Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

What are you working with, and why?

Posted by Ron Coleman on February 10, 2008

My thoughts this morning on a Jewish religious discussion blog — Columbus at East 51st St. in Beekman Hillsometimes I think of something original, or an original way to put it, and I think I hit on something today:

It is much easier to dedicate oneself to [spiritual / social religious goals] when working from a position of “strength” in terms of the [good fortune] and [blessings] that one is working with in life. God forbid a person who comes into the world with superior endowments — and these can take many, many forms of course — judges another person without realizing what [burden] that other one is carrying.

On the other hand, I think, woe to him who does have “everything” — and this, too, can be something very different from what an adolescent might consider a “fantasy life”; quite a little thing could, for the right person, be “everything” — and squanders the chance to be what he can be. The shadow of wasted potential hovers over so many of us, including those of us who can do just a little for someone else to give them, perhaps, the “everything” they have only ever needed…

One of my burdens in this life is a lack of humility. I kept going back and reading this today, like Narcissus in his mirror. Frankly I could have broken out the syntax a little more artfully; it is not the prettiest thing I have written in the last week.

But I really do think I hit on something here.

There is something thing worse than your own wasted potential which, after all, can take tremendous efforts to overcome. It is standing by watching someone else spin his wheels, and you can, with very little effort, help him out of the ditch. Your friend’s beast collapses under its burden? Surely you will help him raise it. This a moral obligation.

That I believe this, of course, is the reason I am not a libertarian, or anything like it.

Are these sentiments merely a sop for my own guilt over my natural, and unseemly, self-regard? Perhaps — but whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to make you feel it. Whatever it takes. As I said, that is the burden I have to bear, and that’s what I choose to make of it, and of myself.

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4 Responses to “What are you working with, and why?”

  1. jaymaster said

    Ron, I think you are on to SOMETHING here. But you lost me a little when you brought the libertarian thing into it. Since I think I am one, and all.

    On your first point, I do wallow under the weight of not “being all I can be”. I know I could do better, and I often feel guilt for not doing so.

    But the libertarian in me would never allow me to look at someone else and say “shame on him for not being all he could be”. It’s his choice. Or maybe he’s got other problems I’m not privy too that hold him back. Whatever, it’s his problem, not mine. Lord knows I’ve got plenty of my own to worry about, and I think I should focus my efforts there.

    And if my friend’s beast collapses under his burden? Of course I’ll help him out. Even if he doesn’t ask. But I want to help him on my own volition, on my own terms, and in the way I best see fit. I don’t want my government telling me how and when I must help him or anyone else.

    In other words, let me figure out how to best reach my potential. If I fail, I have no one but myself to blame. What could be more pure than that?

  2. Libertarians, I find, take such great pride, Jack, in the concept of not letting “gummint” tell them to help their fellow man that the “but of course I would help him on my own accord” gets quite lost in the sauce.

    I have a problem with the coercive nature of welfare. Unlike a Randian, however, I have no problem with the idea that a society as a whole is obligated not to let the worst happen to its members, to the extent they are not hell-bent on self-destruction.

    I do somewhat regret throwing out this libertarian point because it was rather incidental to the thesis, really.

  3. Jack said

    “Libertarians, I find, take such great pride, Jack,”

    Jay is a Jack?

  4. Jack said

    By the way, in my opinion there are basically two ways life can make a man tough and productive.
    First of all it can deprive him of so much that he has no choice but to overcome and conquer.

    Natural events will force him to actions that over time, will assure his accomplishments, either for himself or for others and his early deprivation will lead him to conquer in such a way and to such a degree that he can forever again avoid the hardships of his early life. He seeks surplus to avoid the distress and perhaps even agonies he has known and endured in the past and by doing so he accumulates and accrues impressive accomplishments over time in order to achieve his real and subconscious end, which is, some basic formulation of, “As God is my witness I will never suffer so again!” In time he looks around and realizes what he ha achieved and gains some measure of what that means and often he will turn, after having made himself secure, towards helping others or even the world at large. The Man of Suffering may become the Man of Surplus, in time and with effort, and because he has first been the man of suffering he is, if he is wise, tenderly disposed towards others who suffer and lack, as he once did.

