January 16, 2012
I have looked up to my father, Ed, all my life, even after he finished crossing the world on April 1, 2006. But I won’t say he didn’t mystify me at times.
One of the mysteries of this man was his well-known aversion to “d0-gooders.” First as a boy (“But isn’t it good to do good?”) and later as an adult (“Is he talking about my profession?”) I felt totally confused by his laconic maxim,”Do-gooders!” It seemed to be a synonym for fools—at least the way he used it.
Well you can imagine how proud I feel to be able to finally inhabit my respected father’s world-view (“Ed-mind”) even if it took me 62 years to understand his one-word critique. I have William Penn to thank, and I will quote him liberally and exactly lest I betray any residual confusion of my own. I can vouch for the psychological soundness of his wisdom, but I’m still puzzled by how long it took me to see the obvious. It’s a tad embarrassing to have been a fool so long, even though I know fools always have a lot of company. Foolishness isn’t all bad, but give me the wiser kind.
OF REFINING UPON OTHER MEN’S ACTIONS OR INTERESTS
271. This seems to be the Master-Piece of our Politicians; But no Body shoots more at Random, than those Refiners.
272. A perfect Lottery, and mere Hap-Hazard. Since the true Spring
of the Actions of Men is as Invisible as their Hearts; and so are their
Thoughts too in their several Interests.
273. He that judges of other Men by himself, does not always hit the
Mark, because all Men have not the same Capacity, nor Passions in
274. If an able Man refines upon the Proceedings of an ordinary
Capacity, according to his own, he must ever miss it: But much more
the ordinary Man, when he shall pretend to speculate the Motives to
the able Man’s Actions: For the Able Man deceives himself for making
t’other wiser than he is in the Reason of his Conduct; and the ordinary
Man makes himself so, in presuming to judge of the Reasons of the
Abler Man’s Actions.
275. ‘T is in short a Wood, a Maze, and of nothing are we more
uncertain, nor in anything do we oftener befool ourselves.
276. The Mischiefs are many that follow this Humor, and dangerous:
For Men Misguide themselves, act upon false Measures, and meet
frequently with mischievous Disappointments.
277. It excludes all Confidence in Commerce; allows of no such Thing
as a Principle in Practice; supposes every Man to act upon other Reasons than what appears, and that there is no such Thing as a
Straightness or Sincerity among Mankind: A Trick instead of Truth.
278. Neither, allowing Nature or Religion; but some Worldly Fetch or Advantage: The true, the hidden Motive to all Men to act or do.
279. ‘T is hard to express its Uncharitableness, as well as Uncertainty; and has more Vanity than Benefit in it.
280. This Foolish Quality gives a large Field, but let what I have said
serve for this Time.
from Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn, pages 395-6, Volume 1,
The Harvard Classics, edited by Charles W. Eliot
March 26, 2015
Here is historian Gordon Wood from his book “The Purpose of the Past,” pp 71-72:
“Unlike sociology or political science, history is a conservative discipline–conservative, of course, not in any contemporary political sense but in the larger sense of inculcating skepticism about people’s ability to manipulate and control purposefully their own destinies. By showing that the best-laid plans of people usually go awry, the study of history tends to dampen youthful enthusiasm and to restrain the can-do, the conquer-the-future spirit that many people have. Historical knowledge takes people off a roller coaster of illusions and disappointments; it levels off emotions and gives people a perspective on what is possible and, more often, what is not possible. By this definition Americans have had almost no historical sense whatsoever; indeed, such a sense seems almost un-American.
“Too much of this historical sense, too much skepticism, is not, of course, very good for getting things done. Which is why Nietzsche believed that ‘forgetfulness is a property of all action.’ Too much ‘rumination,’ too much ‘historical sense,’ he wrote, ‘injures and finally destroys the living thing, be it man or a people or a system of culture.’ Fortunately,
however, there seems to be little danger of our becoming too historically minded in America today.”
Ed’s response to the can-do? “Who’s on call?”
April 4, 2014
When my mother was growing up in Pennsylvania, people on occasion burned crosses at night on Jew Hill. She’s gone now, but she gave me life. Thanks to her, I’ve lived to see the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who died 46 years ago today in Memphis. I’ve lived to see the promised land.
As King memorably spoke, “I know you may not get there with me, and I know I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get there.”
Some call it evolution, but don’t expect to simply watch it happen without putting in a little service. Put in some dream-time too. Dr. King was an activist, but remember he spent two hours of each day in solitude. His life still reminds us what dreams can enable in the world.
Thomas Jefferson lived to see the promised land. Like King, he was a man who named a dream. His was liberal democracy–a dream so new in 1801 that not very many people around the world shared his vision. He called it “the world’s best hope” in his first inaugural. Like King, Jefferson was a dreamer-activist, who wrote, “What is practicable must often control what is pure theory. . .the habits of the governed determine in a great degree what is practicable.” Like Dr. King, he practiced solitude. Into his ninth decade he still was spending hours alone riding on horseback, and would lose himself in reading and gardening.
Is hopeful dreaming a habit worth dying for? What do you think? Probably the only habit worth dying for? What is the alternative? Despair is the alternative.
I hope despairing emotion has not taken up residence in your life. The vibration of despair can unbalance human dreams and seed a distorted view that we or our neighbors never will amount to very much. Despair can be sinister. Despair can lodge inside a person without their knowledge or consent. Despair as a trapped emotion can be very painful. Despair does the most harm by becoming self-fulfilling. And yes, it can visit anyone.
When this sadly occurs, despair interferes with a human being’s ability to resonate with our world’s chief purpose–our vast project of evolving shared dreams together. Hidden despair can blind our creative natures to saving moments of generative, reflective vision. Any such hopeful dreaming is then harshly discounted, disparaged, and drowned out by a hidden destructive drumbeat, that sneers at long-established traditions of service and activism as if they were childish.
The healing of despair requires a little help from our friends. Keep asking for that healing. It will come. It may be active help, it may be hidden help, but it will come. Healing can happen spontaneously in loving encounters, for reasons that remain largely unknown. It makes sense to assume in such cases that the right helpers were with you. Find the right helpers. The world needs your dreams and your service to evolve.
“I know you may not get there with me, and I know I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get there.”
January 19, 2015
Curator of Mercy
“I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners–all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty–and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.”
from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech