What a Journey

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Whether in science, faith, investments, or relationships you can always talk yourself out of the next thing. The next experiment. The next exercise or experience. The next trade. The next friend.

There will always be ways to convince yourself to stick to the status quo, to stay where you are, to play it safe.

It is those moments that will resound many years from now. The opportunities, the challenges, the adventures. Many years from now, instead of wondering “what if?” let us celebrate “what a journey“.

All we do not see…

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One form of chronological snobbery that I often hear, and yet am convinced is erroneous, is the condemnation of previous generations as bigoted, racist, sexist, etc with the belief that were we to live in those times we have gone about life differently.

The haunting question for us, for our generations, is “what do we not see?” In what ways are we blind. In what ways are we unintentionally ignorant and in what ways are we intentionally ignorant. Most people today believe that they would not have been racist in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, would not be greedy if they were part of the 1% today, and would not have been against women voting at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Although a handful may have been able to resist these tendencies, the vast majority would likely have fallen into the same pitfalls as their contemporaries had they lived at that time. The problem is that while we articulate the problems with culture at those distinct times, we find ourselves unable to honestly examine, and then change, ourselves.  

It is easy, even enjoyable, for us to notice these defects in those around us. A number of people I interact with make pointing out the bigotry bias of others a full time hobby. However the predominant concern must be for ourselves. Those who call out racism in others, point out sexism in the workplace, and heap titles like bigot upon others are certainly biased against their neighbor in less obvious ways. This is not to say to say that we should support or accept hate and bigotry for even one moment; however it is to emphasize that our responsibility is ourselves. Us. Me. You. Examining ourselves. 

The idea that change starts with us is not the call for us to be the keepers of our neighbors but rather the examiners and improvers of ourselves first, and then the encouragers and motivators of those around us.

So instead of pointing fingers and labeling racist, what if we chose to see each person as a human being with intrinsic value. What if we encouraged others to hear the stories of those so different from themselves. What if instead of calling others bigots, we looked within ourselves for ways in which cultural relativity was harbored as immovable truth in our hearts biasing us against others. What if instead of seeing the worst in those around us, we identified the worst in ourselves and strove to change. 

What if instead of standing still and wondering “what if”, we examined ourselves and encouraged others to better love our neighbor and live a greater story. 

On Honesty and Lying

2011-08-16 14.11.46Honestly, and the antithesis, lying, are simple in concept, but can become inordinately complicated to consider practically.

When children are young, it is simple and sensible to imbue them with what they take as the hard and fast principle that one should never lie. The humorous, classic example is when a child eats a candy, and when asked about whether he/she ate the candy, firmly denies it while having a face smeared with chocolate. Most people then would recognize the wrong not in eating the candy, but in lying about it. Therefore we can see that in some cases lying is wrong.  Between religions and cultures this is general principle is relatively consistent albeit with a handful of notable outliers.

However, there are cases when the majority of rationale people agree that lying is justifiable, even commendable. For example, during WWII, should the Nazis have visited your house where you were hiding Jews and inquired as to whether or not there were Jews present, most people would agree that lying is justifiable. As the Jews would likely be killed or at least tortured should you reveal their presence, most people would agree that it is in fact commendable to lie in this situation. Therefore we can see that in some cases lying is justifiable, and even right.

It would be simple then to argue then that death or severe discomfort are justifications to lie; however we quickly see that this cannot be true. Take the case of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists etc around the world that are tortured or killed for their beliefs around the world on a daily basis. Many people would agree that when asked whether they are Christians/Muslims/Buddhists etc even under pain of death, the right thing to do is to hold true to their beliefs and refuse to lie. So can a coherent framework of honesty and lying be constructed?

Love as the supreme ethic. 

We must then return to love as the supreme ethic in this case, as in all others. Neither convenience nor comfort can be the supreme ethic. Lying to avoid punishment or an uncomfortable situation is selfish and often stupid. Lying out of love for others, such as the Jews in the previous example, is done out of love at great risk to oneself, and is commendable. Love is the unifying, supreme ethic. 

Does this make every scenario clear and unquestionable? Of course not. But should we look at each scenario when we are tempted to lie through the lens of deep and self sacrificing love, the scenario and the right course of action become clearer. Am I acting out of love or fear? 

Time and Talents

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At the end of everything, when all is said and done, it will be how we allocated our time and leveraged our talents for the benefit of others that will matter.

No one is the same. People are given vastly different amounts of time. Some a handful of years, some a century or more. People are given vastly different talents. Some a large amount of skill in many areas, others struggle to master one. But everyone is given some measure of time and some meaningful talent. 

Incredible from the historical perspective is the ability to select a career, a place to live, and a place to train for that career. Therefore we must use this new opportunity, this new responsibility, to select work that uses our time and talents for the benefit of others. Interestingly, this notion does not include the criteria of selecting the occupation that makes us the most happy, but instead where, in the words of Frederick Buechner, “our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” 

Furthermore, we must do away with the notion that using our time and talents best is dependent on the vocation itself.

The United States has a grossly disproportionate number of lawyers compared with the rest of the world. The world does not need another attorney but is in desperate need of an attorney who fights for the underprivileged, the oppressed, and the destitute, taking cases not because of the profitability of the case, but because of a deep concern for justice. The world does not need another scientist, trying to publish one of the million or so articles that are published in a scientific journal each year but is in desperate need of scientists who care about studying the world around us and the bodies that sustain us to make changes not for profit or exploitation, but for healing and conservation. The world is not in need of another musician, another artist, another YouTube channel, but is in desperate need of reminders of truth in lyrics and melodies, beauty in paintings and sculptures, and challenging new perspectives seeing creative people from around the world. 

So let us use our time and our talents, whatever they may be, however large or small, to leverage them for our joy and the benefit of others.