Note: The pictures are of Graceland unless otherwise noted. So the topic, pictures, and title are all generally unrelated.
It is interesting to think about the people who make us better people. Sometimes it’s the best friend whose staunch pacifism reminds you that instead of mocking detractors with sharp words, you are better off being kind, exploring both sides of the issue, and trying to win them over to your side. Sometimes it’s the old man in the park walking around picking up garbage with his dog who has been doing it every morning for thirteen years. One I’ve known for half a decade, the other I’ll never meet again.
These are the kinds of people who are easy to differentiate from the rest. At risk of sounding cliché, they do what other people say “somebody really should do that…” Simply the act of resisting the temptation to slight a detractor in a clever way or keep walking past the piece of trash shows a confidence of self that allows them to have morality, and stick to it. They are infectious in a way, and have great social power. To use an illustrative example from a book I’m reading, Stranger in a Strange Land, if you pass around a church collection plate already full of money, and tell people they can take some or leave some, you’ll likely end up with more than had you given an empty plate.
The theory is that, unless you are dressed in rags (by circumstance, not choice) and clearly need it, nobody will take because other people around them are giving. Unless everyone starts taking, theoretically nobody will. The kind of people I am talking about create the same effect without the money. They generate positive social pressure by doing good where most do nothing, and serve as a reminder of right thing to do in a world full of bad signals. Best of all, it works.
I was trying to figure out how to respond to someone who had been rude to me. I was writing a response, pleased with my clever way of pointing out how ignorant they were. Then I stopped and remembered my friend. I rewrote the response entirely, phrasing it instead to make the person feel good while still arguing in my favor. Instead of never hearing from them again, or receiving an equally clever rude response, a friendly conversation ensued, and a detractor was turned into a regular reader of my work. I could only do that because I had the time to stop and think while my internet connection stopped working, but developing the ability to do so in person on a regular basis must be an incredible skill.
In the second situation, I ended up climbing into a river to retrieve an empty coke can and having a long conversation about healthy eating for people and dogs (the man owned an organic pet food store.) At some point, I intend to convert my eating style a bit to reflect my desire to live past 50, and the conversation gave me hope that it would not be as difficult as I thought.
So this blog post is not really about anything but my own thoughts. On another note, the USA Today article worked out well, and we now have a block of subscribers who are not friends or family. Back to my thoughts:
It is interesting how much routine follows you around, then how stifling it becomes. Since campgrounds here cost a minimum of 29.99 a night, and hotels can reach the hundreds easily, I have been sleeping in my car in a Nashville suburb behind a giant antique mall. In the morning, I wake up at about 6:15-6:45, patronize Wal-Green’s bathroom, and go over a local park. For the first hour, I am alone. Then come dog walkers. Afterwards, twenty something female joggers pop up. Half an hour later, they return with young kids and husbands in tow. The kids pass me as I try to teach myself guitar, and stare until I say hello, or they knock into one another and fall down. They cry for about ten seconds, then get up and start running again. The young parents sigh and stop by to chat. They complement my newfound ability to tune a guitar, presuming I can also play one.
After an hour or so of trying to learn the F chord, my fingers bruise so I pull out a book. I have been reading lately a two books which consider mostly psychology. Religious psychology, romantic psychology, and every other type of psychology really. In one, that stupid pyramid of Maslow’s Needs comes up. I have never found it very useful, so I created my own based on what I thought would make me happy and help me reach my full potential. Upon nearly finishing, I realize I have no idea what happens after reaching my theoretical full potential. Oh well.
I left a box blank because I could not find anything else on my mind at the moment. What have I left out that I could place in the empty spot? Should anything be taken away or replaced? To me, love and friendship make up the base of the pyramid. People will do virtually anything for social acceptance. People give up their savings, go back on their morals, or will go without eating in order to buy a car that shows off their social relevance. In places where Maslow’s shelter and food are rare, love and friendship are stronger. To me, that makes them the base of any happy or productive life, and the only truly necessary components.
Health and wealth shoot up the outer layer, because without the health to physically accomplish anything and the wealth to acquire the tools and time necessary, nothing else is possible. However, they are not the base because love and friendship can bring happiness regardless of health and wealth. In a way, they are superficial because they are both almost unnecessary. They open doors, but do not actually create the happiness and productivity in most cases I have found. The pyramid could stand without them.
In the case of music and professional, the inner layer, the pyramid could also stand without them. Though I hope to have a job I love, no job at all would not be so bad either. As far as music goes, it is a part of my life I have either resisted cultivating or ignored. I have always imagined being able to make music, but have never taken the time to learn how. I think it will be an important part of my happiness and productivity, but I place it in the inner layer because it may not be necessary.
The inner blocks represent mental hurdles I hope to jump. As I develop those skills, they will likely be replaced with new goals, but at this time they seem to be the most useful in transitioning from someone who is happy, to someone who can make large groups of others happy too.
At the top, my full potential sits as a badge of accomplishment. Ironically, I will never reach it because I have a hunch the human mind has more secrets than I can come close to uncovering in a lifetime. Luckily, I needn’t know what comes after therefore. That said, I hope to reach a level where I feel like my life has been productive, helpful, happy, and moral to my own standards. After that, I hope to be able to share whatever I have learned with other people.
That was yesterday morning. This morning I learned to tune my guitar and considered what exactly I imagine my code of morality to be. I figure I should actually define it if I hope to follow it. I’ll leave with an image from Stranger in a Strange Land: Two main character’s are discussing Edward Eriksen’s sculpture “The Little Mermaid” when the older one says that she was designed to be sad because she had to choose between the man of her dreams and her home. In choosing the prince, she is doomed to be forever homesick, looking out at the sea but unable to swim in it. The character explains that the message of good art in any form is not hidden, but is bare, a distinctly human emotion. In this case, Eriksen is showing the impossible choice, when both options cause great pain.