Category Archives: Ethics

The Modern Male Malaise

Nationwide, boys have poorer reading scores than girls, they are five times more likely to commit suicide, two and a half times more likely to drop out of high school, and, as of 2008, women accounted for 59% of all those enrolled in graduate school.  In January of 2010, for the first time in history, America had more women in its workforce than men.   There are now more females in med school and law school, two traditionally male-dominated professions.

This is not yet a tsunami.  There are different ways to look at the numbers.  For instance, more men still graduate from four-year colleges (29.5% of males versus 28% of females).  But trend projections make it seem likely that will soon change too.  In all, the image surfaces of western women on the rise and western men on the decline.

Now why is this happening?

I think there are a number of reasons.  First, people I trust tell me that the educational system disadvantages men.  It has something to do with how boys learn and how girls are better verbal processors sooner.  Secondly, I fault the lingering momentum of feminism.  Societal change has come about so quickly that many, especially those in the older generation, have not realized that it happened, and so they continue to advocate for the empowerment of women generally and everywhere as if they were still living in the 1950s.  I am for the empowerment of women, very much so.  But in broad sections of American society today, feminism is not necessary anymore.  In fact, it can be hurtful.  Generalized prescriptions quickly become stupid in a world and a country as large and complex as ours.

But what really interests me is another factor which is rarely discussed and seems to draw some ire.  It has to do with the relative uselessness of physical strength today.  Of course, strength is still useful for a number of things.  After all, boxes need to be moved and jars need to be opened.  However, such relatively meaningless activities serve to underscore how truly unimportant strength has become, especially when one ponders, just for a minute, how important it used to be.  Here we enter an alien world: the vast majority of human history.

In a world without guns, police, and communication technology, nearly all of the population existed in a state of what might be called quasi-anarchy.  Roving tribes attacked each other and the governments that did exist were not overly committed to protecting civil rights.  If you lived anywhere you likely lived within a tribe.  You would be completely reliant on the strong individuals in your tribe, specifically in your immediate family, to protect you, from wild animals, bandits, other tribes, etc., and those that could provide security naturally enjoyed a place of social prominence.

This old world was much closer to the state of nature that worried Thomas Hobbes, where life is “nasty, brutish, and short.”  It sounds awful.  I am glad I did not live back then.  But, because the challenges of staying alive were what they were, physical abilities were highly cherished.

Understanding this old world makes some sense of weird institutions like polygamy.  Today, polygamy is perceived to be an incredibly sexist institution–end of story.  But the truth is more complicated than that.  Undoubtedly, polygamy was used as a means to acquire women as if they were property, but it also served to protect women.  If you were a woman, living in this old world, how safe do you think it would be to live on your own?  In fact, women often begged men to take them in as a second or third wife when their own close male relative died.  If I was alive at the time, I feel that I would be morally obliged to acquiesce.  Does that mean I am sexist?

So, for thousands of years, maybe hundreds of thousands of years, maybe millions, men evolved and competed against themselves, as was encouraged by men and women, to better fill this perpetual need to be strong and protect.  Deep-seated cultural and genetic adaptations developed that created an abiding drive in men to address this need.  How long, do you think, does it take to undo this hardwired tendency?  If it is possible at all, I would guess it would take a while.  How long has strength been comparatively useless?  Maybe 50 years?  Unfortunately, this is the same 50 years that has seen the rise of feminism.

Of course, society has been getting progressively safer long before the 1950s, and thus women and men have been increasingly less concerned about having strength for the purposes of personal protection, especially in cities and among higher-class society and occupations.  Nonetheless, for most, strength continued to be important for work.  Sailors, soldiers, farmers, etc., needed to be strong.  To get a sense of how strength was valued, consider that in 1900, 70% of Americans farmed and lived on farms.  In 2000, that number is 2%.  Certainly, hard work is as necessary today as it was 100 years ago, but weak legs are as good as strong ones if they are simply under a desk all day.

