I usually try to stay away from politics in this blog, but the country is sharply divided between liberal and conservative citizens like no other time in modern history. Worse yet, the country is divided between radical liberals and radical conservatives as in no other time in our modern history. To me it is very easy to navigate the radical divide. Radicals are never deserving of our considering their ideas and ideals other than to guard against them. The reason is simple, radicals have stopped thinking, if indeed they every thought at all, they act only on emotion and self-interest. That is the root of the evil that is presently preying upon our country. So many citizens, including most of our elected officials have long since forgotten their duty to the public interest and the good of the country. There is not a single statesman left in the Congress. They all say and do whatever is necessary in their minds to get reelected and enrich themselves at the public expense.
The prime example of this kind of behavior, unfortunately, is at the very top of our government. That is not to say that he is acting any worse than other elected officials, he just happens to be at the top of the heap and thus more visible. He and the other 644 men and women who make up the three branches of our Federal government have long since forgotten the art of governing. In fact, they have tragically forgotten the art of living itself, and the country, indeed the world, is the worse for it. For much of our 218 year history, the United States has been a positive and respected bastion of leadership and selfless service to the world. Over and over again, we have spilled our own blood on foreign battlefields to save the world from tyranny and tyrants. Now, we have squandered that leadership and that respect in the name of partisan politics and self-interest.
All this can be turned around. Reagan was very successful in giving the United States a new sense of love of country and a new respect for the countries place in the world after the devastating Carter years. It could happen again, but I'm not optimistic. I see no one on the political stage that has Reagan's abilities to unite people and make them realize there is more to our common good than to our disagreements. More dismaying is that I see no one on the national scene that has Reagan's natural goodness of heart.
It is important to realize that the shape the country is in today did not have it genesis in politics. Its roots are unmistakably entwined in all of us. We are a people who have succumbed to the baser sides of prosperity, self-interest and emotionalism. In short, as a people, we have forgotten the art of living.
For those of us who are gay or bisexual, the art of living has always been a struggle. But now, life has become a struggle for almost every American. The middle class which has always been the backbone of the country has largely disappeared. Why? Because businesses have broken the social contract that allowed them to make money while allowing their workers to prosper too. Henry Ford made himself a millionaire by building and pricing his automobiles in such a manner that the men who built them could afford to drive them. The genius of his thinking is now forgotten. The business of business today is to make as much money as possible with absolutely no regard for the workers who actually make the money for their employers other than to push them harder and harder to make more.
Anything that makes money is fair game. Houston's Enron Corporation opened the flood gates on that way of doing business and the biggest and once respected members of the U.S. financial firms and the Barney Madoff's have followed their example in droves. Just find something to sell. If you have to make it up that's ok. Package it to look inviting and hawk it to the suckers all the time knowing it is worthless. No matter that millions of people loose their jobs and their homes so long as a profit is made by the crooks in suits, white shirts and ties. If you have any doubt of this at all, consider that while the financial sector makes up just 6% of employment in the U.S it now enjoys 30% of U.S. income. That tells the story.
It doesn't have to be this way. None of us is above some degree of greed or self interest. Certainly, no one is above disreputable behavior, but that doesn't mean that greed and disreputable behavior have to be the things at which we excel.
Last week, I came across an article in the August, 2014, Reader's Digest entitled "Art of Living. The title itself caught my interest and I began to read the excellent article by Mark Divine. The article is taken from Divine's book The Way of the Seal.
Divine confides that after college he entered the world of accounting and consulting without much thought other than making a lot of money. As a talented young man he did indeed begin to make a great deal of money, but to his surprise he found that more and more often he found himself feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with the daily grind. It was not only the grind that was getting to him. He found himself feeling dirty about tactics his firm was using that were not precisely illegal, but were unethical. The tactics sometimes forced companies innocent of any wrong doing into bankruptcy and forced their workers out of their jobs. The realization horrified Divine.
