Jewish World Review June 7, 2007 / 21 Sivan, 5767
Rules for radical living
By Steven Greenhut
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Dear graduate,
As you head to college or into the great beyond (i.e., the working world), you are sure to get plenty of unsolicited advice, such as this column, which perhaps some well-intentioned parent has given you.
Some advice will resemble the sort offered in that infamous scene from "The Graduate" (it's one of those "old" movies you really ought to watch) when a friend of the family gave Dustin Hoffman's character this wisdom:
"Plastics." I betcha lots of people are telling you what career to pursue with similar short suggestions: "Computers," "The Internet," "Cheap Chinese imports."
Smile, but ignore them.
If I were cynical, and offering career advice from the standpoint of the highest-possible pay and benefits with the lowest-possible risk and fewest hours, I would say: Get a government job. Do it for 30 years. Retire in style. Of course, you might get hit by a car 15 years into that plan. If so, you've invested your life doing something you didn't really want to do.
The key is finding out your "calling" - that thing you love to do and are darn good at doing. You can earn a living one way and fulfill your calling in another, but it's best when the two merge into one, given the amount of time you'll spend on the job.
So here are a handful of Rules for (not-so) Radical Living. It is a not-so-exhaustive list designed to prod you into thinking about your life and how to spend it.
#1 - Consider your life, your work and your time as investments. Your labor really is the most valuable thing you possess.
Think about how you want to invest your time and energy and what you want to accomplish in life. That doesn't mean you have to spend your years totally immersed in serious, frenetic drudgery. But the time goes quickly.
It's easy to fritter away your days in an endless sea of pointless worries and pursuits. If you're lucky, you've got maybe 85 good years on this Earth.
If you're graduating college, you've already used up a quarter of those years. Why not spend the remainder trying to accomplish something worthwhile?
#2 - Remember that such an investment - your life, your liberty and your property - is yours to make.
These things are your God-given rights. Don't let anyone take them from you or suggest that any of these things come from their graciousness. Frederic Bastiat wrote these important words in the classic, "The Law": "Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place."
Furthermore, Bastiat explained, "Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor. ... But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder."
Thieves can plunder, but governments also plunder. So resist strongly when others want to use force - either their own force or the force of government action - to limit your rights. And don't be the type of person that uses force against others.
#3 - Your biggest enemy is the path of least resistance.
That phrase probably explains most of what happens in the world. We're human, which means we're lazy. Just as water winds its way downhill along the easiest path, so do we wind our way along life's pathway in the direction that gives us the least hassle.
Don't take the easiest path simply because it is the easiest path.
Sometimes you have to embrace the Other Path, even if it means some inconvenience and difficult times along the way.
#4 - Don't be a functionary.
The dictionary gives a rather tame definition of the term, as "one who serves in a certain function." The real meaning is someone who is a cog in the wheel, who just follows orders and serves in a function in a manner nearly indistinguishable from the person that came before him, or the one who will come afterwards.
I gave a talk a few years back to a group of up-and-coming government officials, and I found among them an almost unanimous tendency to embrace the current ideas and outlook of the agencies upon whose boards they wanted to serve. I lectured them about the pointlessness of not challenging conventional wisdom. Anyone can fill a spot. Do you want to have a title or change the world?
One reason so many big organizations have floundered is that they are filled with people doing functions and never thinking about the purpose of their work. But the zeitgeist can be wrong. Organizations cover things up.
To make your life count, you need to be willing to be the one who says what other people might not want to hear.
#5 - Always do the "right" thing.
That sounds trite, but it's a lot harder than it sounds. Given that this is life – and it doesn't come with a blueprint – you've got to figure out the meaning of "right." Given what I mentioned above about the frequent corruption within even the most established organizations, doing the right thing can sometimes come at immense personal cost and sacrifice.
Sometimes you only get one moment to shine, one chance to be the truth-teller in an ugly situation or to use your position to effect a just outcome. Be prepared to accept that role, but don't be surprised at the consequences.
#6 - Like the lefties used to say: `Question Authority.'
Unfortunately, lefties and righties tend to embrace governmental authority these days, although they have different ideas about which authorities to slavishly follow. You need to understand the true nature of government – it's about force, coercion, bureaucratic inertia and the self-interest of those who run it.
Governments want more resources. They want more power. They want to expand and control your life. The sooner you learn that truth, the sooner you will decide to spend your life trying to exert change through your own efforts rather than through lobbying the government. And the sooner you will learn to laugh at the time-tested joke: "We're from the government, and we're here to help you."
#7 - Respect other people's freedom.
The most annoying people I know are those who don't let other people be.
That's the problem with our political system these days, as politicians constantly pass new laws monitoring our behavior for our "own good." Such laws often have support from the public, especially those who tend to be nosy. Don't become one of those people.
Don't be a busybody. Mind your own business. Help out if others request it, but don't go imposing yourself on others. Don't support politicians who want to control others, either. Never say, "There ought to be a law."
#8 - Maintain your skepticism.
You will be assailed by people who tell you to be trusting and who suggest that to be a good person you have to have a childlike faith in others'
motives. Nonsense. There are lots of good people out there, but there are plenty of fools. Don't suffer them lightly. Good people are willing to earn your trust, not guilt you into trusting them at face value. Don't accept patronizing answers and self-serving explanations from anyone. Remember the advice of Ronald Reagan, who was talking about arms agreements with the not-so-trustworthy Soviet Union: "Trust, but verify."
Live by those words. Skepticism is not bad. One local politician, whose skepticism of official answers helped him predict a county fiscal meltdown, told me recently: "You need to notice that the temperature is rising in the pot around you." Most of the world is content being slowly boiled.
#9 - Don't be so rule-bound that you have to complete everything, even lists such as this one, on an even number.
OK, that's a joke, but the basic advice isn't: Color outside the lines, blaze your own trail, don't just go with the flow or be driven by someone else's purpose, even if it's noble-sounding. Be an individual. Fight to be free. Don't let others do your thinking for you. And be careful out there.
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Steven Greenhut is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register. Comment by clicking here.
© 2007, The Orange County Register, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services