Cheap Wisdom

The obvious truths about life often escape us because we’re too distracted trying to figure out the complex issues. However, just as common sense is not so common, remembering the basics requires more than just a basic understanding of what life is about. It’s odd that those that have achieved much are trying to simplify their lives, yet those that have achieved little are striving for more. It’s also odd that those that are striving for simplicity are constantly reminding those that have less to be content with less.

I’ve found that by mingling with the weak, I was always reminded of my own weaknesses and found comfort in being among those that were equally or more weak. However, in mingling with the puny, I found myself being belittled and undermined because they needed me to be reduced to their stature so that they would feel better about themselves. This seems oddly familiar when considered within the context of my former observation of mingling with the weak. It seems I’m deluding myself about my own puny-ness.

It stands to reason that if we wish to improve ourselves we should associate with those that are better than who we are, or who have achieved what we aspire to achieve. However, unless this plays out in the workplace where we’re trying to move up into a higher salary bracket, in life as it occurs from day to day, such associations require a healthy dose of humble pie because it’s only in acceptance of our shortcomings or weaknesses that we are able to acknowledge that we can obtain benefit from someone that is more accomplished than ourselves. Let that someone be in our immediate circle of peers or contemporaries and even healthy doses of humble pie are insufficient to encourage any meaningful exchange of life’s lessons.

It has been said that the ability to state the obvious is a sign of genius. I’m not so sure this is true even though I did profess to possess exactly this quality today. All in jest of course. The truth is, genius is over rated. Being able to see the obvious only requires a focus that does not consider the distractions. A clear grasp of purpose and objective makes it easy to navigate through the gunk in order to arrive at the desired destination, or at least to continue to head in that general direction. Unfortunately we afford distractions too much importance because we often set out without clearly understanding what it is that we wish to achieve or acquire. Like they say, when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do. Similarly, when we set out with only a vague understanding of what it is that we need to achieve, it’s very likely that we’ll achieve very little, or worse, something completely unintended!

Of course there are times when we’ll find ourselves in the middle of the perfect storm of lethargy in which case we’ll be the unwitting recipients of a seemingly great accomplishment simply because we allowed ourselves to unconsciously wander into a domain that we would never have consciously explored in the first place. Cheap wisdom is cheap because it’s not required to be coherent, but fortunately there will always be sincere ones among us that will look for the good in us that we don’t recognise in ourselves, thereby deriving benefit out of that which we discard as meaningless or inconsequential. If only we could see ourselves through such sincere spectacles we’d probably find that we wouldn’t undermine our potential to achieve greatness as much as we do while looking at the mirror through lenses glazed with cynicism.

Composed Insanity

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt any sense of composure about me. I constantly feel as if I’m on the edge of finding that elusive balance, but each time I flirt with that notion I find myself immersed in yet another challenge or another initiative that is almost always self-imposed. Despite this, I’m not at odds with myself or my life even though it sounds or feels like I am at times. There appears to be a subtle but important difference that has emerged in the way I deal with adversity these days. On many previous occasions I resolved to be principled before being strategic, always assuming that the one negated the other, and as a result I found myself jobless on two occasions, and divorced on three.

But I now seem to have an awkward balance between principles and strategy. Awkward because it doesn’t feel like something I’m ready to embrace just yet, even though I know that it’s better than the absolutist approach I adopted before. There’s a tinge of insanity that always lurks just beneath the surface spawned by the absence of fatherly guidance in my life. My life has never been garnished with a healthy dose of mentors, coaches, or the wisdom of an older generation directly passed down to me. At every major intersection I found myself standing alone and trying to decipher the road signs without the help of a guide or manual, with only an innate sense of spirituality and resilience that has been my companion throughout my life, and a keen sense of observation that helped me to glean some wisdom from the actions of the elders that I was sometimes exposed to.

It’s difficult to explain, but the reality is that I’ve never had the benefit of a father, or a fatherly figure to refer to in times of growth or opportunity that threatened to launch me into a new phase of my life, even though I had a father until well into my adult years. My emergence from teenage naivety into my early adult years was driven by passion and purpose, with a burdensome sense of responsibility guiding my choices, always using the rights that others had over me as my guiding lights. Doing right by them always enjoyed a priority higher than satisfying my own needs, but in that I’ve found much fulfilment and resolve, as well as inspiration.

It still didn’t make the difficult decisions any easier, or the mistakes any less grave. I wrought destruction at times when I thought I was acting selflessly, but in fact my idealism misguided me to the point of stupidity, resulting in much regret. The regret always set me back a couple of years at a time whenever the consequences of my idealism overwhelmed my sense of purpose which always extinguished any sense of passion that may have been left in me. It’s these same feelings of anxiousness and restlessness that inspired the never-to-be-delivered letter that I once wrote to my daughters.

I pray that you never will understand some of what I’m going through, some of what I feel, or some of what I think…because to understand you would need to experience what I’ve experienced. And I wouldn’t want you to feel the pain and the anguish that I’ve felt that made me feel, see and think the way I do. Although it’s the same pain and anguish that has given me this appreciation for life, for a smile on a stranger’s face, or for the chirping of the birds. My wish is for you to learn from my experiences and the experiences of others because there’s so much more to life than the opportunity to make your own mistakes.

The only way you can cheat time is to learn from the accumulated wisdom of generations past. But if you insist on learning it all yourself, know that you’ll never learn more than anyone who has lived only a single lifetime without any wisdom to draw on. Know that your pain and your anguish will be unnecessary, and know that your life would only ever be half-lived, if even that. So instead I pray that you are able to cheat time, acquire a wisdom beyond what you may inherit, and give your children more than what you had to cheat time with. And if you do this, know that you have achieved more than any human being can be expected to achieve in a single lifetime. This is the only path to immortality that I know.

I wonder if they’ll ever appreciate the sentiments and sincerity in that should they ever come across it at an age when it may hold some relevance in their lives. But this is not a post about them, or what I yearn for them. It’s a post about the insanity that, being a constant in my life, allows me a sense of composure that robs me of rest, or ease. I find myself unable to remain still for long enough to appreciate the peace that exists at the tips of my fingers. That peace, that composure, is out of reach. The soul that guides the outstretched fingers remains distracted by the noise and the clutter of trying to live a life well lived, finding only turbulence and upheaval in a world full of people desperate to find silence. I’m not so unique in my desire to acquire what everyone else wants, but the path that each of us travel to arrive at this restless point is so vastly different that comparing notes would always be a futile exercise.