Getting Messy: Some Thoughts on the Good Samaritan

I am not a Biblical scholar. Not even close. In fact, I have a friend I ask when I need a Bible reference for my writing. Nevertheless, I find myself thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan and how it applies to our lives today. If you are still reading this post, I ask that you read it for what it is: not commentary or interpretation of the Bible, but simply thoughts triggered by the parable.

I imagine that everyone raised Christian remembers the parable, and those who were not probably have some familiarity with it.  To paraphrase, Luke 10: 29-37, it goes like this:

Seeking a qualification on “love our neighbors,” someone asks Jesus to define what is meant by “neighbor.” As usual, instead of giving a clearly defined rule that could be twisted for other purposes, Jesus relays a story of a traveler who was beaten, robbed, and left half dead by the side of the road. A priest, and later a Levite – a man who would have had high level religious and political duties – went to the other side of the road and walked passed the man. A Samaritan – a member of a group hated by Jesus’s audience – stopped, tended to the man, and took him to an inn where he paid the innkeeper to continue the traveler’s care.

Most of us, including me, would like to believe we would behave like the Samaritan. Many of us, including me, believe we do behave that way by donating our time and money to worthy causes that assist those in need. We even give extra when a specific group is in need due to an unexpected disaster.  These are undoubtedly positive actions and provide aid to strangers, but they merely cast us in the roles of the priest and Levite in the story – not as the Good Samaritan.

Why do I say that?  Because in doing those very good deeds, we don’t do what the Samaritan did – make a one-on-one human connection. We don’t risk getting messy by touching someone – by actually connecting with a stranger who is not like us. And by not taking that risk, we miss the point.

I have continued thinking about the experience of participating in Kate Collins’ Don’t Talk to Strangers last month (see my previous post for a description). Perhaps that is the reason I was thinking about the Good Samaritan this morning. Collins created an experience that forced us to take the risk of reaching out to someone we wouldn’t normally associate with.  We had to listen to who the other person was – that was the primary requirement of the exercise. That act of listening formed a connection that wasn’t there before.

I’ve had this experience before. One of my most valued relationships is with a person I had no business talking to. We appeared to be ideological opposites in every respect. Yet, for some reason, we didn’t just talk, we listened, and in doing so, we discovered ideas behind the disparate words we use that are far more similar than we would have guessed. We also learned to understand and respect the areas where we differ. The result didn’t just benefit the goal of our dialogue, it improved us.

Still, I fail the Good Samaritan test on a regular basis – I walk through the grocery store or down the street so absorbed in myself or my duties that I barely see the people around me. Today, I will do my best to be different. I will try to raise the spirits of others rather than my own, to help others rather than help myself, and to listen rather than talk. I’m sure I won’t do it well – after all, it’s safer to remain insular in a world where differences are shouted down and waved like flags through the isolation of social media. But still, I am going to try.

Human connections are messy. It is HARD to listen to another person. Perhaps it was easier for the Samaritan because the needs of the traveler were obvious without words getting in the way of hearing with his heart. In the end, I suppose that’s what this post is about – we all need to hear with our hearts. Where our brains see divisions, our hearts hear connections. Perhaps we should listen more often.

 

(Don’t) Talk to Strangers!

Tonight, I participated in a great event organized by Kate Collins, a Ph.D. candidate in Art Education who is teaching an undergraduate class focused on the intersection of art, community, and dialog. I had been to a couple small events she had organized as part of the class, but tonight was the culminating event.  No details were given other than the name “Talk to Strangers,” so I didn’t know what to expect.

I arrived in a manicured downtown park on the river to find balloons, laughter, music, and popcorn.  It was like a child’s birthday party, Kate explained, knowing we’d all been to one at some point in our lives and probably remembered it fondly. But we all learned something else as children, she continued, that we carried forward into our adult lives: “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” But tonight was to be different. We were to pick someone out of the crowd to walk with along a trail across the river and back and talk – or more importantly to listen to what the other had to say.