I have been reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln.  As a youth, he became well known and respected for, quite simply, being good at splitting wood.  Almost two centuries later, chopping wood, and talents like it, are rather quaint, even cute.  Taking pride in such abilities seem childlike.  Of course they do.  Fox cubs play chase and wrestle with each other in part because it helps them develop the talents that they will need in order to survive as adults.  I imagine that our forefathers who survived a harsh world were selected in part by how their childhood games prepared them for life.  This same sort of play, the desire for children to play this way continues, but the purpose for the play is gone.  Today, lots of boys play sports, grow up, and discover that the main talents they pursued, such as physical fitness, agility, speed, coordination, are mostly useless in the real world, and the other talents that came as a byproduct of sports, such as teamwork, communication skills, and perseverance, are much more valuable.  Is it possible to switch?  Can we push kids to pursue useful things and have the byproducts be the useless skills like throwing a ball through a hoop?  Can we reform play in order to help prepare our children for being adults in a different world?  What is clear is that men have not only inherited the adaptation and desire for physical strength, we are also raised to excel in these now-useless abilities.

Really, I have no answers and nearly everything in this post is speculation.  I also should give a caveat: I am a former captain of my varsity soccer and wrestling teams.  For people like me especially, the discovery of the meaninglessness of sports and strength can be rather shocking.  It made me ask, “Tell me again, why was I led to believe this mattered?”

This much we know: it is going to be very difficult to get men to stop caring about feeling manly.  Civilizations that are successful will find ways to use this drive productively.  Fortunately, there is more associated with manliness besides physical abilities.  Maybe we can emphasize those other qualities:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

-Rudyard Kipling, If 

A Love Story

This is likely my most foundational myth.  I share it now because of its relevance to my last post.  Click on the “My Myths” page above for more info about what these myths are all about.  

Most expats in my community headed back to the States during the lazy summers of High School.  The ones who remained were at the pool everyday.  Among them were Coach Harris and his progeny, who at the time numbered five.  They couldn’t afford seven plane tickets anywhere, so instead they kept us in business.  Everyday I watched them swim from my perch atop the lifeguard stand.

I think the main reason why some people did not like Coach Harris was because they didn’t know what to do with him.  He had all these cute kids, but he himself was big, bald, buff and scary.  He appeared taller then he really was.  He kept his head shaved because he had started to go bald in his early twenties and didn’t want to deal with it.  He taught high school math and was intelligent, but he was also quite emotional, dramatic, and judgmental.  He wasn’t mean, brutally honest to a fault perhaps, but not mean.  Once he screamed at me when I lost a big wrestling match and called me an idiot, but I don’t hold it against him.  He was caught up in it.  I think most people did not like him because he neither said hello nor smiled when he passed you on the sidewalk.  But his intensity and the fear he inspired kept us wrestlers in shape and his four little boys in tow.  Now his wife had just given birth to their fifth: a girl.  Some people feared for her.  How would this guy raise a daughter?

Once or twice I wondered this myself as I watched the Harris boys jump off the boards.  They loved the diving boards.  Coach would often join them, teaching them how to make big splashes, dive, and do flips.  But for hours after Couch would retire to his big towel shared by his wife and little daughter, his sons’ ceaseless jumping would keep wet a closed circuit on the pavement from the pool to the boards.

The three eldest took great pride and pleasure in jumping off the twelve foot high dive.  But the youngest was still too scared.  Elijah was four, scrawny, and ridiculously cute.  One day he turned his over-sized head and cast his big brown eyes on the high dive.  He wanted to join his brothers.

“Daddy, can I jump off the high dive?” he asks, staring up at the board.

“Are you sure son?  It’s pretty high,” says Coach.

“Yeah, but I want to.”

At our pool nobody is allowed to climb down the high dive ladder.  It is too long, wet, steep, and slippery.   Of course, most lifeguards, myself included, were not martinets about it.  But Coach squats down, looks his son in the eye and says, “It’s your decision Elijah, but I want this to be clear: if you decide to go up the ladder, the only way down is jumping.  It’s the rules.  Are you sure you still want to do this?”


“Great.  If you think you are up to it, I think you are too.”

Elijah slowly starts to climb the ladder.  Caleb, the eldest, looks concerned.

