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March 28, 2013

Losing My Way

The Editorial Staff will be posting something eventually. We're at the end of a very long project at work that has to be done by the end of this week and have been working pretty much around the clock. During a coffee break last night, we went looking for something over at Elise's place and found a link to this old post from December of 2009 - one we'd long forgotten ever having written.

It sums up a lot of things we've been noodling over of late:

Now, at 50, I look back with the knowledge that I have taken those first few steps along the downward path. It seems funny to me now, all those years of wishing, hoping, struggling to reach some far off goal. To improve myself. During the election I listened to Barack and Michelle Obama and I realized that there is a vast gulf between what they believe - their expectations - and mine. I grew up in a different America: one in which failure was always a possibility but in which there was also the promise of abundance beyond my wildest dreams. In many ways that is the world we live in now. Our homes, cars, electronic devices are newer, faster, cheaper, and more fully functional than anything I dreamed of back then.

What disturbed me about their words was the realization that they viewed struggling and uncertainty as the Enemy. Whereas I viewed those things as the means to an end; goads that made me uncomfortable but also provided the impetus to propel me from my present state into a far better existence. They made me dissatisfied but also gave me hope that tomorrow would be better than today.

I think Instapunk touched on an interesting thought in his essay. The God I grew up with was a demanding God. We were taught that man is sinful by nature and that only by constant struggle can we hope to transcend our lower selves. That was the essence and the meaning of life: constant struggle to overcome; to improve; to adapt and conquer. And that struggle - the source of our present prosperity and security - is precisely what many of us seek to eliminate.

Their God is a non-judgmental, multicultural God. He sets forth no immutable laws, draws no bright lines between Good and Evil. And to a large extent even conservatives have bought into this seductive trap. We don't want to be judgmental of others. But more importantly we don't really want to find ourselves wanting. We have forgotten the purpose of discomfort, of shame, of having to deal with the disapprobation of others.

I feel lately that I'm losing my sense of perspective. I'm sure part of this just the long work hours and lack of sleep.

I worry that we've become so focused on defense that we're defending things we shouldn't. There are so many things I want to say, but I don't have the time to think about (or write) them, and so I throw out hastily written posts that are easily misunderstood and are (I fear) doing more harm than good.

Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. Mine, I suspect, lies in occasionally managing a decent job of defending what is good. I'm not good on attack - I'm better at building up than tearing down.

It's a poor match for the spirit of the times. Not sure what to do about that.

Posted by Cassandra at March 28, 2013 08:42 AM

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Comments

Chin up! A forum for free thoughts and discussion starting from an opinion piece or a string of thoughts by the hostess is always good; unless said hostess starts to control and direct the discussion in a manner deemed inappropriate by the participants.

As for perspective, it is always changing and must change as we experience, learn, age, and reassess our positions

Posted by: tomg51 at March 28, 2013 10:00 AM

...unless said hostess starts to control and direct the discussion in a manner deemed inappropriate by the participants.

I'd like to see anyone try to control or direct this crew :p

Certainly beyond my ability (or desire, for that matter).

Posted by: Cassandra at March 28, 2013 12:28 PM

There may never have been a time when the 'back in my day' of one person old enough to make an appeal to one was as profoundly dichotomized from the 'present' as now. Back in my day I grew up in normal, was surrounded by normal and steeped in normal. It would have taken a well-provisioned expedition just to find 'not normal' – never mind the edges of a flat earth that daily encroach upon normal. There may never, in all the wishes and curses of "may you live in interesting times", have been more interesting times in which to live. Kind of makes one nostalgic for normal.

Posted by: George Pal at March 28, 2013 12:31 PM

"I'd like to see anyone try to control or direct this crew :p"

Spd, I think she's talkin' about you....
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at March 28, 2013 01:14 PM

George, I don't feel nostalgic so much for "normal" as I do for simply "decent". One can be decent without being particularly admirable - decency is supposed to be a floor, beneath which we don't sink without strong objection or consequence. It shouldn't strain us to meet that low standard, but these days it seems to.

People are imperfect - we fail to live up to standards all the time. But that's such a different thing from not having standards, or allowing the standard to sink to match the lowest common denominator.

I read two things earlier today that made me wonder whether we have completely lost sight of decency? I can accept that there are jerks in the world. There always will be. And I can accept that people will disagree about what the standard should be. That, too, is nothing new.

What I find really hard to stomach is when people complain about wanting to go back to the way things were, and then turn around and violate the very standards they claim to respect and want reinstated? That's not aimed at anyone here - it's coming from what I read earlier today.

I think what really shakes me is the tacit acceptance of that kind of ugliness from people who profess - often passionately - that they are all about standards.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 28, 2013 06:25 PM

If preferring to build up rather than tear down is "a poor match for the spirit of the times," then it's the times that have lost their way, not you. Don't give up!