I looked around the crowd for someone “safe” to hang out with for the walk, but that wasn’t really the point, was it? I found myself face to face with a woman who was also seeking a partner for the stroll and, given that we were both wearing denim jackets, we figured fate put us together. But she wasn’t someone I wanted to get to know. Not because she looked mean or smelled bad or anything like that. It was because she was beautiful, and as someone who doesn’t consider herself in that same category, I prefer to think of beautiful people as shallow and unworthy of my time. Getting to know them spoils that illusion. Nevertheless, Patty and I were now a team.

We set off on our trek across the bridge in easy conversation. Very easy. In less than a block, we’d learned that in the past few years we’d both lost our mothers who’d been vibrant women until the end and that we’d both recently gone through serendipitous career changes. And the conversation flowed from there, moving from the simple social topics of our backgrounds and where we lived to the deeper ones about the revelations that came from the loss of our mothers, to the “whiteness” of certain areas of town, to the importance of human connections. Along the way, we stopped and took pictures for a family that was in town for a convention, framing them against the backdrop of the Columbus skyline. We arrived back at the park to a party of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, dancing, and new friends.

No burning social issues were resolved tonight, nor did we achieve world peace. But true connections were made – human beings reaching out to other human beings and listening to them exist. I’m glad I met Patty tonight. She reminded me that knowing people and interacting with them in positive, meaningful ways is what life is about. And we all could spend more time learning what we have in common rather than focusing what separates us.

Talk to Strangers. It was a beautiful event. Thanks, Kate.

 

Adversity: The Source of Contentment

I have a good life. An amazing life. A wonderful husband, a son who has grown into a fine young man, friends, health, a nice house, a home gym. I’ve got it all. I even took the entire summer off work.  Not many people find themselves in my position. I am one of the luckiest people in the world. But for most of the summer if you had told me that, I would have said, “Yeah, but so what?”

A fundamental element was missing from my life: adversity. Not that it was all fun and games this summer – we lost 17 full grown trees from our yard, my son totaled my car, my dad ended up (briefly) in the hospital, and we had unexpected house guests for two weeks. But those were simply events that are normal parts of life. What was missing was adversity to give meaning to anything I did.

Adversity is important not for the suffering it causes but for the meaning it gives the choices made in its face. For instance, the choice made by a man to take a shower and get dressed in the morning is insignificant.  But put him deep in the throes of depression and that simple decision becomes an accomplishment. Or the college student who chooses to study for a test. Give her severe stomach cramps and her decision becomes a testament to her perseverance and commitment. The adversity doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or global.  But it must exist. Without it, the choices we make lack content and significance. Without it, nothing matters.

So I have examined those areas of my life in which adversity still exists – some are personal to me, and some pertaining to my writing career. I have a life where I could choose  to ignore those areas of adversity and go from day to day in a life of ease, but I choose not to. The decisions I make to face the adversity enrich my life, provide a sense of accomplishment and value, and I am grateful for that. So now, if you tell me I have a good life, I will simply smile and say, “Yes, I really do.”

 

Cows and Politics: The Deception of Words

When I first became a lawyer, I would tell my family about my cases. One evening over dinner, I told them about a farmer who sued stating that voltage running through his land was upsetting his cows. “Sucks to be him,” my husband sarcastically commented with no sympathy toward the plaintiff farmer. Exactly the response I had expected. A week later, I told him of another cow/voltage case over dinner. “Outrageous,” my husband exclaimed, stating that the farmer had better get a lot of money for his suffering or there is something wrong with the legal system. Again, exactly the response I expected. Completely different responses – but I had described the facts of the same case.

I did not lie in either description. All I did was use words that evoke different emotional responses. And it worked, even on my husband who is not an overly emotional guy. He was shocked once I told him, even though he could then see that, fact for fact, it was the same story.