“Are you sure Elijah?” he says. “Won’t you be scared?  It’s pretty high.”

“I can…do it,” Elijah mumbles.

The steps on the ladder are too big for him, but after some awkward climbing he arrives at the top and beholds the world from twelve feet up.  His eyes pop.  There is no place higher in all the world.

After a few short seconds he musters his courage and begins to inch his way slowly down the board.  His arms are not long enough to reach the railings on both sides so he grabs the right side with both hands and walks woodenly sideways in his sopping red swim shorts.  But he quickly runs out of railing and faces the board’s lonely extension into oblivion.  The panic starts.

“Dad, I’m scared,” he said.

“You can do it,” Coach calls back, “I believe in you.”

Elijah’s brothers join his dad on the side.

“You can do it!”

“Go Elijah!”

With knees wobbly, Elijah slowly lowers himself to his hands and knees.  He painfully relinquishes the metal rail and starts to crawl forward.

As the line behind the high dive grows, I worry that being the lifeguard on duty I might have to expedite matters.  But impatience thaws as those in the line become invested in the delightful drama of this little guy’s jump.  They join the cheering crowd.

“Come on buddy!”

“You can do it!”

As Elijah journeys down the board, his crawl becomes slower and slower, and he hunkers lower and lower, until he is finally lying face down, at the end of all things.  With his nose pressed into the sandy-textured surface his eyes peep over the edge.

“Daddy, I don’t want to do this!”

Coach replies, “You have to buddy.  Now stand up.”

At this point, patrons from around the pool find themselves congregating around Coach, adding their voice to the encouragement.  Through the power of cheer they hoist Elijah to a crouch.  Then they start the “one-two-three-jump” routine, but when they get to “jump” Elijah remains motionless, tense, his big eyes staring at the water.  After a few disappointed seconds they start again, but at “two” they stop.  Elijah has burst into tears.

“Daddy, Daddy,” he says through chortled gasps, “don’t … make …me …. do … it. I’m scared, I don’t …want to.”  His knees now shake uncontrollably, and his nose is running.  The mood of the crowd begins to alter.

“Ok, that’s enough.  Get him down now,” an older man barks.

Coach whips him a look that shuts him up, but as time ticks on those looks become less effective.  Some of the crowd’s cheers for Elijah become muttered jeers against his father.  I feel that it might be gracious to provide an opportunity to end this.  I began to speak, “Elijah, its OK.  You can climb…” but coach gives me a glare, and my voice trails off.  He was scary and bald.

But Elijah still won’t jump.  The exciting and uplifting drama that had brought in the crowd and stalled the impatience of those in line was now becoming the grotesque sight of an ill-tempered father needlessly torturing his son.  The crowd thins.  Many give up on jumping off the boards in order to escape.  I feel it too, the way you want to hide in your chair when someone on stage is embarrassing themselves, the way you want to turn the other way when a child is being spanked in public.  Those who stayed either donned a grim face suitable for watching parental inadequacy or became vocal hecklers.

“Why are you doing this to him?”

“Somebody needs to get that kid down.”

As Elijah continues to sob, the crowd focuses on Coach, and as Coach’s looks grow increasingly ineffective, he turns to his son.

“I believe in you Elijah.  You can do it.  Jump!”

But when chokes and sobs progress to delirium, the crowd turns from Coach to me.  The second time I open my mouth Coach raises a hand, “Please Jeremy,” and while looking up he says,

“Son, I love you.  You made a decision to climb up that ladder knowing that you would have to jump.  I am going to hold you to your word.  You can do it.”

At several points during this entire spectacle Elijah ran back to the railing, once as far as to the top of the ladder, but he always came back.   When his Father says these last words Elijah is at the edge of the board again.  Elijah responds by taking a few breathes and calming himself a bit.  Then, during a lull in the cheering, while most are focused on denouncing Coach and I, while I am absorbed in figuring out how best to salvage my own reputation in the situation, Elijah crouches a little lower.  Then, with body tense, hops lightly off.

