Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fight for it

While catching up on stuff I've missed and regular stops I've skipped, I found this at Ricki's.
If you care about something, you have to fight for it. You have to be willing to put in a little effort. I get the feeling a lot of these folks either don't care, or have swallowed the victimology pill, where they believe if they don't get PRECISELY what they wanted without effort, it's because someone did them wrong along the way.
YES YES and YES again.  Read it all, as the cool kids say.

In a few days I have something due to post - I've held it to coincide with a particular date - and it's linked to what Ricki talks about, only on a much larger scale.  It may seem crazy to link a kid slacking off in school to a society slacking off on the world stage, but truth be told, it's a difference of degree, not of kind.  I'm not saying there haven't always been slackers... but they used to be called delinquents, bums, layabouts, shiftless, mooches, and all sorts of negative terms.  "Slacker" lacks those connotations; quite to the contrary, those in that cohort can self-identify and use the term without a hint of shame or irony.  When Terry Malloy said, "I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am," nobody, least of all Terry, thinks of the description as a badge of honor.

That seems to be the difference nowadays - there's no shame anymore in living off of others, in floating and expecting all things to be signed over as one's due, instead of as something to earn and treasure.  For many years children have not been taught to achieve to win self-respect; they are not taught to strive in order to fulfill and demonstrate their dignity as persons.  They are taught rather that their self-esteem is sacrosanct and anything that detracts from it is to be shunned and denounced.  The problem is, any serious effort to improve in anything will quickly teach one that one is bad at a lot of things.  Except for the most incredible natural talents, most things come hard to us, and require going through the embarrassment and bother of repeated, humbling failures while we pursue mastery - a goal that forever eludes a good majority of us in many areas.

This sounds mean.  That's a problem for a lot of people.  "The poor children!" they wail.  How can I be so pitiless to suggest that they get off their duffs and get on with living?  Well, it's simple - if they don't, life will be far more pitiless to them than the mean ol' teacher who expects good work; or the worst parents ever, who insist on good manners and a clean room; or the big bad Church, who would prefer them to be honest, chaste, and kind.  Telling kids "You're OK right now!" is simply not the whole truth, and is a grave disservice.  The whole truth is that they will stop being OK in the very near future if they settle for being OK now.

An illustration would probably help.  Let's take Shasta from CS Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy."  When the horse Bree decides that they should escape together to the North, he asks Shasta if he can ride.  He can't, so Bree asks if he can learn, and not mind falling.  "I suppose anyone can fall," Shasta says, and Bree checks him:  "Can you fall, and get hurt, and get up again, and fall again, and not cry, and fall yet again, and still get up and not be afraid of falling?"

This isn't an exact quote, since I haven't got the book with me, but the point Bree makes is that Shasta is never going to be a rider if he can't accept first being a faller, if he can't bear to risk failure.  And when Shasta, somewhat scared, says "I think so," his journey begins in earnest.  To that point Shasta had been indulging in fantasy and conjecture to entertain himself, dreaming of a different life: "I could be the son of anyone - of a noble, or of the Tisroc (may he live for ever), or of a god!"  Actually pursuing that life means a concrete, difficult journey, full of labor and sweat and pain.

From the outside a person may conclude that Shasta seems worse off for running away with Bree than in Arsheesh's hut as a de facto slave.  The only difference is that he's avoiding being sold to a cruel noble, to be worked to death in his service; but seeing as how he's stolen that noble's horse and will be put to death if caught, it makes no odds.  In some ways he's worse off, having left behind certain shelter and food, however meager.

Hence, some people prefer to stay put, and not only avoid any effort to improve but resent even the suggestion that improvement may be made, or that their own effort may be required to make it.  It might help to flip our example over on its ear.  Shasta's still suffering if he leaves - but likewise, he's no better off if he stays.  He will suffer whether or not he takes any action; the difference is that only by acting does he have the hope of escaping into a better life.  The slacker's hope of avoiding trouble by avoiding work and failure shows itself as a false turn, a dead end: they cause themselves far more trouble, and end as failures nevertheless.

A society that doesn't ask anything of its children except that they Believe in Themselves is, not surprisingly, a society that begins to doubt itself as a whole.  There's a definite link between telling kids not to bother about anything, and a society that can't bother to defend the things it finds valuable.  Far from it - such a society often can't think of anything valuable, or else falls to quibbling about the very concept of value, for "who's to say what's good or bad for everyone?"  That is "We're OK right now!" writ quite large, in smoke on the air.  It looks quite impressive until a stiff breeze wipes it clear, and then what do we look to?

And again, isn't that mean?  Who am I, anyway, to suggest that certain choices are preferable, and certain choices are outright wrong?  Many of the people who know me would probably be surprised to learn that I agree: not only about the "who am I anyway" part, but about everybody winding up the same, boiled into a miserable bland pudding of conformity.  But I observe that the people who most often tell off squares like me are, in fact, depressingly and reliably predictable.  It's always "the Church this" or "Western Civilization" that, and emo-posing and forced disillusionment and "get with the times."  In fact, much like the slackers who miss achievement by mistaking the starting blocks for the finish line, the scoffers and the skeptics who shun objectivity and order miss true individuality in favor of conformity.  They base their identity on the swirling mores and fashions of time, and are always scurrying to catch up, in order to be sophisticated and trendy.  In the end they exist only as part of an ever-shifting cohort, as obsessed with its own internal purity, and who falls short of it, as any other cult.  And they denounce believers as being all the same?  The grand irony is that all the people who think I'm a conformist are always marveling that I'm the oddest person they've ever met.  If only they knew how many wonderfully unique, odd people I know!

(I know that sounds a little self-congratulating, but it can't be helped.  For one thing, I'm the example I know best, being stuck with my own constant company; for another, I can take no credit for who I know.  My friendships are all gifts far beyond my deserts.)

For a person to grow and prosper, they have to build a concrete life, and they need solid values and work ethic to build with.  A healthy society will be built on such solid personalities.  No other material will serve if we want civilization to endure.  The best service we can give children is to inspire them, not only with what they are but with what they can hope to be with hard work and a touch of luck.  Here, and only here, does the message of self-esteem work as intended - only in this context, that the child is good enough today to keep trying to be better tomorrow.  Here, and only here, does "true to yourself" mean true individual freedom and identity - in the context of building on timeless standards that will not shift and wipe out one's progress, forever forcing one to start over.  Staying put, settling for OK now, for what's in, is like preferring a parking space in a deserted lot to the road home because there's less traffic that way.

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