That vignette illustrates the power of words, and it is not confined to a lawyer arguing his case. It happens to us every day – this unseen manipulation of our emotional response to good or bad, right or wrong. It is behind why you’ll plunk down $4.00 for a cup of Starbucks rather than make yourself coffee at home for just pennies. It’s why you’ll pay $12 for a candle from an upscale decorating shop when the same candle is in your grocery store aisle for a lot less.  And of course, it is pervasive in political campaigning.

I watched the presidential debate earlier this week, not for the debate itself (I have already voted), but to see the manipulation of people through word choice.  The purpose of the debates, the campaign rallies, and the campaign ads isn’t to change the minds of voters on the other side, or even to directly sway the undecided. Rather the purpose of these displays is to motivate the base of the “faithful” to make sure they vote and have them speak their views to their friends. The recommendation from a friend on any product is more effective than a thousand ads.

As I watched President Obama and Mr. Romney square off, I was struck that, to a great extent, they were giving the same answers to the questions – but using different words. At the same time, I watched my News Feed on Facebook explode with each “side” cheering their candidate and defiling the other over the exact same exchanges. And the acrimony has continued since the debate, with my Facebook friends slinging heavier and heavier insults, making statements, and sharing memes that would make the toughest playground bully seem like an angel in comparison. Things we would never say to each other in polite conversation, we are blasting out to the world over the internet, all over a debate where, to a great extent, the candidates did not disagree.  We are doing exactly what the campaign professionals intended for us to do.

It is human nature to assert your worldview as being correct. As a result, I suppose none of us can avoid being used as puppet mouthpieces, by telling us things using words that play into those worldviews. But it still gives me pause and just like in my novel, Foreseen, I have to ask: Is there a point where the manipulation has gone too far? And if so, have we reached that point?

I find it a difficult question to answer, but one I will continue to explore, even after this vocal election is over. But, in the meantime, did I tell you about the farmer and his cow?

Photo courtesy of Tina Philips, freedigitalphotos.net

 

A Trend Toward Good or Evil?

A couple months ago, my husband decided to fly the American flag outside out house without a great deal of thought about it.  The next day, he put the flag out again. And the day after.  Soon it was a habit, and the Red White & Blue has been outside our house on every sunny day since. Then the guy down the street decided to fly the flag at his house too. Then the family across the street from him. Then the woman the next court over.  Flags now fly all over our neighborhood everyday.

My husband hadn’t intended to start a trend, but his simple act, repeated a couple times, had a noticeable effect.  The flag flying is nice. Aside from the patriotism, it brightens up the neighborhood, and shows that people care about where they live. But what if he’d done something different? What if he’d left stopped mowing the lawn on a regular basis or if I didn’t weed the beds in the front of the house? Most of us have seen that happen, too. Then, we (speaking as the neighbors) take a break from working in our yards on a steamy summer day and think, “My yard doesn’t look too bad compared to Mark’s.” We call it quits, satisfied because we aren’t the worst yard in the neighborhood.  A new trend is started – one for the worse.

This same principle applies to all of our actions or inactions. Every deed and word from our mouths becomes a role model for others, whether we mean it to or not.

A woman setting up a seminar tried to get me to speak at it by claiming I had already agreed. She’d probably seen people lie to avoid a jam or get something they needed. So she did as well. I’m sure she didn’t think it would cause any harm, and she was probably under a lot of pressure from her company to line up speakers with good credentials. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and mapped out with shortcuts.  She and other people who have intentionally misspoken to get their way show us all that lying is acceptable.

It isn’t easy to do the right thing – to follow those rules we learned as children – when those around you are not and have no repercussions or even receive rewards for breaking the rules. All of us fail often, but still, each of us can start a trend with our own neighbors, colleagues, peers and friends simply by choosing to act truthfully, respectfully and with kindness.  People are watching you. So what kind of trend will you start? One that encourages positive acts? Or will you inspire more evil? The choice is yours.

The Angels of Summer

I didn’t think I was an unusual child. I had no perspective to realize that not everyone spent large portions of their lives talking to things other people couldn’t understand. Like the worm family that lived outside my back door, or the floating specks of dust in the air made visible by a ray of sunshine, or – the one I was reminded of on my morning walk – the angels of summer.

