Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two

To my daughter, on how to lead a good life.

Dear Eowyn;
I left you and your mom sleeping in bed this morning. You are clearly about to go through another growth spurt, because you've been feeding as much as you possibly can, night and day. Consequently, both of you are fairly exhausted, and you were sleepy but cheerful when I set out for work. I've been giving some thought about what I hope for you and your future life - not just as a child, where I know we'll do our very best to keep you happy, healthy and thriving. But there will come a day when you leave the nest to set out in the world on your own, and I hope to give you the moral compass to help you find your way, and a map of skills, experiences, knowledge and love of adventure so you pick the right destination for you.

So how do we lead a good life? This is literally one of the oldest questions in the world, maybe only slightly less considered than "why are we here in the first place?" I've given much thought to the latter, and I don't know at all, nor really does anyone in human history - so if someone tells you they've got it figured out, be skeptical indeed. But the former question, I think my experience; both mistakes and triumphs, has left me in a position of at least a little bit of authority, and I want you to know what I've discovered. You'll make up your own mind, and I wouldn't have it any other way - but I hope you'll take into account what I've found to be true for me. What I've learned comes as much from my failings as from my success. If I am an imperfect example, don't take that as invalidating what I've said - take it instead as your chance to surpass me, to lead a more fulfilling life, and to pass that on to your children.

These are the things you need to lead a good life. If you've got all this, you're basically set. I'll help you get as much of this as I possibly can, but a lot of it is up to you; love, respect, honor, prosperity and health.

This you've got. You never need do anything other than be my daughter, and you'll have my love, and your mother's love too. This is always, always yours. And when I say "always always" what I mean is this; there's regular always, which usually in human terms means something like, "Forever, or until such time as we mutually agree not to, or it becomes too difficult or deleterious to continue." But I don't mean that. What I mean is - there is no possible future in which you don't have my love. If there are other universes, with other version of me and you, then all those universes also include me loving you. Always - always.

But of course, life and love is about more than just the love of your family. That lasts forever, and it's very important, but it's a sad person who never loves or is loved by anyone else. So here is my advice to you - love without fear. Love freely, and without regard for its return. Let love be a verb in your life, a thing you do; not a noun, a thing to be captured and kept. Let love be the action you do, and you will find it is also a thing in your life. Look for traits to love in others, and that is what you'll find. And why not go through life finding love in every corner, from every friend, from every stranger. Have a generous, compassionate heart - forgive others for their failings, take joy in their victories - and love will always be around you.

This, my darling, is something you will have to earn. Love comes for free - it's yours from us, and yours to give and discover. But respect comes from more than just the mere fact of human existence. And don't get me wrong, the mere fact of human existence is astonishing, and grand, and confusing and frankly a bit of a mess - and love makes it all go so much smoother. But respect comes from not who you are, but what you do, and what service you perform. A life lead in service to others is certainly a life well-lead. Consider that all the things that you seek to do have at least been attempted by others, and their experience can be of use to you. That's the source of your respect for others; understanding that they have valuable insights and skills from which you can learn, if you show them respect. Understanding your own fallibility and frailty is key to being open to respecting others - we're all hurtling through space on a rock that's twirling around a giant ball of fire, it's crazy and scary and complicated, and anyone who has figured something out has done something worthy of respect. Show respect, appreciate their accomplishments and you will find that you are in turn respected, more often than not. It's tempting to be scornful and derisive of people who are foolish or unkind. But what good is served by this? A moment of laughter on your part, and potentially a lifetime of injury and hurt from your victim. Look for what's good in people, and be as blind as you can to their failings.

But you'll want, and need, the respect of your peers. It doesn't come automatically, it comes from being of use. You must have some skill, profession, talent or service that you perform that other people value. This is a fact of the world; people are due love and compassion because they are humans like us, but respect is something every person earns for themselves. Be bold in your endeavors. Be generous in your service. Work hard and be industrious. Be industrious even in your hobbies and pastimes - cultivate in yourself the tendency to have something to show for everything you do, even the things you do for pleasure, and you will be constantly accruing respect from everyone around you. And please understand that I am completely in your corner and on your side, so naturally I'll be incredibly biased in terms of seeing your achievements of worthy of respect. But the world may not be so generous, and you may have to work hard to earn your way into the school, jobs, professions or associations that you choose. Having done so, you will justly be proud of yourself, and justly have earned the respect of the people around you.

Honor is a gift you give yourself. Once given, no one can take it from you. By honor, I mean all those traits that indicate an ethical person with an unerring moral compass that sets their purpose to working for rightness and goodness.

Be honest and forthcoming; honesty is universally admired and the basis for a true and genuine understanding between people. Embellishment as an act of kindness or (I maintain) for the sake of a good story or good laugh is usually forgivable, but perverting the truth for personal gain is a blemish on your character that never comes to a good end. Avoid the easy, lazy path of telling people what will get you out of trouble or some temporary gain, and hold instead to the high, rocky places where truth abides, and you will accrue far greater gain than any temporary advantage that comes from a lie. The truth never shifts, the truth never disappears when it is discovered - the truth is constant. Hew to it, and you will find yourself always on constant ground.