Splash!  The crowd goes wild. Elijah himself comes up out of the water with a grin big enough to match the size of his eyes.  Pure joy.  His brothers help him to the side.  “That was so cool!” Elijah squealed as he clambered out.  His father kneels in front of him.

“Son, I’m so proud of you.  I knew you could do it.”

“Thanks Dad,” Elijah squeaks and quickly pulls away.

“What? Where are you going?” Coach asks confused.

Elijah turns as he runs, “I’m doing it again!”

Elijah spent the rest of the day jumping off the high dive.  The crowd dissipated.  Coach and even Elijah’s brothers eventually left him to make his own closed circuit on the pavement.  But I stayed at my post until the pool closed watching this child and pondering his transformation.  It seems to me that my graciousness and the crowd’s compassion would have had Elijah ashamed, crying, huddling with his mommy and baby sister, wrapped in a towel and sucking pulpy juice through a straw while silently watching his brothers jump off the boards again and again without him.  It seems that only his father really loved him, and that enough to stand up to the crowd, to stand up to the lifeguard and, above all, to stand up to his own son’s tears.  What is love which damages its object?  What is love when it is motivated by the immediate gratification of our emotional “philanthropic” insecurities?

What is love?

I pondered all this and more high aloft in my sun-baked, concrete tower.

Old Jer Idea #1: Real Rough Love

There are a number of serials I want to start, one being an “Old Jer Idea” series for ideas I have been talking about for years.  These are tried and true monologues, not unlike my myths, only less entertaining and more pedantic.  You’ll love them.  

Alicia keeps telling me that I should write a book about my approach to relationships, confrontation, and love.  I think that the fact that this suggestion is coming from my wife warrants an immediate book deal.

If I did write this book, I think my first tenet would be my definition of real love: love concerns itself exclusively with the object of love.  Real love tries always to reach past the words and space that divide us in order to understand and comfort the loved one’s inner space.  Love cares about the inside.  This is simple, but devastating in many ways.  Obviously, the biggest implication is that we have to allow others to love us by verbalizing what is going on in our heads.  This means honesty, and invariably, some rough conversations we call “confrontation.”  I have lots of ideas about how confrontation should be done, indeed it is a difficult skill, but talking about confrontation does not interest me at the moment.  Instead, I want to explore a very specific pitfall in relationships.

Most of the roles we hold dearest to our sense of self are our functions as wife/husband/parent/child/friend/etc.  Unfortunately, many of us desperately need to be good at those roles, and we set our hearts on a certain image of ourselves.  To keep our realities in tact, we refuse to entertain the possibility of failure by resisting any indication that we have mismanaged our role.  This forces those that we love to become actors and actresses in a tedious play designed to convince the “loving” person, perhaps Exemplar Edgar, that he is a great husband.  But by insisting on this farce, Edgar’s loved ones come to despise him, for every day he rubs the truth in their face, “I care more about my self-image than you.  Why else would I be so willing sacrifice your happiness and my relationship to you in order to preserve it.”

Of course, while some people resist criticism to the bitter end, others immediately break down and beg forgiveness for being an awful, despicable person.  Both responses are monumentally worthless and a middle course between the two, or oscillating between them, is just as bad.  Being 50% self-deprecating and 50% self-preserving is still being 100% self-focused.  Instead, love, concern for what is going on in the other person’s head, requires a certain amount of maturity, of being secure in who you are, of being able to think from another’s perspective, so that you can forget about yourself for a moment.  Why have they come to me?  Why are they hurt?  Why are they afraid?  What underlying fear are they worried about and how can I address it?  Do I understand what they wanted to say?  Have I expressed that I understand?  Etc.

If being loving is only possible after being secure, does that mean that insecure people are incapable of love?  In short, yes.  It depends on how and why one is insecure, but overall, I think so.  Many, maybe a third of us, I do not know, have probably never loved someone in our entire lives.  Of course, the insecure person might be capable of love in the sense that at some level he cares about another person, but caring and valuation is always a comparative enterprise.  We prove our love when something we are insecure about is threatened, but we choose to listen and ask questions.  Otherwise we love conveniently.

So who do you love, and who do you love conveniently?  As you think about the people in your life, a good barometer is how easily and often honest conversation and confrontation happens.

