Friday, June 14, 2013

Post No. 186h: Whose Life is It Anyway?

© 2009, 2011, and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Back in 2009, we generated a post in which we made reference to Ghulam Hamidi. Hamidi, an Afghan national, lived in Washington, D.C. for close to 20 years, before returning to war torn Afghanistan, to become the Mayor of Kandahar. In our post, we spoke of people who took risks to pursue something of value for society, and to make statements. At times, those risks may be significant, and they may be deadly. In mid-summer of 2011, the risk was deadly for Hamidi.

Earlier today, we heard a news report about violence on the outskirts of Kandahar, and we thought of Hamidi. Additionally, many schools recently conducted their graduation and commencement ceremonies, prompting us to review our prior post.

We try to stimulate thought amongst our young citizens, when their worldviews are still malleable. Yesterday, a couple of us participated in a brainstorming session for a non-profit organization about which we previously wrote.

B.E.S.T. addresses issues affecting at-risk young men. We highlighted the efforts of its founder as an example of how private citizens can do something meaningful for their communities and society.

Before the meeting, we bounced around ideas. We recalled that we Baby Boomers had such idealistic goals. We were going to change the world, right all wrongs, speak the truth (which would set us free), and do nothing but good, positive things in life.

In addition, we planned to transform the world, perhaps through astral projection or Transcendental Meditation, to a “kinder, gentler” place. One of us recalled pledging to become a brain surgeon following JFK’s death.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way. It’s been said that life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. If anything, we’ve been surprised at how many Boomers have transitioned from card-carrying liberals (and committed to “living off the fatta’ the lan”, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men), to hard core conservatives. (Why have so few traveled the opposite road?)

When P.J. O’Rourke was asked about his transformation from liberal to conservative, he blamed it on his daughter. Upon realizing she was vulnerable, and a potential target of all sorts of nasty forces, he resolved to protect her, at any cost.)

We know hundreds of business people, accountants, engineers, investment bankers, lawyers, and doctors, who abandoned those dreams and principles. We lived comfortably, and did little that we can identify in pursuit of those principles, other than occasional pro bono work.

(A prominent activist in speaking to a professional group once lamented that some of the best and brightest were in the audience, and members of a profession whose primary goal was making money for themselves and their corporate clients.)

Last week, we heard a report suggesting that today’s youth are possibly skipping the self-delusion phase. Far fewer minors, when asked, expressed interest in pursuing goals which might also “give back to the community.”

We’re not sure what to do with that. Virtually every generation seems to think those succeeding will go to hell in a hand basket. After 13,000 years, we still have faith in humankind’s ability to adapt, use our bigger brains, and “be guided by the better angels of our nature.”

We heard 2 stories recently. The first involved a Sudanese woman, who is facing fairly severe punishment. She and some other women committed a crime - wearing trousers in public. Some immediately pled guilty, and only received 10 lashes.

The remaining subject chose to go to trial. She faces a possible $100 fine and 40 lashes. She’s not a professional activist, and had some UN position which would have allowed her to side-step the charges.

Instead, she chose to resign, and waive her immunity.

The other story revolved around the mayor of Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of the more violent cities on Earth. He enjoyed a comfortable, middle class existence in Washington, D.C. for 25 years, until he was motivated to return to his native country and “make a difference.”

He put himself at risk, and returned to the heart of the violence. He said we’re all going to die from something one day, be it cancer, a heart attack, or a car accident. He questioned whether there was any real difference between dying from violence doing something in which you believed, and dying from one of the other causes.

That caused us to pause.

While a 25 year old might see lots of differences, those of us 55 and beyond might reflect on what we’ve done, and whether we’ve made a ”real” contribution.

The Logistician and his best friend were sitting at a side walk cafĂ© in the Copacabana in the late 1990s, reflecting on what, if anything, they had accomplished... and whether it had been of any benefit to anyone beyond themselves. They had always hoped to able to say that they did something more than “raise a good family.”

The founder of the at-risk male youth non-profit, the Sudanese lady, and the mayor of Kandahar might be better examples of those we should hold up as role models in our society, than the folks to whom we usually direct our plaudits.

Whose life is it anyway? We might all consider making it more than just our own.


  1. May I ask a question that arose while reading this post this time around? The question involves your comment about so many liberals becoming "hard core" conservatives and you wondered " Why have so few traveled the opposite road?"

    Since I am one of those former liberals (of the 60's) who turned (I like to think returned) into a conservative, I wonder why you think there's something wrong with being conservative. I inferred that you did so from how you used the descriptive phrase "hard core" and that you appeared to lament that that a possibly equal amount of conservatives had not become (I'll say it) "hard core" liberals.

  2. Douglas:

    Thanks for your comment. In our view, there is nothing wrong with being a conservative or a member of any other political group or status on the political continuum. Let us see if we can articulate our fascination with this transition or personal evolution in another manner.

    Let's say that an extreme or hard core liberal is at Point A on the spectrum or continuum, and that an extreme or hard core conservative is at Point Z. In theory, we might expect a person at Point G to move to perhaps Point I or J, or even L or M; or for a person at Point L or M to move to Point J or I, or even G. What we don't understand quite as well is the movement of a person from G to S, or S to G, because the movement reflects an ultimate position so far removed from their original position that it calls into question the foundation upon which the original position was based.

    Since a personal, philosophical set of values is in issue, it is not like changing allegiances, say by a pro basketball player switching teams and moving to another city, or a lawyer moving from one firm to another, or an auto worker at Ford going to work for Toyota.

    During her captivity, Patty Hearst underwent a radical transformation. It was the radical nature of that transformation that made people question whether she was forced to participate in the criminal activity, chose to do so, or was incapable of appreciating her actions.

    Extreme moves are generally more attention grabbing that small, subtle moves.

  3. That makes sense, forgive my inferring something less reasonable. Had you considered that people might move gradually away from an former stance and, as he/she grew more familiar and comfortable with the new outlook (and as friends and associates changed), moved further still? One does wonder why people seem to move from liberal to conservative more than the inverse but I am not so sure they do. Goldwater, for example, did move from strong (hard core, if you will) to liberal as he aged. But I suspect he was more libertarian than traditional conservative when younger. I think that move to the left is not one that seems as "newsworthy" thus, it is not reported often.

  4. I would say there are as many as there are observers in any situation. When it comes to national issues, there could be millions of different ways to view an issue (though I would limit it to dozens of unique viewpoints).


"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™