When you teach your son, you teach your son's son. ~The Talmud
Since Fathers' Day, I've been thinking a good bit about my fatherhood and my relationship with my 12-year-old son. He and I usually run jog together in the mornings, but he has been unable to join me the last couple of days. As a result, I've had some thinking time during my solo workouts.
What are the life lessons I would like for my son to learn from me? What can I teach him to truly help him get a running start towards maximizing his amazing potential?
- Take responsibility for your actions. Don't shift blame. Be truthful. Don't give excuses. In the end, effort matters somewhat but performance is what really counts. Be a stand-up guy on which others can depend.
- Be a creator. The world is full of takers with a sense of entitlement. Don't wait to be told what needs to be done. Search out opportunities to fill needs and create value.
- Be a positive thinker. The world is full of naysayers. Complaining is pointless. Worrying solves nothing. Your attitude shapes your reality. Don't let you be the limiting factor on realizing your potential. Dream big and know that your dreams are possible.
- As a corollary to positive thinking, push your envelope. Make it a habit to go outside your comfort zone. The person that lifts the same weight for the same number of repetitions every day, never grows stronger. Make sure you're straining a bit. Don't be afraid to fail. Increase your capabilities.
- Be true to yourself. Don't fall prey to peer pressure. Don't be a sheep. Think for yourself. Don't be afraid to be different and to stand out from the crowd. And always follow your moral compass.
- Have fun. Life is indeed short. Don't make it all seriousness and no fun -- that makes Jack a dull boy. Notice the absurdities and relish the ironies. Laugh often. Play hard. Love a lot.
Now if only I could learn these lessons.
...Physician, heal thyself... --Luke 4:23
"Tut, tut, child!" said the Duchess. "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."
I was raised in a Christian household; Sundays, and a lot of Wednesday evenings, were spent at the church. As a kid, I was a fervent believer; I knew I was saved and going to heaven. Hallelujah!
As I grew up, I questioned, and ultimately became disillusioned with, the idea of church and religion. The more I learned of history, the more I saw religion as a divisive force on humanity. Many of history's atrocities were, and still are, committed in the name of religion. The more I learned of science, the more I saw religion as superstition. It simply doesn't stand up to scientific method and reason. The more I learned of psychology, the more I saw religion as an ego defense mechanism. It's used to help people deal with circumstances beyond their control.
I've heard the argument put forth, perhaps most eruditely by C.S. Lewis, that mankind's age-old and constant search for religion is, in itself, proof of a higher being. How can man suffer from this persistent and common delusion, unless there is indeed something to it? I call this the "where there's smoke there's fire" argument, and I just don't buy it.
First, just because a meme is ancient and persistent doesn't mean it's correct. People have believed in magic since the dawn of time. Racial stereotypes still tragically persist. The common cold is not caused by a person becoming chilled. Habitual knuckle cracking does not cause arthritis, nor does masturbation cause blindness, cats don't steal air from baby's mouths, and you can't see the stars during the daytime from the bottom of a deep shaft.
Secondly, if the existence of a persistent religious meme is proof of a God, then why are there so many very diverse religions? Many religions have multiple deities. Some religions practice ancestor worship (even the Catholic church to some extent). Many religions have practiced blood sacrifice, both animal and human. Some religions worship nature and animal spirits. How can the smoke/fire argument be used to prove a single God when, in fact, for most of history, the majority of mankind has practiced forms of religion that are not mono-theistic?
So, I am now, at best, extremely agnostic; one who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism. I cannot find any proof that God exists, but, of course, there isn't any proof that God doesn't exist either. French mathematician, and philosopher Blaise Pascal, pondered this paradox and developed an argument for the belief in God based on probability and decision theory; his argument has come to be known as Pascal's Wager. Pascal postulates that it is better to believe in God because the expected reward is greater than the expected reward of not believing. If you believe and God exists, then you gain infinite reward; if he does not exist, you lose virtually nothing by comparison. If you don't believe and God exists, you get infinite punishment; if he does not exist, you gain virtually nothing by comparison. Of course, Pascal assumes that we have an eternal afterlife and that our life on Earth is negligible by comparison.