For some time Divine had had a desire to quit his high paying job and become a public servant. A big
My son is career Navy. Though he was never a Navy Seal, he was a member of the Navy's Special Ops. I was very pleased to read Divine's description of some of the things he learned along his successful career in leadership. Several of them were the same conversations my son and I have had about leadership. For instance, Divine says that leadership is not a skill. Instead, leadership is a character set - a core value of one's personality. Successful, happy and fulfilled people, Divine says, have core values such as honor, courage and a true commitment to personal excellence that makes them natural leaders. It is a conversation my son and I have had many times. For my son, his own sense of honor, courage and commitment to personal excellence helped him to become one of the youngest Command Master Chief's in the U.S. Navy, and it has guided him through many a battle and many a tight squeeze. No one should ever get the idea that honor, courage and commitment to personal excellence is something that is always appreciated. It's not. When one rises above his peers, there is often jealousy and peek. When a young career military man still in his twenties begins to be singled out for praise from senior officers, junior officers are, more often than not, less than supportive.
Divine tells of a senior officer challenging him to succinctly state what he stood for. After several false starts, he told the officer, "Destiny favors the prepared in body, mind and spirit." Again it is a concept my son and I have talked about many times. When he first joined the Navy, I told him that if he was always willing to do more than was asked of him, he would have an exceptional career. Luckily, it was one of the times he truly listened to me and his personal commitment to always being prepared and willing to go the extra mile served him well from the very beginning of his career right into the second decade of his career.
Divine goes on to explain that after talking with the officer, he went on to expand what it meant to him to be prepared in body, mind and spirit. He wrote the following stand:
- Destiny will favor me if I am prepared in body, mind and spirit.
- I must work harder than expected and be more patient than others.
- Leadership is a privilege, not a right.
- As a warrior, I will be the last to pick up the sword but will fight to protect myself, my family and my country. (This another conversation my son and I have had many many times. Nothing irks my son more than for someone to say or imply that military men and women love fighting. He tells people that as a young man who has seen the horrors of war often and first hand, he hates war and fighting, but he accepts the responsibility to protect his country and those he loves at any cost.)
- I will find happiness by seeking truth, wisdom and love and not by chasing thrills, wealth, titles or fame.
- I will seek to improve myself, my team and the world every day.
Divine, correctly states that few people these days take the time to think deeply about their personal ethos. He encourages the people he works with to take the following steps to correct this:
- Write out a personal list of the principles on which you stand.
- Define personal values.
- Identify personal passions.
- Discover the purpose of your life.
I believe that every life has a purpose. Unfortunately, I also believe that the number of people who identify their life's purpose are much smaller than the number who do not. It's a tragedy. Knowing one's purpose in life can make the good times in one's life even more rewarding and it can smooth over the inevitable rough spots as well.
As a young boy, my parents always reminded me that God would use me - use me as a good example if he could, as a bad example if he must. We live in a time when bad examples surround us on all sides. Those who cheat, steal and use others are exalted in our popular culture. Even those who murder are often admired. How did we get to this point? I think Divine would say, it is because so few of us have any personal set of ethics. We just go with the flow.
I was raised by parents for whom ethical behavior was paramount. Breeches of ethical behavior on my part were always punished. Thus, ethics became an important part of my life as well. As a young bisexual man who wanted a traditional marriage and family and who seemed to need something beyond that as well, ethical behavior in that part of my life was always troublesome. As I've gotten older I find that I am glad to have been troubled. The troublesome nature of my life helped me to at least stay within personal boundaries of propriety and safety.
As a Christian, I've always struggled with the concept of hell. I have come not to believe in a geographically defined pit of burning unquenchable fire. However, I very much believe that hell does exist. It exist all around us and within us, and when hell does invade our minds and our spirits, its metaphorical fires can indeed be unquenchable.
The antidote to this metaphorical hell is the Art of Living. A life lived well is a beautiful thing and a
None of us can control what adversities we encounter in life. What we can control is how we handle those adversities. Handling them in such a manner that they are temporary inconveniences and refusing to be defined by our adversities is the definition of Artful Living.