Be loyal and faithful. Your word once given is a bond - not only between you and the recipient, but also with yourself. If you are true to your word, faithful in your companionship and loyal in your friendship, you will find those bonds to be true and strong. If you pass the test of fidelity, you'll find over time the people around you are the kind of people who also pass that test. You find the company and friendship you earn - set the highest standard for yourself. Do not abuse the trust of your friends or family, because once broken it is incredibly difficult to repair.

Be courageous, physically and morally. Courage is not reckless, courage measures risk, and acts appropriately without consideration for fear. You will be afraid, of course, the only people who don't experience fear are madmen. But courage is facing the fear and acting anyway. If you must pay a personal cost to do the right thing, when confronted with some moral choice or pressure to do wrong, square your shoulders and face the storm. Whatever the short-term setback, throughout your life the pride and strength that comes from knowing that you can be bowed but not broken, bent but not dismayed is priceless. Feed the lion in your heart a steady diet of adventure. And then reassure your mother and father that the risks you take measured, ameliorated as much as possible, and that you have courage, not foolhardiness. Learning the difference between the two will entail pain and embarrassment, unless you are very, very lucky. I'll be there for you when you fall down. I once ran into a burning house to save a friend. Our house had caught fire, and he was trapped a floor above where the fire started. The price I paid for the subsequent emergency room visit was not unsubstantial - but the sure knowledge that in a moment of crisis I will act without hesitation has served me very well in all the years since, and the confidence and security that came from it would have been a bargain at far greater cost.

Cultivate a good reputation through good work, good conduct and generosity. Your good name and reputation will be one of your most precious assets. If you are consistently honorable in your dealings with other people, then even false accusations of bad faith will be easily disproved. Be the kind of person, because of your actions and words, who no one could believe ill of, and you will find that are never believed to have acted poorly, even if circumstances seem to indicate otherwise.

Every human being deserves a decent life. But freedom from oppression does not mean freedom from adversity; for those who wish more than to merely exist, but to prosper, they must labor. Prosperity is not just a matter of material gain. There are many who can call no material thing their own, but who would consider their lives well-lived because it was in service and use to others. Prosperity comes from setting for yourself a noble, worthy goal, and to making your very best effort at meeting that goal. You may decide to seek your fortune in the arts, in the law, in government service, in charity work, in finance - in any sector of human endeavor that you wish. I'll do my best to arm you with a quiver-full of arrows for when you choose your target, but hitting it will be up to you.

I have lived in difficult poverty, though because I had the good fortune to be born in the U.S., it was not abject. When I didn't perform my best in professional duties, or through misfortune or circumstance, I found myself without means, life was very difficult. Simple, everyday tasks like eating, paying my bills, discharging my debts and living life were fraught with stress. I lived hand-to-mouth and paycheck-to-paycheck. It was not an impossible life (obviously!) but it was difficult, and when I finally got my act together, and caught a lucky break or two, the palpable relief of finding myself with economic security and the ability stay properly insured, to help friends and family in need, to be assured of a decent, enjoyable life was so important that I vowed never to fall into those dire straits again. I hope you'll never have to learn that lesson the hard way, but let me at least impart you with the ability to understand that mere wealth is not sufficient to be prosperous. If you labor ceaselessly, and even excellently, at a job that you loathe, can you truly be said to prosper? Likewise, if you are employed in something that you love, but must depend on others for your maintenance, and can provide no service or help when it's needed from you, can you be said to prosper?

I devoutly hope that you will find yourself professionally engaged in work that you love. Whatever your passion may be, I hope it is for you also a source of security and prosperity. But be also practical and industrious. Balance the consideration of safety and wealth against your needs for fulfillment. Consider that work well done, with honor, integrity, zeal and excellence can truly be its own reward, and the pride that comes from professional accomplishment can be bolstered by more generous work or service in your personal time. You are not owed a dream job by the world. You can't skip the tedious, laborious period of paying your dues that are the entry level of every career. But if you take to your work with gusto, if you never consider any job beneath you, if you do every task you're set to with the same zeal you would whatever your eventual goal may be, then you'll prove to those ahead of you on your career track that you are worth cultivating and promoting. Many young people fall into the trap of only "accepting" the job that they feel is their true calling, never realizing that the people who do that job had to earn their place, who had to work long and hard at the nasty, tedious entry-level positions before they ever got a chance to take a crack at that dream job.

So be on time for work, always. There's almost nothing else you can do every day that shows your professional standards than punctuality. There may be occasions to shine from time to time, but if you're on time or early every day, you've taken the first step to showing that you're a trustworthy worker. Dress well and groom yourself appropriately for your workplace. When in doubt, it's better to be too formal than too casual - you can always take off a jacket or unbutton the top button of your shirt; but if you're wearing sandals when everyone else is wearing dress shoes, you've made a bad impression. Don't gossip in the workplace, or debate matters of politics, faith or romance. You'll spend a lot of your time with your co-workers, and souring your relationship with them over some professionally irrelevant badinage is poor form. Do be friendly and open, but keep an appropriate distance when it comes to intimate matters, or issues that incite passion. Do your best work whenever possible. When you are appointed to have authority over others as you almost certainly will, always praise publicly the successes of others, and privately correct matters of failure. A good leader will pass the credit on to her subordinates for success, and accept responsibility for their failures. Your subordinates will respect and admire your ethics, and your superiors will notice your good ethical standards.