A counter-argument to Pascal's Wager exists called the Atheist's Wager. Wikipedia sums it up nicely as:
You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in God. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, he may judge you on your merits coupled with your commitments, and not just on whether or not you believed in him.
I've always had issues with the Christian philosophy that salvation comes through faith and never through works. By that measure, the most vile torturer of the Inquisition is listening to harp music while strolling streets of gold, and Gandhi is screaming his agony as his flesh boils off his bones. Is the man that taught the world the power of peaceful protest roasting in a Christian hell? I know Christianity is about forgiveness -- being absolved of guilt because of your faith. I view that as similar to inherited wealth. If you had to follow someone's advice for the attainment of wealth, would you choose someone who inherited their wealth or someone who earned their wealth? Paris Hilton or Warren Buffett?
Interestingly, a good friend recently told me of the Apostle Paul's struggles with problems such as 'the Gandhi question'. Compare the Atheist's Wager to what the Apostle Paul said in a letter to the Romans.
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. --Romans 9:14-16
It dovetails nicely with the Atheist's Wager, doesn't it? Of course, I would wager that the Atheist's Wager was developed with knowledge of that particular scripture.
So, in the end, the whole question is a conundrum with no proof in either direction, but I lean heavily towards my logical side that does not believe -- nay, scoffs -- at the idea of an omnipotent being. Nevertheless, there's the small part that says, "What if?"
"There is no use trying," said Alice, "one can't believe impossible things."
"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Like a lot of people, I tend to partition my life into segments. There's the work segment, the personal family segment, the martial art segment, etc. Of course, a segment can be composed of subsegments; for instance, friends can be categorized as my wife's friends, my personal friends, or friends of both my wife and myself (usually other couples).
For the most part, the segments don't bleed into each other very much; in a sense, I lead multiple lives. My family and personal friends rarely cross into my professional life and my professional friendships rarely bleed over into my personal life. There are exceptions; my business partner is also a close personal friend of mine --but not of my wife. Not that my wife dislikes my partner; it's just that they rarely have cause to interact.
And, yes, I know there are those of you out there who are eager to demonstrate your wit over that last statement, but please, just save it.
If you think about it, it's amazing how strongly we compartmentalize our lives. We see the clerk at the convenience store almost every morning, but fail to recognize him when we meet him out of the context of the store. This situation can lead to some uncomfortable "Where do I know him from?" moments. I'm especially prone to this predicament because not only do I compartmentalize my life, but I also have a strong memory for faces but not for names; I am forever recognizing faces but not able to associate a name or context.
For myself, I find the blurring of compartments somewhat disconcerting. I find there is something uncomfortable about mixing associates and friends from different contexts. For this reason, I rarely go out after work with business associates or even attend company parties. Even if I go to lunch regularly with a coworker, I rarely associate with them outside of business. By the same token, I rarely lunch with my wife even though she and I are often available to lunch together. The idea of hosting an event for business associates at my house horrifies me with its absolute wrongness.
In computer science, we have an event called a segmentation fault that occurs when a software program attempts to use memory it is not allowed to access. At the risk of oversimplification (or overexplanation), when a program runs, a chunk (compartment, if you will) of memory is assigned to the process by the operating system. If the program/process attempts to access memory outside of that assigned compartment -- such as memory belonging to another process -- the operating system detects the unauthorized access and generates a segmentation fault, thereby shutting down the offending process and protecting other running processes.
That's how I feel.
Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit. ~Aristotle
Over the last couple of weeks, I have spent a few days with my lifelong best friend. First, he came to visit me and we spent a couple of days engaging in the manly pursuit of big game hunting (deer). Then, over the holidays, my family and I visited Eric and his wife, Barbara, at their home for a day, where we engaged in the manly pursuit (even though Barbara knows more about college football than most men) of watching college football.