Hmmm… I have some people I need to chat with.

Lovesick Reflections

In 10 hours I get to see Alicia after 10 weeks and one day of being apart.  At first, reverting to bachelorhood was a party.  I ate meat, played board games, got lazy about recycling, and drank beer.  Actually, I drank more herbal iced tea than beer, but the point is that I did very manly things.  But after the first month I began to experience severe symptoms of what I suppose would be best diagnosed as lovesickness.  My best friend, my lover, was far away.  But as the day approaches weariness has given way to  excitement, or to be more accurate, excitement has been added to weariness.  Last night I was so jazzed to see her I could not sleep, not a wink, and as I lay there in the dark thoughts crashed over me, eventually overwhelming my heart with a profound sense of blessing.  I got up determined to share these thoughts with you.  (So please pardon any sleepy verbosity you might encounter.  I am writing in a sleep-deprived stupor.)

A good friend of mine, Ben Walker, had to bury his mother recently.  It got me thinking about death and bereavement.  Comparing my bereavement to his is about as ridiculous as comparing a pinch to losing a leg, but it has nonetheless provided helpful perspective.  Because it is a perspective constantly eroded by the grind of our daily banality, it must be reestablished from time to time and for me it happened last night.

Obviously, losing a loved one or being separated from them is only excruciating because we care.  A very easy solution would be to never love anyone, care for anything, or enjoy anyone.  If we did that, if such coldness was possible, the day your father died would be just another breezy summer day.  But for humans, you and me, we grieve, we wail, we cry, we ache, and all of it heaves deep within our chests and stomachs.  Frankly, I find this response  to loss very encouraging.

Loss is only capable of causing pain when we have something good to lose.  Loss reveals what we have been enjoying this whole time.  It allows us to see how those we lose are enormously precious to us.  This morning this idea overpowered my brain until I felt nearly unbearable levels of gratefulness as I ached to see my wife.

Loss helps us in another way.  It gives us insight into other relationships.  Loved ones do not magically become important to us because they die or go to Rwanda.  If so, living loved ones and nearby loved ones, are likely similarly connected to us.  Imagine a farmer who goes out to the field to check his carrots.  He can’t see the carrots underground, so he pulls one up, roots and all, and then has a pretty good guess about the state of his other carrots.  Bereavement pulls up one of our carrots, and that process sucks, but it also provides an opportunity to see the likely depth of other relationships.  We should not waste it.

Those of you who have read Therefore Joy already know that one of my big mantras is that humans universally possess an embarrassingly pathetic understanding of the enormity of good in the world and in our lives.  We do well when we widen that understanding and share our insights with each other.  The widening thought that hit me in the face this morning, not for the first time and hopefully not for the last, is pretty simple: I enjoy this girl so much that just the prospect of being reunited with her makes me too excited to sleep.  These roots run deep.

Alicia will die on me someday, or I will die on her, and one of us will see the roots pulled out, and it will be awful.  But until then, I want the presence of mind to see and appreciate our deep love and enjoyment of each other.  I want to treasure her affectionately before I lose her.  My hunch is that it will make the good times even better.

In other news, my goal this summer was to finish sending Therefore Joy in to publishers by the time Alicia got back and I did it!  I feel 10 pounds lighter.  


After I first began lifting weights and started getting pretty buff, I was ready for music camp.  My mom was always trying to get me to go to camps.  I hated going because I stuttered.  I would have to introduce myself and stutter on my name, then they would think I’m either stupid or telling a joke, which for me amounted to the same thing.  But Mom would make me go anyway.  Though it was hard, today I am thankful for her kick out the door.

One of the last nights of music camp they built a bonfire.  The flickering light emboldened me to strike up a conversation with one of the girls I had a crush on.   Anna was as gorgeous as a 7th grader could be, and I suspected that she was interested in me too.  But as we were trying keenly to entertain each other, another guy makes a move.  He walks up and makes as if to join the discussion.  At that moment I am saying something and stuttering heavily.  He chimes in with a loud, dull voice, “st-st-st-st-stupid.”