It is true that there are some few who, unearned, have accrued great material wealth, or fame, or power. Don't envy those few, for adversity and difficulty are as inevitable as anything in life, and without the experience of overcoming troubles, they will be ill-equipped to thrive outside of the hothouse of their unearned plenty. You will have the courage and strength to carry on.

And share your prosperity. Generosity means never begrudging paying your share of any debt. Don't lend money to friends - the debt that follows creates a sense of obligation that is poison to the equality and amity that good friends share. But don't hesitate to make gifts of material things or wealth if you have something that another badly needs. Indeed, if this isn't the whole reason to seek prosperity, then I don't know what is. Accruing wealth for your own use is not a noble calling; earning more to empower ever greater generosity is a virtue worthy of much admiration. Let the fruits of your labor be of benefit not only to yourself.

Most of all know this; when you fail, try harder. That is the key to success and prosperity. Every useful endeavor comes from diligent practice and natural talent. So choose an endeavor that plays to your greatest strengths, and then work hard and assiduously to perfect that talent. However hard you work, however much you practice, know that somewhere there is competition, and your competition may be working harder. You will make mistakes. You will suffer failure - but so long as you use that to spur you on to harder work and greater mastery, you will never, ever know defeat. Defeat comes when you give up, and that is wholly your decision to make. No matter how hard you are tested, not matter how many times you've failed, try again, try again, try harder. You only lose if you give up. When you fail, try harder.

Health is both the greatest and the least of the things you will need. Greatest, because without health all the others become difficult or impossible. A healthy body and mind are the foundation on which all other virtues are built. This is not to say that the infirm are without virtue - but there challenges are greater, and if the infirmity is avoidable, so much better to be healthy.

Make a regular practice of exercise of your body. Better if in so doing you find yourself in periods where the whole focus of your mind is completely absorbed in the activity. When the mind and the body act as one, both are invigorated and strengthened. The practice of sport is a sort of manufactured adversity - not only does it serve the purpose of maintenance of the physical engine of your body, but it also constantly tests your resolve and your character. It is in defeat and adversity that we learn who we really are. It's easy to be gracious in victory or plenty, and provides no insight into your strengths or limits. So cultivate challenges that will take your body, your mind, and your spirit to the very brink - push until you break. Do it regularly and with joy. Your body will grow stronger, your mind will be ever sharper and more resilient. What a peculiar fact of human life it is, that we only grow stronger from struggle, and not ease. So eschew ease, seek struggle - chase perfection.

The sooner you cultivate good habits of the body, the longer you will have those habits ingrained. In youth it is easy to have bad habits and be healthy anyway, but this will serve you in bad stead as you age. Please trust me on this one! And health, once lost, is far harder to regain than it would be to simply maintain in the first place. So do the maintenance on your body - keep a regimen of exercise, challenge your mind regularly, seek medical advice when you are ill, eschew faith healing, superstition and any medicine which can not be confirmed by science.

A healthy mind is as important as a healthy body. Keep your mind nimble and vivacious by constantly learning. Constantly learning also means confronting your own ignorance or fallibility, and replacing it with knowledge. It is appropriate to be skeptical of untested claims, but that's as true in your own beliefs as it is in others. If in the course of argument, you find your position to be incorrect or based on non-fact, then you must graciously and cheerfully adopt the correct position. And indeed, to lose an argument or debate means necessarily that you have profited - for you used to hold a position that was wrong, but now that you understand that it was wrong, you have adopted the correct position, and thus learned and grown. Don't be afraid of being - be cheerful about it, because it means you're learning. An inquisitive mind doesn't allow for inappropriate certainty. The older I get, the more I realize how fallible I can be. Time and again what I felt was a crystal clear certainty, an inevitable, unshakeable truth has turned out to be wrong. The only thing I am certain of anymore is the fact of my own fallibility. I hope that you can learn humility and open-mindedness at a much lower cost than my own; broken friendships, hurt feelings, lost opportunities.

Lastly my darling, know this. The state of the universe is constantly advancing into a greater and greater state of entropy. It seems to me, though it's a belief and maybe even just a superstition, but it seems to me that human endeavor is the only an-entropic force in the universe. It is us that imbues the world around us with order, value and worth. It is us that through the sweat of our brows, the strength of our backs, and the keenness of our minds that stave off decay. But entropy is inescapable, and sooner or later we must all succumb to it. Entropy is the great enemy, the terrible destroyer - I hope to nurture in you a great warrior against that enemy. I hope you will do great things, magnificent things. I hope that you will know respect, prosperity, honor and health - I'll do my best to teach you, guide you, and show you the way. But love - that one is yours. Always-always, until the heat death of the universe, and if there is any way my consciousness will survive the death of my physical body, then you will have love from me then, too.

Your father.

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