It takes a long time to grow an old friend. ~John Leonard
Eric and I grew up into manhood together. We became good friends just out of high school and were best, hang-out-every-day friends for the next 10 years. Since then, we have lived in different states for the last 15 years, trying to visit each other a couple of times a year. Despite the geographical and chronological distances in our friendship, I know that with a single phone call and no questions, Eric would be at my doorstep to lend a helping hand. And he knows the same of me.
Friends are relatives you make for yourself. ~Eustache Deschamps
I suspect that at first we liked each other because of shared common interests or possibly shared traits that we like in ourselves. But, I wonder if friendships deepen when people begin to see traits in the other person that they wish they had themselves. In Eric's case, I've always admired his spontaneity and adaptability to change. Since I've known him, Eric has had multiple careers including machinist, sailor, high school teacher, salesman, real estate investor, hair stylist, camp counselor, and a few others I can't recall offhand.
Friendship... is not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything. ~Muhammad Ali
In the long run though, I think true friendships are created when a casual friendship accrues a critical mass of shared experiences. Put another way, the shared experiences reinforce the friendship until they become a buttress making the friendship truly strong. To carry that analogy further, not only do the shared experiences buttress the friendship, but the friendship buttresses us against the stresses of life. Which leads me to one last friendship quote for a regular reader -- and you know who you are...
A good friend is cheaper than therapy. ~Author Unknown
I went to a friend's 40th birthday party this past weekend. Of course, everyone at the party was reminiscing and reflecting on middle age. Personally, I have found my years since 40 (all 5 of them) to be my best; for the most part, I have thoroughly enjoyed my forties. Even so, I heard myself and a lot of the people at the party show the symptoms of a bad case of the yoostas. You know what I'm talking about.
- Throw a football over 60 yards.
- Bench press 315 pounds a few times.
- Recover from a strain or bad bruise in a couple of days.
- Never buy any type of liniment.
- Party all night.
- Play sandlot tackle football with no pads.
- Eat anything without considering the consequences. Indeed without having any consequences.
- Get out of bed without any aches or pains.
- Not have to trim ear and nose hairs.
- Attempt physical stunts with no thought of injury.
- Read fine print in dim light.
- Not really know what hemorrhoids were.
- Never reflect on what I yoosta do.
I was recently asked as part of an exercise, to list 25 things I would like to do before I die. What a waste of time, I thought, this exercise will be trivial drivel.
However, once I got past the initial impulse of glib responses -- what glib responses, you ask? Well, a few that tickle my sense of humor would be:
- place huge beanie/propeller caps on Mt. Rushmore
- slip a Whoopie cushion into Oprah's chair
- set a bratwurst on a rotisserie over JFK's eternal flame
- save a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico
So, as I was saying, once the initial glib responses were past, I found this exercise to be no small task. It's quite easy to list a few things, but 25 becomes difficult. And I found myself scratching out some items just as soon as I wrote them down. On the other hand, some items jumped onto paper with a will of their own and actually surprised me when I saw them.
Here's my list in no particular order (except numerical, of course).
- Achieve financial independence.
- Learn to speak Spanish fluently.
- Learn to weld.
- Visit Italy.
- Visit Spain.
- Act in a movie.
- See my son hold his son.
- Learn to fly.
- Watch a sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji.
- Visit the Bahamas by boat.
- Weigh 225 lbs. (or less) the rest of my life.
- See the Aurora Borealis.
- Take up photography as a hobby.
- Become a writer.
- Learn to really drive my Porsche.
- Read a book per week for the rest of my life.
- Fish and hunt more.
- Help solve a truly major problem. A world-changing solution.
- Become proficient at magic.
- Receive a black belt in karate with my son.
- See my wife truly and finally quit smoking.
- Taste the perfect vodka martini.
- Change someone's life for the better.
- Try a different career.
- Find time to do all these things.
Try this exercise and see if you don't find it to be an interesting activity. And if you care to share your list with other people, 43things is a web site dedicated to this type of list.