I’ve been reading Stephen Cope lately, books about performing your great work in life, whether it be about writing a book, dying for a cause, or rescuing people. The books emphasize how personal and deliberate the activities are.
They keep emphasizing what I have been saying for the past couple years: whatever it is, it must come from within. Period. It cannot be imposed from external circumstances. It involves conscious sacrifice. It always involves conflicting, if not downright contradictory, values demanding one’s allegiance. Which one to choose? It must be a choice. It is less a decision than a recognition of what one must do, regardless of of success or failure. I cannot not do it. This goes along with what I have been realizing the past few years: whatever I do must come from within. A goal regarding something I think I should do will be derailed at the first inconvenience. The first stubbed toe will be sufficient to make me rethink whether or not it is a good idea.
I spent the first fifty years of my life doing what I thought I should do. It was empty. You can’t make something have meaning that it just doesn’t. Living according to someone else’s value system does not make life worth living. I can attest to that. The question was what I wanted. I felt like I never had the freedom to even ask myself what I wanted until Barry passed. Then everything became all about me. Clueless me.
I told a friend that maybe I wanted to take our future road trip to the Dakotas. I had heard a lot about Native American spirituality and various haunted locations. I figured out this past weekend that what I am looking for is a place where I can sort out what is coming from within versus all the memories with all the associations I encounter in Lansing. What the heck do I feel? I need to be somewhere no one knows me, where I am not encountering everyone else’s agenda. So I kept coming up with answers like Deadwood or Fargo. I’m sure she thought I had officially lost it.
This all dovetails with my belief that we already know what we should be doing. The challenge is to uncover the truth that perhaps we are born with. Your destiny won’t feel like, “Oh boy! This is what I’ve always wanted to do.” It will more likely feel like, “Crap. Yeah, that sounds about right. I have to do this because no one else is in this exact position I am. This is what I was born for. And it is the only thing worth dying for.” I am reminded of Golda Meir, an Israeli Prime Minister. She was one of a handful of people instrumental in creating the modern nation-state in 1948. She was looking forward to spending some quality time with her grandchildren, after having neglected her own children to help build the fledgling nation. She was basically begged to run for the position by some of her fellow pioneers. It was not a dream come true. She reluctantly agreed. That is true performance of duty.
What I am talking about is the opposite of blind obedience. Hitler never killed a Jew in his life. He had a whole culture full of good, obedient Catholics and Lutherans to do his bidding. For every Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there were hundreds of mindless, religious minions. Religion was a highly destructive force in Nazi Germany in the bigger picture. Most churches extolled blind obedience. The Nuremburg trials were a turning point in human evolution. Every single Nazi had the same defense: I was just doing what I was told. The trials settled once and for all that conscience is an infinitely higher value than obedience. Obedience is a survival-based value: it is what you teach a toddler so they do not run out into the street and get killed by traffic. This is why religions thrive on blind obedience: it creates unthinking, less-than-human people. Authority is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. When authority has spoken, the thinking has been done for you.
Obedience is easy. Duty is gut-wrenching. It is deliberate sacrifice. That’s why it must come from within.