I would lie on my stomach. feet kicked up in the air, watching the stocky clover blooms march around the yard while above them, the angels wearing floral halos swayed gently in the breeze.  My brother would tell me to hunt for four-leaf clovers and, like a dutiful little sister, I did.  But I tired of it quickly.  Searching the ground seemed to miss the point. I didn’t need the luck my brother promised with the finding of a misformed clover. I had angels to talk to.

As the weeks passed, their halos shriveled and their pale green faces grew brown and dry in the sun. I would slide my fingers up their graceful stems, releasing the tiny brown seeds into the wind, sending them home.

I had forgotten about those angels until this morning as I kicked through a field near my house and there they were, waiting for someone to notice them. And I did, stopping to take a picture and remembering. My dad probably wondered why we had so many weeds in the yard when I was a kid or maybe he knew – they weren’t weeds to me.

He Left Us with Inspiration

Ray Bradbury passed away yesterday. I am saddened by the loss of one of my childhood heros, and my heart goes out to his family and friends. My earliest memories of being truly intrigued by a book came from him.  The book was  Something  Wicked This Way Comes. I was captured by the brooding recklessness of Jim Nightshade, perhaps because I was much more like Will Halloway. I thrilled to the words on those pages, and was astounded at how they left something, lingering behind.

I read every Bradbury work I could get my hands on after that. My favorites were The Martian Chronicles,  I Sing The Body Electric, A Sound of Thunder, and, well, many, many others.  If you have read only Fahrenheit 451 as required reading in school, I recommend you delve into some of his other works.  Often dark, often funny, always poignant. His imagination, his stories, and his imagery inspire me. And we are all fortunate that he has left those gifts for us to continue to enjoy.

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury.  And thank you for your enduring inspiration.

Though I am old and wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

~W.B. Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds


An Xmas Carol by William M. Baird

Preface: Many years ago, my father wrote a skit, replete with bad jokes, for the family to perform on Christmas Eve. We all had parts and none of us, other than my dad, had read any of the skit before being thrust into the dramatic performance. It nearly came to a halt when we all came down with an uncontrollable case of the giggles. While cleaning my office this week, I ran across the script and concluded that the message – and the fun – should be shared, even if it is not the holiday season.  So with thanks to my dad, William M. Baird (Grandpa Scrooge in the skit), and credit to Charles Dickens, Groucho Marx, Douglas Adams, L. Frank Baum, Hee Haw, and others,  I hope you enjoy!

SCENE 1: Grandpa Scrooge’s Family Room. Mark (son-in-law) arrives.

MARK: Merry Xmas Grandpa Scrooge and Grandma Jean!

GRANDMA: Merry Xmas to you!

SCROOGE:  Xmas! Bah, humbug! Don’t talk Xmas to me. Xmas is for simpletons.

MARK: Why, Grandpa Scrooge. How can you say that. Xmas is a wonderful time of year. Everyone is happy and cheerful. Why, look at Grandma Jean.  She loves Xmas. See how bright and cheerful she is?  And you smell good, too, Grandma. What are you wearing?

GRANDMA: Clean socks.  Don’t waste your time trying to get Grandpa Scrooge to like Xmas. He’s hopeless.

SCROOGE (to Mark): Humbug! Look where believing in Xmas has got your wife. She’s defending Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in a hit-and-run accident. I didn’t know she was a criminal lawyer.

MARK: Aren’t they all?  Well, I’m sorry you are such a grouch about Xmas. I have to leave. Happy Xmas, Grandma Jean. Merry Xmas, Grandpa Scrooge.

GRANDMA: Happy Xmas, Mark.

SCROOGE: Bah, humbug! Good riddance. Why did we let him in the family, anyway? I’m going to bed. Goodnight.

Grandpa Scrooge falls asleep on the floor.

SCENE 2: Grandpa Scrooge’s Family Room. There is a knock at the door. Scrooge opens it to find Glinda the Good Witch.