Anger rises in me.  Thoughts flutter in my brain.  “He’s mocking me…my stuttering…he’s mocking me about stuttering in front of a hot girl…he’s small and annoying.”  In a flash of rage, I see a vision of myself grabbing his belt buckle with my near arm, grabbing his collar with my other hand, pulling him towards me and, in one smooth motion, turning him upside down and throwing him into the fire.  I lean towards him with my hands tense.

I pause.  “Holy crap,” I think to myself, “I am going to kill this kid.”

I realized something about myself that day.  I was now powerful enough to do real damage.  A child can get mad, throw tantrums, and punch blindly with consequences amounting to a handful of bruises at most.  But the tantrums of men can kill.

Anyway, though I didn’t throw him into the fire, I still got the little bastard.  Anna was disgusted by him and sympathized with me.  Stuttering always gets the girls.

This is another myth.

 Also, I wanted to say thanks to all that responded, privately and publicly, to the “Loved in Hell” post.  And in other news, Alicia gets back in less than 2 weeks!  

Assassination Rocks!

Most of the world is celebrating Osama bin Laden‘s death.  Some, however, are recoiling from that celebration and mourning the loss of life.  Both groups annoy me, but only if both groups are as single dimensional as my single dimensional description of them.

On the one hand, bringing an end to bin Laden’s exploits is a wonderful thing.  He killed lots of people and would kill more.  It also is a good morale booster and makes the West look and feel less incompetent and idiotic (“Seriously?  This guy walked free for almost 10 years after masterminding the single biggest terrorist attack in world history against the most powerful country in the world?”).  I am happy that we have ended this rallying symbol for Islamic fundamentalism.  However, I regret that we could not have had a trial for him as I think that would have been cathartic for society.  Trials are what separates societal civil justice from street gang vigilantism, and, since street gang vigilantism is no doubt a major goal and modus operandi of Islamic terrorist organizations, it’s too bad we couldn’t nab Osama and be rub-it-in-your-face civil to him.  But assassination is better than nothing.

On the other hand, assassination celebrations are weird things.  As a Christian, I believe that bin Laden was loved by Jesus just as much as me, you, or Mother Theresa.  God’s grace is as offensive as shit.  When Jesus died on the cross, he died for bin Laden.  He thought of bin Laden’s despicable actions, but also how beautiful he was as a human being and how passionately he would pursue his beliefs.  Yes, Osama had good qualities.  He will join the ranks of amazing people who did bad things like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Genghis Kahn, Napoleon, etc.  All these men had incredible talents that are admirable.  Even douche-bags of less grandeur, the local annoying jerk say, has admirable qualities.  He or she has a mother.  He or she is beautiful.

However, I barely have time to mourn for those who have not killed thousands of people indiscriminately out of some crazy religious calling.  I barely have time to mourn child hunger, the African Aids epidemic, or my friend’s problems with depression.  In fact, the only reason that I can see to single out bin Laden’s death as something to mourn is because other people are celebrating it.  In other words, it’s a stellar opportunity to act morally superior.

Finally, as many of you know, I am not a fan of punishment or anyone, especially Christians, who want to deal it out.  Justice is God’s to do, and he does it in the afterlife I’m pretty sure if at all (note “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” and Christ’s parable about the workers in the field).  So, I see Osama’s death as a means to an end and not an end itself.

So, I think our appropriate response to Osama’s death is celebration with a moment or two to pause and say, “Ok, assassination is not ideal.  Ok, God loved bin Laden just as much as he loves me.  Ok, I like his death’s good effects more than just the fact of his death.”  Then we drink a beer (or two), come up with a few cheesy movie lines to use as toasts (e.g. “Hijack this!” and “To the liberation of bearded men everywhere”), and wake up the next day and go about our business in arresting the suffering of others and the depravity of ourselves.

…in other news, Donald Trump called Seth Meyers a stutterer in what appeared to be a somewhat derogatory way.  Of course, I have an opinion, as I am deeply concerned with what Donald Trump thinks of me.


