Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
One recent evening I awoke from a nap on the living room sofa to find my wife surfing for something to watch on TV.
She was using the cable remote to go channel by channel, individually. She watched for a few seconds until apparent disinterest, disgust, or boredom led her to the next channel. This seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time, so I asked her about it. In hindsight, I'm not sure that this was a good idea.
"Why aren't you using the channel guide?"
"I need to learn how to use the remote this way."
"But the channel guide is faster."
"Just because it's faster doesn't mean it's better. That's one of the differences between you and me."
Leslie has had to fight her way through barriers created by class, race, and gender for everything she has achieved. I have not had those problems.
Beyond those fundamental facts, circumstance and choice have shaped the life journeys that have brought us to this same place together. Those journeys have rarely enjoyed similar physical or ideological terrain, save that we were born and grew up in the same town.
These experiences shape our approach to the challenges of everyday life, whether in work or at home. I've often chosen the simplest (or easiest) way to an acceptable solution - what is known as the path of least resistance. Leslie bristles at this approach sometimes, and I can't say that she's wrong.
My life has been deeply involved in following the development of technology, and leveraging it for benefit in both my personal and working lives. Considering the advancements of the last 25 years, it's been quite the ride.
How we ride even has it's differences. Leslie and I can both drive cars with manual transmissions, but she prefers and has chosen a car with a stick. She feels she has more control of the vehicle, and that shifting keeps her more attentive to what's happening on the roadway. In this age of distracted driving, that's a persuasive argument.
Another argument has been made in many corners that the speed with which life moves for many nowadays is detrimental to its inherent quality, including information and services that are available "on demand". This is best demonstrated by a large segment of the general public's obsession with the capabilities of today's smartphone.
Finance is the art of passing money from hand to hand
until it finally disappears.
Another example of this is the way that the world engages in commerce and exchanges money. Banks encourage their customers to sign up for direct deposit and online banking, touting not only its convenience but also to help justify having less human tellers at branch offices. One can easily move funds from one account to another, and spend money with a click, or a swipe or tap at the vast majority of retail outlets that accept credit and debit cards.
I have learned that this ease and transparency of moving wealth seems to have the effect of lessening the cognition associated with the act itself. There seems to be more of a tendency to spend money that you don't necessarily ever see or touch.
Leslie resolves this for herself by physically depositing checks in her bank account - if she needs to make transfers, she does it at the bank. When she pays bills, she writes checks or pays cash - in person. She uses a debit card only for small purchases, and carries a limited amount of cash.
She has structured her life so that it's more difficult to spend money frivolously. This is something I am slowly learning from, but also requires the same level of discipline, which has admittedly been tough.
I have always been averse to financial risks associated with investing, and generally anything involving Wall Street. This is magnified by the fact that most retirement plans involve risk associated with investing in these markets, which in light of the recent financial crises sounds akin to staking a high roller at a casino with your life's savings.
As a result, those investments I do have are designed to provide slow, steady growth while reducing the impact of market volatility when possible. Kind of like the illustration above.
I am confirmed in my division of human energies.
Ambitious people climb, but faithful people build.
There are as many differences in how Americans lead their individual lives as there are ways to make a living and raise a family in this great nation. This includes how we as citizens exercise our freedom to worship, and how faith affects our decision-making processes.
I got quite an interesting perspective on choices and faith from a guest preacher at our church this past weekend. She dove into the admonitions contained in the 1st Psalm, which go something like this:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
She then expanded upon this psalm as it relates to our world and society - There are no "shades of gray". Righteous OR wicked - there's little or no middle ground to be had. Wickedness includes those who are focused on their own self-interest, having "no real grounding in the truth beyond themselves". She went on further, expanding on the concept of self-sufficiency, which she claimed was both rooted in wickedness and "culturally desired" in this country and others.
She related how those with a foundation in faith are like a kite attached to a string. The kite needs the resistance provided by the string to obtain lift, and remain airborne. Without the string, the kite will drift briefly with the wind, and then fall.
I'm wondering about the choices we make in this regard - to climb, to achieve more and more, to move our worldly lives faster and faster to keep pace with a race we cannot hope to win. I am reminded of the myth of Icarus, who ignored warnings not to fly too close to the Sun, and as a result watched his wings of wax fail him.
All the while we leave behind, or pay short shrift to, those things that take time and genuine work to achieve. The essential simplicity of maintaining a home, raising children to honorable personhood, or just sitting on the porch holding your loved one's hand - these are examples of what we may be ignoring as a society that reaches for too much, and is gradually losing the ability to care for itself.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted,
every hill and mountain shall be made low,
the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord
shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
I am increasingly disturbed by the way that our society is being divided into factions, especially in our recent political discourse. This seemed to be most glaringly displayed by Mitt Romney's comments about the "47 percent" that he speculated would vote for President Obama in a few weeks, because they believe in a culture of entitlement, on government dependency.
When conservatives warn about a culture of dependency, they make a good point. People who live off entitlements often become lazy, non-productive and out-of-touch. It's a fact. I have seen it myself.
He then expanded upon this concept with those who benefit from wealth not part of a so-called "entitlement" program:
If you are no longer doing your own sweating, and depend on others sweating for you, the moral danger is the same as if you were on a government program. And in a sense you are, because conservative politicians have been devoted to satisfying your every whim for lo the past 10 years, so that any wealth redistribution that has gone on has only sent more wealth your way. And what have you done with your good fortune? Not made a whole lot of new jobs, that is for sure.
A friend on Facebook in Colorado simplified this nicely:
When we make statements about "all Republicans" or "all liberals" or "all Libertarians" or "all Democrats," we are barbarically hammering complex personalities into cramped pigeonholes. This action disrespects others, distorts the positions of ourselves as well as our opponents and minimizes the possibility of persuasion.
Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
A lot of us out there, and right here, aren't listening like we should. If we were, we might be able to tune out the drone of excessive consumerism, polarized discussions on talk radio and elsewhere, and just spend some time looking around us to all we truly have, and should spend time cherishing and nurturing instead of trying to just accumulate more. This may also be a time to take stock of whatever faith you purport to espouse, if any.
Chances are you'll find that even among all of the talk about one way being the polar opposite of another, there are plenty of residents along the entire curve of the political and social spectrum whose beliefs, circumstances, and humanity cannot be distilled into the 30-second sound bite, or an easy answer in a televised debate.
We work hard - a lot of us have never taken a government handout, but sure are interested when politicians talk about messing with the ones that we were always told would be there for us at retirement.
And guess what? Despite what we have on our balance sheets, we are still all in this together. As autumn comes upon our area, take a walk through your neighborhood and remember that.
Here's to finding the paths of best resistance.
Have a good week ahead.
The opinions expressed in this weblog are solely my own as an individual and private citizen, and do not represent the opinion or policy of my family, my employer, or any other private or public entity.