It's not that people are straining to hit the low standard; it's that they're not aiming for a higher one. Regardless of how low one sets the target, people will fall short from time to time. As I see it, it used to be that the standard was set high, so that when people aimed at Excellence and fell short, they still hit Good Enough. Apparently people didn't like feeling inadequate when they just hit Good Enough, and set it as the new standard. Now, they aim instead at Good Enough, and inevitably still fall short. They've eliminated the margin of safety afforded by aiming at Excellence.

Posted by: Matt at March 29, 2013 03:38 PM

I think blogging seems to naturally lend itself to defense - and the best defense is a good offense:

He said what? He's an idiot. Here's why.

It is, at least for me, much easier to write when I View With Alarm than when I Travel Hopefully; much easier to write in reaction to (attack, if you will) someone else than to write from a self-generated sense of the importance of something that is good and right. Perhaps the latter is a form of vulnerability: standing for something can leave me feeling much more exposed than standing against something.

I'm not blogging right now because I've just had arm surgery (and this comment is about the limit of my typing ability) but even before the surgery I noticed that I lacked the energy to blog about stuff that outraged me. The outrages weren't new and what I had to say about them wasn't new or, even if I hadn't said it before someone else had. Most important, I didn't have any sense such writing would do any good, change anyone's mind, make any difference.

Perhaps the reason I felt that way is that attack doesn't do any of those things, not really. What can make a difference is exactly what you see as your strength: defending what is good, building up rather than tearing down. It may be a poor match for the spirit of the times but I suspect that may be exactly what makes it so valuable.

Posted by: Elise at March 29, 2013 07:16 PM

As I see it, it used to be that the standard was set high, so that when people aimed at Excellence and fell short, they still hit Good Enough. Apparently people didn't like feeling inadequate when they just hit Good Enough, and set it as the new standard. Now, they aim instead at Good Enough, and inevitably still fall short. They've eliminated the margin of safety afforded by aiming at Excellence.

Matt, I used to think that the approach you just outlined pretty much defined conservatism. It wasn't that we thought people were - or ought to be - perfect. It was more that we understand that without standards and the sometimes painful consequences that can accompany failing to live up to them, there's precious little incentive for any of us to be any better than we were born to be. We totally got, "hate the sin, not the sinner".

Things have gotten so nasty lately, that I'm seeing a lot of conservatives label what used to be considered traditional morals (or just common decency) as political correctness run amok.

If we don't believe in setting standards and being accountable for our actions, than why would anyone want to be a conservative? How do I sell my kids on conservatism if they see vocal and prominent conservatives publicly flouting the standards they claim to stand for?

We all understand human frailty. I've tried to live a good life, and much of the time I have fallen woefully short of being the person I want to be. I'm the last person on earth who would condemn another human being for being unable to do what I've been unable to do - live up to my own standards. But the solution is not to lower our standards.

Thanks so much for your comment.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2013 09:09 PM

I'm not blogging right now because I've just had arm surgery (and this comment is about the limit of my typing ability) but even before the surgery I noticed that I lacked the energy to blog about stuff that outraged me. The outrages weren't new and what I had to say about them wasn't new or, even if I hadn't said it before someone else had. Most important, I didn't have any sense such writing would do any good, change anyone's mind, make any difference.

I'm so glad you're taking the time off to heal, and not because you're quitting. I was very much saddened to see that you were on hiatus, and was worried that it would be permanent.

I hope your recovery is swift. Your writing encourages me, Elise. You have a rare gift for picking apart complex issues.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2013 09:13 PM

One of the things I learned in my years in theatre is that building is important, and tearing down is important, clearing the stage for the next show. The former is harder and takes longer, the latter is easier, quicker, and usually done with a hangover.


What is important and what remains, though, is what the audience takes away from the performance (by writers, directors, designers, actors, and crews) -- and that is what you have built.

Posted by: htom at April 2, 2013 12:54 AM

"I was very much saddened to see that you were on hiatus, and was worried that it would be permanent."

Hmmm....now you know how we feel *sometimes*.
0>:~}

Posted by: DL Sly at April 3, 2013 03:37 PM

Hmmm....now you know how we feel *sometimes*.

That's a very kind thing to say :)

I don't know what it is about the Internet, but there are times when it grates on my last nerve. It's fairly easy to avoid boneheads in meatspace, and consequently I rarely find out what they're thinking.

I need to learn not to read the comments on some sites.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 3, 2013 04:11 PM

"That's a very kind thing to say :)"

Hey heyheyhey!!! None of that!


You'll ruin my reputation.
0>;~/

Posted by: DL Sly at April 3, 2013 06:40 PM