SCROOGE: Why it’s Glinda, the Good Witch. What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in Oz?

LISA: I’m not Glinda now. Oz is closed for repairs. Times being what they are, I accepted this temporary gig as the Spirit of Xmas Past. I’m here to remind you of a time when you really enjoyed Xmas.

SCROOGE: Xmas? Humbug! I never enjoyed Xmas. Xmas is for fools. It’s how the merchants and retailers get us to buy useless trash for each other. I’ll never enjoy Xmas. By the way, now that I see you in the light, you look a lot like my daughter-in-law, Lisa. Are you sure you’re not her?

LISA: Of course not. You can’t choose your relatives, but you can choose your in-laws. You don’t think I would choose you, do you?

SCROOGE: No, I guess not. Say, you don’t have any talcum powder, do you?

LISA: No, I don’t. Come. I need to show you an Xmas you really enjoyed. Walk this way.

SCROOGE: If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the talcum powder.

A vision of three young children appears before them.

SCROOGE: Why look at those lovely children. Who are they?

LISA: Surely you recognize your own grandchildren!

SCROOGE: Don’t call me Shirley.

LISA: It is Xmas, 1990. They are little Lianne, little Stephanie, and baby Andrew.

SCROOGE: How beautiful they are! Now I remember. Lianne was 6 and she talked all the time.

LIANNE: talk…talk…talk…talk…talk…(continue softly until the end of the scene).

LISA: And Stephanie was 4 and she constantly fussed at Lianne.

STEPHANIE: fuss…fuss…fuss…fuss…(continue softly until the end of the scene).

LISA: And Andrew was only 3 months old and just beginning to babble.

ANDREW: babble…babble…babble…babble…(continue softly until the end of the scene).

LISA: Don’t you remember how happy you were every Xmas?

SCROOGE: Yes, I do. Being a grandfather and spoiling the grandchildren is so much fun. I almost forgot. Grandchildren are almost as much fun as pets. Not to mention Nikki and Snow.

LISA: Nikki and Snow?

SCROOGE: I told you not to mention them. They’re not in this story. What happens now?

LISA: Now, you will be visited by the Spirit of Xmas Present. Adios. Hasta la vista. Boujour. Auf wiedersehen.  Ta ta.

SCROOGE: How do you like that? She didn’t even say goodbye.

SCENE 3 Terri’s house. 

TERRI: So, Dad. What’s up?

SCROOGE: Terri!  What are you doing here?

TERRI; I lost the Rudolph suit, so I decided to look for honest work. So far, the best I can do is this temp job as the Spirit of Xmas Present.

SCROOGE: I hope we are going to see those delightful grandchildren again.

TERRI: How stupid can you be? Look around! It is Xmas present. Here we are. At my house. All gathered here, reading this weird play.

SCROOGE: If you think I’m stupid, you should have seen my grandfather. He was stooped from the waist and couldn’t straighten up.

STEPHANIE: Lianne, is there a way we can get out of this dumb play?

LIANNE: I’m afraid not, Steph.  If we don’t do this, we’re out of the will.

GRANDMA: If you girls think you have it bad, think about me.  I could have married Harry Hasegawa.

SCROOGE: Well, Spirit, the grandkids seem to be fine. The girls are beautiful. Andrew is handsome. They are all smart and talented.

ANDREW: Yes, we all take after Grandma Jean.

SCROOGE: Bah, humbug. You’re out of the will, Andrew. What happens next, Terri?

TERRI: I don’t know. I haven’t read to the end of the play.

SCENE 4(A):

SCROOGE: Here’s someone new. You look like my son.

MIKE: Yes, it’s me. I’m earning some extra Xmas money as the Spirit of Xmas Future. Look into this crystal ball to see the future.

SCROOGE: Isn’t that the crystal ball that belongs to the Wicked Witch of the West?

MIKE: Yes, it is. Oz is closed for repairs, so we borrowed it. Look into it so we can get this play done with.

ANDREW: No, Uncle Mike. This is a wonderful play and I am really enjoying it. Whoever wrote it is really talented.

