I am going to take a break from satire and discuss a very serious subject with you.
Do you like the iPhone or iPad in your hands? Thank Steve Jobs, the visionary behind them. Do you like the convenience of shopping through Amazon. Thank Jeff Bezos, the visionary. Do you search through Google? In the beginning, their motto was “don’t be evil”, and now they abet china’s suppression of freedom and suppress YouTube videos of viewpoints they don’t agree with. They are doing evil. The list goes on. Why are so many visionaries betraying their vision and/or their spouses? I don’t think that’s their intent.” I never meant for that to happen” is the refrain when they betray, the legacy of that refrain is regret. I promise you, your last conscious day on earth will be focused on what you regret, not what you have accomplished.
Just so you know, I have faced my last day on earth 8 times–in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Wyoming and Vietnam–yet here I am. Eight times the Lord has allowed me to taste death being imminent, and then snatched me from it’s jaws. Three of those times were in Vietnam. It was on the way to Vietnam that I had the big Revelation that led to the rule for the rest of my life. But you probably don’t want to know it. Do you? I’m teasing. Of course you do. If you don’t, well it’s my blog, you’re going to get it anyway. 😹
Here’s the deal. When I was on the flight to the ‘Nam, October 1969, thinking about death or worse, being maimed for life. When I said goodbye to my parents at the gate of Maguire Air Force base, I could see it in their eyes that they didn’t expect me to come back alive. Then I asked myself, “what if you do survive, how will you live the rest of your life?” I thought about the MyLai massacre of 1968, when a platoon of American soldiers murdered defenseless civilians. It remained the biggest scandal of the war. A group of mostly decent young men, barely out of their teens, being subjected to unbearable stresses, yielding to angry frustration with an elusive enemy who was killing their buddies with booby traps, yielding to an unreasoning hatred of people who were inscrutable to them, but most of all, surrendering to the expediency of the moment and the pressure of the peer group to hit those who were under their power, who became the proxies for the warriors they couldn’t find to hit.
The next thought was, “I need a resolution to help me avoid acting out of expediency and frustration.” The resolution I adopted was this. “I resolve not to do anything that I will look back on with remorse and regret, no matter what.” The gospel of positive thinking, the therapeutic culture and the cult of the visionary all tell us, “visualize and affirm what you want, don’t dwell on the negative, live your life without regret.” If that works so well, after the last 50 years of preaching it, why are divorces, single parent homes, male abdication of leadership and fearful, confused youth at perhaps an all time high? Let’s go back to my resolution. I could have made a list of all my goals for surviving Vietnam, I could have visualized positive outcomes, but when I came to my My Lai moment, what would have prevailed, my positive thinking or my negative–what I would not do–resolution? When Steve Jobs was dying slowly of cancer, was he reveling in all the tech his vision was responsible for, or was he regretting that he had not been a better husband and father? What do you think? I don’t know what kind of husband or father Bill Gates is, but the Gates Foundation is his focus now, doing good in the world. If he has time to think about his life before he dies, I would wager he will be prouder of the foundation than of Microsoft, even though Microsoft stock funded the foundation.
So back to the question in bold. Isn’t not doing easier than doing? I love analogies, so how about a universal issue. When I wanted to reduce my weight 20 pounds, I read that eating habits are far more important than exercise. No matter how hard you work out, you won’t burn close to the number of calories in the most popular menu item in 20 of the most well known national chain restaurants. I determined that of all my bad eating/drinking habits, the easiest to give up were drinking juices and eating ice cream. So I stopped buying both, drank water, ate Greek yogurt instead of ice cream and reduced the size of each meal. Now that I’m 72, I weigh two pounds more than 50 years ago. I had my MyLai moment in Vietnam, and remembered my resolution, giving me the will to resist peer pressure. This resolution sort of took over my life. It kept me from the temptations of adultery, of defrauding my clients, and the temptation of trying to be right all the time. Avoiding regret helped me admit to my children when I was wrong and ask their forgiveness. Okay, maybe it’s just me, but I have found it easier to do the right things by avoiding the wrong things. I think of it this way: If you were to make a list of everything you wanted to have and accomplish in your life, it would be unmanageably long. Too many decisions usually leads to decision constipation, the inability to get started. The list of everything you wanted to avoid doing would be much shorter, and you will encounter almost all those crossroads in your life. When you do, you may not know what to do, but you will know what not to do. “If I do X, will I regret it later?” is much easier to answer than “if I do Y, will I be glad later?” Why do I say X is easier than Y? If I cheat I will regret it, no matter how it seems to work out. If I cheat on my wife with Jane Fonda in her prime, will I be glad later? Glad of what? Betrayal of my wife? A one night stand with Jane? All parties–including my children– disrespecting me for my infidelity? If that example doesn’t convince you of the wisdom of “negative” resolutions, then you deserve Jane Fonda. Read about her life, you’ll see what I mean.
The major reason for my contention though is the Ten Commandments. Of the ten, two command “thou stall” (honor father and mother, and keep the sabbath day holy). The other eight are what? “Thou shall not…” What more need I say?