dallas  Jr.

Black Friday ( The day after Thanksgiving in the USA) is only a small manifestation of the greed, lust and sloth that has infected our society.  How many Americans have a regular exercise schedule?  How many obese citizens can you count on the street each day?  How many Americans spend more each week then they earn?  How many Americans will go in debt this Holiday Season to spend money that they don’t have on gifts and toys?  Where is the self-restraint that is necessary to push oneself away from the table or shut the TV off and say “Enough.”  It barely seems to exist.  Is it any wonder that so many countries have a very negative stereotype of the “average” American?  We appear to be a group of people who have lost our moral compass.

ARTICLE 29 —  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • You have a responsibility to the place you live and the people around you-we all do. Only by watching out for each other can we each become our individual best.

At this point, you well may be asking “What right does he have to be so damn moralistic?”  Didn’t Jesus say “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”  “Are you so perfect that you have a right to look down on other people?”  “Who does he think he is, Jonathan Edwards?”  “I don’t need anyone telling me my faults.”  “I get enough negativity from work without having to get it from you.”

Please allow me to clarify a few misconceptions.  In some religious circles we are all sinners.  Since I am agnostic, I don’t subscribe to a religious view of sin.  My use of the terminology is borrowed from the religious sphere since I think that the concept of sin has a very useful connotation if we can free it from some of the pejorative and negative associations with which it is fettered.  First of all, I do not believe that you will go to hell for committing these Seven Sins.  Second, you will not be a bad or evil person because of them.  Third and accentuating the positive, you may be happier and healthier if you are more aware of these “sins” and can do a better job of examining the role that they play in your life.  My bringing these “sins” out is to help us all become more aware of the morality that we have allowed to become obscured in our daily lives.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.  —-Buddha

We have had a decline in morality that started over one hundred years ago and it still seems to be declining.  More people are worried about their taxes increasing then the poverty facing many people in this country.  More people are worried about their security then the number of people going to jail every day for victimless crimes.  More people are worried about the price of gasoline then the pollution we send into the atmosphere every day.  Self-centeredness has become a dominant fixture of the American landscape.  “Greed is Good” says Ivan Boesky and everyone applauds.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.   — C. S. Lewis

Why do I think we should care about morality? 

goodevilWithout morality, we are not even as good as animals.  Animals eat, drink, sleep, procreate and fight when they have to.  They do not do it simply to hurt other animals or to wage war against groups or individuals that they cannot tolerate.  Animals care for their young and exhibit many characteristics of moral behavior.  In captivity, animals may display much more aggressive behavior.  For instance, Orcas in the wild have never been observed to kill other Orcas.  This is not the case for Orcas in captivity.  There is no such thing as civilization without a commitment to moral and ethical behavior.  Even animal societies are proof of this.

“I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt; I am lean with seeing others eat – O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone; then thou should’st see how fat I would be! But must thou sit and I stand? Come down, with a vengeance!”  ― Christopher MarloweDoctor Faustus

Without morality, we have no compass to define what is good behavior and what is bad behavior.  We are reduced to the level of opportunists willing to take advantage of anyone and anything that suits our ends.  Listen to the current debate on the use of torture and the recent CIA report and you will find numerous “experts” advocating that the “ends justify the means.”  One man on NPR noted that he thought we should ask the victims of the Twin Trade Towers what they thought about the use of torture to capture Osama Bin Laden.   John McCain (May he Rest in Peace) once said it best when he opined in Congress (12-9-14) that “”Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”  Nevertheless, he was opposed by his own party in his opposition to torture and in fact to even releasing the CIA Tortmoralityure Report. 

Many Republicans argued against releasing the report, especially as the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria grew and U.S. intelligence officials had warned that its release could cause backlash from nations and groups hostile towards the nation.   American embassies in the Middle East had been put on heightened security alert for its release.

McCain replied that “This report strengthens self-government and, ultimately, I believe, America’s security and stature in the world.”  (CNN 12-9-14)

Finally, without morality, there is no way to transmit values from one generation to another.  A lack of morality has led to the increase in amorality that is now symptomatic of our society.  Amorality is a set of beliefs which deny the value of morality or at best are indifferent to morality.  A rock is amoral.  It is neither good (moral) or bad (immoral) but may be used for either purpose.  Anything or anyone without a conscience is amoral.  It is a fine line and one that is very easy to trespass between amoral and immoral.  Many people today may think their behaviors are amoral when actually they could better be described as immoral.  Harken back to the Seven Deadly Sins and ask yourself, how many of these vices are amoral?  Are greed, gluttony, lust and wrath amoral?   Can anyone with a good conscience say it is okay to partake in these vices?

“Seven deadly sins,
seven ways to win,
seven holy paths to hell,
and your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
seven bloodied hopes
seven are your burning fires,
seven your desires…”
― Iron Maiden

Time for Questions:

What is your moral code? What are the three most important morals in your life?  Do you think everyone should have an explicit moral code?  Why or why not?  Do you know many amoral people?  What do you think about amorality?  When is it justified?  What do you think the world would be like if everyone was amoral?  Would it be a better world or worse? Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always”  ― Dante Alighieri

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