SCROOGE:  Watch it, Andrew. You are beginning to sound like your friend Nick. But okay, you’re back in the will.  I see in the ball that its Xmas 2040. There are three miserable-looking people there. Do we know them?

MIKE: Don’t you recognize your grandchildren? They all decided they agree with you about how stupid Xmas is, and they have become mean, bitter, and ignorant. You can speak to them if you wish.

SCROOGE:  Andrew, you look awful What happened to you?

ANDREW: Well, I decided if Xmas is stupid, then education is stupid, too. There is probably no meaning to life and the universe. So, I dropped out of school. The only job I could get is a garbage collector. I don’t earn much, but I can get my clothes and lunches free. I wish you hadn’t been so negative about Xmas, Grandpa Scrooge.

SCROOGE:  And you, the skinny, dark-haired woman sitting on the pile of used shoes. Do I know you?

STEPHANIE: I’m Stephanie. Don’t you recognize me? I decided if Xmas has no meaning, then there is no meaning to life and the universe. I lost all ambition and failed out of school. The only job I could find is here at Goodwill, sorting these smelly old running shoes. Why did I ever listen to you about Xmas?

SCROOGE: Then you – the woman beside that big stinking pile of whatever. You must be Lianne.

LIANNE: Yes, it is I. No matter how poor and unhappy I am, I still manage to speak with proper grammar.

SCROOGE:  What happened to you?

LIANNE: I decided if Xmas has no meaning, then there is no meaning to life and the universe, either. I began drinking cheap Xmas wine and smoking funny cigarettes. I seldom take a bath, so like a dog with no nose, I smell bad. The only job I could get is here at the zoo, shoveling elephant poop. Why did I ever listen to you about Xmas?

SCROOGE: Spirit Mike, this is awful! Isn’t there something we can do to prevent this?

MIKE: What do you mean, we? This is your mess and surely you must be the one to clean it up.

SCROOGE:  I said not to call me Shirley. What do I have to do?

MIKE: The next scene is the last one (EVERYONE APPLAUDS). Maybe that will give you an idea.

SCENE 4(B)

SCROOGE:  What happens now?

MIKE: It seems there are alternative universes, and by our choices, we determine which one we live in. Look into the crystal ball, and we will see the alternate universe in the year 2040, which came about because you had a much more positive attitude about Xmas.

SCROOGE: I see the same three people, but they look clean and happy. Lianne, what happened to you?

LIANNE: Well, your attitude about Xmas was so happy, I decided there was real meaning to life and the universe. I worked hard, got a degree in veterinary medicine and moved to Hollywood. I married James Marsters and made a fortune by developing a new species of vampire bats that hospitals use to draw blood more efficiently.

SCROOGE: And Stephanie, what about you? What is that big house I see behind you?

STEPHANIE: You were so upbeat about Xmas, I knew there was probably real meaning to life and the universe as well. I worked really hard at my running and won every race I ever entered. Then, because I liked to run so much, I ran for President, and won that, too!

SCROOGE: That’s wonderful.  What about you, Andrew? What’s that medal I see around your neck?

ANDREW: You had such a positive attitude about Xmas, I knew for sure there was real meaning to life and universe. So I studied and became a scientist, and I discovered the answer to the most important question about life and the universe. The answer is 42. The medal you see around my neck is the Nobel Prize in Physics.

SCROOGE: I see the error of my ways. I’ll never be grouchy again. Merry Christmas, everyone.

ANDREW: God bless us, every one.

*  *  *  *

  

Money is a Selfish Master

I’ve been thinking about the important connections in my life – those things and relationships I would willingly endure real sacrifices to maintain.  The list isn’t startling – my husband, my son, my family and close friends, one of my old bosses, my internet access (yes, it does rise to that level).

Money isn’t on that list – or even close to it.  So why is most of my time and nearly all of my energy consumed by the acquisition and maintenance of money?  Of course, I need money to survive in this world.  I must keep a roof over my head and food on the table and a number of other necessities of the modern world.  But all too often I have substituted money, itself, as the goal.  And what have I learned?  Money is a selfish master.

