Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Practical Advice

Hey brothers, now and then
There's something that oughta move you
More than a pen
You don't need no school or knowledge
You've got something else to lend
All the people in the world
Can make it better again

And it ain't easy, yes I know
It's a hard and rugged road
Don't be swindled, don't be fooled
Just be honest and stay cool
'Cause you got to be there brothers, yes you do

- Cooper’s Lament
Arlo Guthrie

On the last day of college classes, my journalism professor pulled me aside and told me that I was too talented to be in her class. She said the rest of the students "pulled me down" and I should have gone to the University of Pennsylvania instead of Glassboro State, that I was too good a writer to be in her class.
That's the trouble with hindsight - we're comfortable prognosticating what has already gone before and live in the "shoulda" or "coulda" instead of the now.
In hindsight, Vietnam was a really bad war. At the time, we were doing our patriotic duty killing commies and stopping commies from infiltrating southeast Asia. But years later do we realize it was a quagmire and cost thousands of lives.
The trouble with life is we convince ourselves our decisions were either good ones or bad ones. If everything works out, we don't chalk it up to luck, we merely call it a good decision. If everything goes wrong, we live with the shame of a bad decision. The problem with most of life is we never really know what's around the corner. Are we making good decisions or bad decisions. I don't know. I'll let you know in ten years.
Case in point: journalism class, 1992. Had I magically known I was wasting my time in Glassboro, I could have transferred out and gone to the University of Pennsylvania earlier, say in 1990. Yet I didn't know that. So I plod along in Glassboro only to be told by my journalism teacher what I should have done with my life.
We humans have absolutely no control over our lives than we think we do. Everything we do is careful planning, but it's a dance upon eggshells, a futile exercise of convincing ourselves we're in control.
God has a funny way of stealing control from us. One moment we're delusional enough to think ourselves indestructable, the next moment, we're in an automobile accident or are stricken with some disease. Man is, by and large, arrogant and confident. This bravado is what gets us up in the morning, forces us to work and to invade other countries in the name of democracy and freedom. Little do we know, despite all of our trumpeting and confidence in mankind as dominant and supreme, God has other ideas.
The best survival technique is to realize certain indomitable truths and realities:
1. We're all just passing through life. We won't be here for 150 years, so don't get used to longevity.
2. The best thing we can do is be honest and nice to other people.
3. Don't quarrel too much. Arguments about religion and politics and nationalism are wastes of time. Why bother converting anyone happy in their own mindset? If Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity upset you, shut off the TV.
4. Read many books and watch many movies and open yourself up to new ideas. Be curious and explore the world.
5. Find the thing that makes you happy and do it. Be the best at the thing you love doing.
6. Don't worry about not having the best job, the biggest house or the largest paycheck. Money, in the end, is only a tool. There are plenty of rich people in this world and when they die, they're the same as all the other skeletons in the boneyard.
7. Give of yourself to others. People are alone because they choose to be.
8. Love is the greatest force on Earth, even more powerful than all of the atomic bombs and forces of destruction. Everyone is capable of love.
9. Realize we stand on the shoulders of those who've come before us. Our civilization is ours for the saving or destroying.
10. When you are alive, it is your time. Savor it.
If more people realized these truths, there would be less strife, guilt, sorrow and anger. Humanity would be - dare I say it - well adjusted enough to stop killing each other in the name of Allah or Uncle Sam or Great Stalin's Ghost and we'd all realize we have more in common than the differences propagated by our leaders.

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