Friday, June 22, 2012

To Live Better

A television add for one of the local shopping centers recently featured the slogan


It's a great slogan built solidly on the foundation that enough is good, more is better, and too much is just about right. After all, we live in the land of Sam's Club, the Walmart Super Center and Mall of the Americas where getting more is a sport and shopping has attained the entertainment value of a trip to Vegas. Who can resist the idea that more of this, that, or the other will make us happier?

So, we buy more and more until our closets, our basements, our garages, and our dwelling places are packed and we have long since lost track of exactly what we have. At this point, we go out and rent storage so we can pack away even more stuff, and then go out and acquire even more. Is this not madness?

Lacking cash, we eagerly slap down plastic to get what we want RIGHT NOW.  Or we sign a paper, and pledge future earnings to obtain something NOW.  We willingly trade future freedom for debt and debt for immediate stuff until debt has absorbed our freedom and we can no longer acquire more debt or more stuff.  Is this too not madness?

The problem with dancing all night always comes when it's time to pay the piper.  The problem with buying more to live better is that sooner or later the bills must be paid. 

I have reached that season of life where more stuff and new stuff have become increasingly less important.  I'm discovering that stuff that was useful once now sits in the back basement, out of sight and out of mind. I'm discovering too many almost "new" items packed away in same the boxes in which they came from the factory, used once or twice and then set aside, their purchase price a tax on my own stupidity.  If I don't look at it or use it, why have it?

After the greater part of a lifetime, I'm discovering that stuff is not what makes me happy and that buying more to live better is a lie.  I'm discovering that buying and having less gives me more -- more money, more space, more time, more freedom, and more enjoyment of what I have.

Living better can't be bought, but must be earned.  Really living better is not about stuff, but about people and relationships.

I can't buy friendship, but more and closer and better friends make my life better.

I can't buy cheerfulness and good will, but I can practice having more of both, and that practice makes my life better.

I can't buy a positive attitude, but I can practice being positive, and live better because of it.

Life is not about the stuff I can buy. Life is about things and qualities that can never be bought, but must be planted, cultivated, and grown.

What do you have that you don't use?

What do you really need in order to live better?

Is it something you can buy, or must it be cultivated?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wisdom from my Dad

Dads don't show very well in the entertainment media of late. Father figures like Robert Young of Father Knows Best, Ben Cartwright of Bonanza and even Dr. Cliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show have been replaced by a generation of TV dads whose purpose seems to be adding comic relief as a convenient foil for a strong female lead. Books like S--t My Dad Says and its spin-off TV Show, Stuff My Dad Says, also portray Dad as an illogical and inconsistent buffoon.

Let me state that my dad was my first and greatest hero.  Though neither rich nor educated past high school when it came to the business of living and making a life, Dad remains one of the wisest men I have ever known.

Dad was a farmer. His wisdom was the wisdom of the farm, things obvious to those who work the land but elusive to those who didn't.

I learned from Dad that there is a time to do everything and time doesn't wait for you.  You must act within it. There is a season for planting and a season to harvest.  Plant too early or late and your yield will be less.  Harvest too early or late and your yield will be limited and the quality of your product poor. "To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven."  Miss that time and miss out.

In a related area, work must be done when it is available to do. One harvest season, I asked Dad why we had to get up so early.  His reply was "We have to get up extra early so we can work extra late."  When I said "That doesn't make any sense," Dad said "It doesn't have to make sense. It's the way things are."  Crops and the seasons don't wait for people.  People have to put in the hours to work the crop as the season demands. It doesn't have to make sense. It just the way things are.

What you plant determines what you harvest. Plant wheat, harvest wheat. Plant corn, harvest corn.  Whatever you plant, you will also get weeds. Getting rid of weeds is a lot of work. But, to succeed at farming, you have to get rid of or at least control the weeds.

Work is honorable. One of my Dad's favorite sayings was "Whether you're digging ditches or directing a corporation, it's all food on the table."  In Dad's world, putting food on the family table and keeping a roof over the family's head gave work dignity and gave the worker honor. What was done was not nearly as important as the results: food on the table, a roof overhead.  To keep both was the true measure of success. To keep doing it day after day, season after season, and year after year was worthy of the highest respect.

The highest complement my Day could pay anyone was "He'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it," which went well with my Mom's "Put another cup of water in the soup. Company's coming.!"  You may not have much, but you always have enough to share. And you always share what you have, not because it's good, but because it's the right thing to do.

From my Dad, I learned that wisdom is not complicated.  Doing the wise thing is usually very simple.

There is a time for everything. Do it then.

What you plant determines what you will harvest, both on the farm an in life.

It takes a lot of work to stay weed free, but you have to do it if you expect a yield.

Work is honorable. Work that puts food on the table is the most honorable of all.  Nothing can diminish that honor. You have to do the work when the work needs to be done no matter how long it takes.

And, one never has so little he cannot share.

Wisdom from my Dad; it has become part of me, and through me, of my children.

What wisdom from your Dad has become part of you?

What are you doing to pass it down to your children?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Freedom's Just Another Word

"Freedom's just another word
For nothin' left to lose.
Nothin' ain't worth nothin
But it's free!"
                      -- Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobbie McGee

What is freedom?

Does Kristofferson have it right or wrong? Is freedom really just another word for nothing left to lose? Or is it something else?  

Freedom is about alternatives. Freedom is about choice.  Archibald MacLeish writes that "Freedom is the right to choose, the right to create for yourself the alternatives of choice.  Without the possibility of choice and the exercise of choice, a man is not a man, but a member, an instrument, a thing.

Another source paraphrases MacLeish as follows: "Freedom is the right of an individual to form alternatives, evaluate them, and to select from among them." 

Freedom is predicated on alternatives. Be wary of attempts to limit or exclude alternatives. Less alternatives mean less freedom. A single alternative allows no freedom at all. If I have no alternatives, I have no freedom.  

Freedom is predicated on being able to develop options and alternatives. Be wary of attempts to provide a limited menu of ready-made options. If I am not allowed to form alternatives, I have no freedom.  If I am not allowed to develop multiple alternatives, I am not free. 

Freedom is predicated on choice. Be very wary of those who would choose your preferred option for you.  If I am not allowed to select for myself from among alternatives, I have no freedom. Choices lead to actions, and actions provide outcomes. And those outcomes lead to the choices I have available today.

Rather than another word for nothing left to loose, freedom is another word for many things to choose, for the duty to form and select among alternatives and options available to you, and the responsibility, for better or worse, to own the outcome.

And, even when alternatives don't exist or are denied us, we have the choice of deciding how we will act and react. Even on the darkest of days, we are left a choice. Even in the darkest prison, we have this one freedom.

Consider yourself.

What options are available to you?

What are the likely outcomes of each?

Choose wisely and well, for in that choice is freedom.