Please gauge your initial reaction to this fact I’m about to tell you.  Ready?  Here it goes:

Last year Alicia and I bought a 26′ sailboat without knowing how to sail or having ever sailed.

I’ve observed a spectrum of responses.  On one extreme, people think that what we did was irresponsible, dangerous, selfish, and short-sighted.  In the other direction, people see what we did as a profound, beautiful, carpe-diem statement about adventure, loving life, and living freely.  Most fall somewhere in between, or rather, like me, somewhere in both extremes.  But while I think that there is a compelling case to be made about my general idiocy, I see buying that boat as one of my proudest moments.  When I think about that decision, I exhort myself to maintain that part of me.  I yearn to be that type of guy.

However, I just finished this book by David Mercy, Berserk: My Voyage to the Antarctica in a Twenty-Seven-Foot Sailboat, and, though I enjoyed the writing, I found them stupid, irresponsible, and selfish.  The Captain had just sailed single handedly down to Argentina from Norway at the age of 19 in a boat he named Berserk because everyone thought he was nuts.  Then two men, author included, who had never sailed before in their lives (they seemed to never have learned even how to tack) join him for a trip to Antarctica, across the worst seas in the world, far away from help, without a working engine, proper clothing, or knowing each other remotely well.  They go through major storms, mutiny, and extreme physical discomfort; near death experiences are the norm.

I want to go berserk, but not that berserk.  How about you?  How berserk is, ethically speaking, optimally berserk for you?  It seems to me that if you do not know, it is not even possible for you to have a happy life.

None of us want to go through life always being the responsible adult or always the risk-taking adventurer.  So, while the moderate middle way is different for all of us, it is also the same in that it is always a middle way.  None of us want to give up on adventure entirely or responsibility entirely.  In this at least we can relate to each other’s decisions, for we share the value that caused the decision, if not the same valuation of that value.

One way we each gauge how berserk is berserk enough is by looking at the people we love.  One of the reasons I thought the sailors in Beserk were selfish was because they did not fully consider the ramifications of their own possible deaths.  What about their family and friends?  We cannot let our parents, or even our spouse, for example, rule dictatorially over what constitutes our middle way.  But if we care at all about family and friends, we better be willing to compromise.  Hopefully that compromise will fall somewhere close enough to the middle way we might make in a vacuum, close enough so that we can still be happy.  If not, you’re screwed.  You cannot choose yourself over family and friends and still be happy, and vice-versa.

Your family and friends, however, can do much to allow you to be happy.  We could all do each other a favor.  Amongst our families and amongst our friends, we should not be so quick to judge each others’ morals for falling in different places along the spectrum.  Alan the aligator-farmer might be more reckless than you, or less reckless, but if Alan is living as recklessly as what he sees as exactly right, we can only applaud him for it, and of course, if we want to change his behavior, talk.

Of course, for some, confronting a loved one about how they live is just too berserk.  If so, let me break my own rule and judge you: you need to live more dangerously.  As for me, I love adventuresome confrontation, but that’s a topic of another post.

If you had 5 minutes in front of 2 million people, what would you say?

Since Thursday, it looked like life was getting back to normal and things were calming down.  Life lied.  This afternoon I was contacted by a producer at Fox&Friends, and I am scheduled to be on their show Tuesday morning 6:30ish (they should give me details tomorrow).

Fox & Friends is the highest rated morning news show in the nation with almost 2 million viewers a day.  As a firm believer in the transformative power of ideas, this is an incredible opportunity, and it gets me thinking: If you had five minutes in front of 2 million people, what would you say?  Your thoughts and advice is welcome.

Who knows what will happen?  Maybe I’ll stutter on my name the entire time.  But I am leaning away from any personal plugs like finding work, a publisher, etc.  Clearly, I will talk about the event itself, but I hope to get through that fairly quickly.  What I really want to talk about is the broader meaning for this entire category of events–what these sorts of stories say about each other, what they say about our national dialogue, how they point to a common love and compassion which undergirds our society and entreats us to hold each other in high regard, to respect each other, even our enemies.

Ok, maybe I won’t change the world with this interview, but maybe maybe I might help one person esteem their spouse more.  If so, I win.