    (The faulted and misshapen appearance of this kind of pursuit is the person who bitterly regrets his state of despair and poverty and therefore sees it not as impetus to achievement but as excuse to obtain whatever he desires in whatever twisted fashion because life was just never “fair enough to him.” Therefore in his mind the world owes him, and if he is of a criminal or tyrannical bent in psyche, then what he cannot get by deceit and by pleading and by more subtle means of malign manipulation, he will obtain directly by force and by violence against the innocent.)

    The obverse image of the suffering man who decides he will never suffer again (and who often ends up dragging others up alongside himself in his struggles) is the man who is given everything and so does not struggle directly to meet any need. Indeed he may see need as a sort of alien concept or force, one he need not fight or even perhaps encounter. He is sheltered from the suffering of the suffering man (to an extent, all men and women and children suffer some things, be they great or small, and will either fall victim to those hardships or will over come them or in the case of the Man of Surplus and supply, mayhap, someone else will solve his problems for him, or so it seems and he hopes) and so his fault may be that he never exceeds himself or his store of surplus. His surplus forever defines and limits hi ability to become anything other than what he is given and graced with, not by merit but by fiat. Therefore the grace of his state is also the trap of his nature.

    However the Man of Surplus is not limited to those kinds of snares, not damned to the tesseract of his own limitations anymore than the suffering man is limited to his poverty (not in the US anyways, or in some other parts of the world, though in some pockets the world is so construed as to make both the man of surplus and the man of suffering more or less perpetual victims of their surrounding environment – but that does not hold here) and his dearth.

    He may find far better uses for his abundance of natural resources and talents. May set out and seek out a natural outlet for an enterprise or set of endeavors to match his fecund capabilities and capacities. Being weak he has the resources to train and hone and refine himself. Having wealth he can grow more and employ it generously, and yet profitably. Being talented he may perfect his talents, being strong he may use his strength for much benefit, being wise he may counsel well and discipline himself, being intelligent he may cut through problems like a keen scalpel and overcome obstacles others do not even yet perceive.

    He does not have the natural dire circumstances of the suffering man to act as impetus to action, but he may take note of his gifts and his abundance and decide by sheer force of will to employ himself to some good end, not because he has been forced to do so, but because it is right and it is his obligation. To whom much is given much is expected. He may recognize and engage in his own course of Habile Oblige, the Obligation of the Able. And in time and with effort he will come to realize that he works not in his own end, but so that, in some way others do not have to suffer what he always avoided. Trained, capable, resourced, determined, he is then ready to act. And so he does.

    Neither the Suffering Man nor the Surplused Man is superior one to the other, or to anyone else for that matter, but both are capable of astonishing accomplishments when so driven, either by what they wish to avoid, or by what they feel obligated to achieve. But both must remember and be driven by virtues in their actions and in their objectives so as not to fall prey to pettiness and self-indulgence and self-excuse for their potential self-absorption.

    And of course all kinds of variation and amalgamation exist between these two extremes.

    But basically you have two types of accomplished men: those who achieve through suffering, and those who achieve through surplus.

    The trick of course is to let neither circumstance become either a snare, or an excusable and justified gratification for failure.

    But into every life should fall some rain and suffering, so as to prepare and plant the ground for a full and ripe manhood (or womanhood). And if no such rain falls, or the volume is too diminished to stimulate growth, then that man must put his hand fearlessly to the plow anyway and till the earth himself, must water his own field and plant the seeds of his own deeds and accomplishments.

    For when nothing is ventured, be that by necessity or by sheer force of will, then nothing is attained.

    And if nothing was attained in the course of a man’s life, then he never truly lived.

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