Money sets itself as a self-perpetuating goal.  For the first two or three years of our marriage, my husband and I lived below the poverty line.  We ate the surplus cheese distributed from the back a white box truck.  We cooked together.  Cleaned together.  Anything that broke, we fixed ourselves or did without. And we had fun. I’m not saying there weren’t downsides. Carefully calculating the cost of the food in the cart  to make sure we’d have enough money left to pay the rent was not “fun.” But we had time and energy to spend on the things we enjoyed.

We don’t do those things much anymore. We talk about them.  Often, by the end of the weekend, we tell ourselves we are going to go for walks together every day. We are going to do more cooking.  We are going to dig into the home repair projects.  And then on Monday, we go to work, our jobs consume us, and we find ourselves sitting at home, watching TV or staring at the computer, not talking, not moving, and not getting anything done.  So eventually, we pay someone to do those things we had planned to do ourselves.  We hire a handyman to fix the molding and paint the trim, and we go to restaurants where someone else will cook.  But those things cost money, so we must work harder to pay for those things.

Wait.  The things we enjoyed are the things we are now paying someone else do to because we’re too tired from working to pay for those people to do them? That doesn’t make much sense.  But, for me at least, it is the nature of pursuing money.  The goal keeps getting higher, remaining just out of reach, while forcing away life’s simple pleasures.

So I’ve decided to do something about it.  I am stepping away from the work world for a few months to readjust both my priorities and my budget.  This isn’t going to be a world-travel kind of sabbatical, although I imagine we will do some exploring.  I will continue my writing and plan to spend far more time on it. But some of the time I had spent in the pursuit of money will be used remembering how to live with less of it, and doing the things I’ve always enjoyed.

I am sure there will be ups and downs, some expected, some not.  Where will this lead?  What will happen?  I don’t know, and that is something new and exciting in my life. That, alone, is good.  Stay tuned.

So You’re Not Voldemort. So What?

Fiction has created some great characters as the embodiment of pure evil. Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Sauron in Lord of the Rings, Evil (by definition) in Time Bandits, and perhaps the Baron Harkonnen in Dune are good examples. Real life rarely creates such clear examples of evil, although Adolf Hitler may be the exception to that rule. For the most part, however, this level of evil exists only in fiction. And yet, people seem to cling to it as proof that they are “good.” Even worse, they demand the happy endings they see in fiction.

Why do I say this? Because I see it frequently in my law practice. All of my clients are “good” people, in that they aren’t malicious. They are  honest, hard-working folk who hold some sort of professional license and have made mistakes. The nurse who, during a hectic shift, makes a medication error but the patient, fortunately, isn’t harmed. The pharmacist who, in the stressful mail-order prescription world, repeatedly mis-counts pills. The doctor who signs drug order forms completed by her staff without recognizing they are incorrect. These are mistakes and they happen. But about a third of my clients have difficulty accepting that they must endure consequences for their actions. They tell me that others have done worse, or that they didn’t intend to do anything wrong. And because of this, they firmly believe nothing should happen to them. Essentially, they are saying they aren’t evil, so there should be no consequences. But that isn’t how things work – in the real world or in fiction.

Consider Paul Atreides in Dune. He single-mindedly seeks revenge on his enemies for his father’s death, but at what cost? For him, the price is paid with the murder of his infant son, and perhaps, with his own sanity. Or think of Harry Potter. His relentless pursuit of Voldemort, disregarding the advice of those around him, costs his godfather his life. The protagonists in these novels are far from perfect, and their flaws and mistakes have serious consequences, even though they were well-intentioned.

Everyone makes mistakes and most should be given a second chance. But having a second chance is not the same as wiping the slate clean. Actions, whether intended or not, have consequences, and trust takes effort to restore. The consequences cannot be avoided.

In other words, you don’t get a free pass in life, simply because you aren’t Voldemort.