State of Mankind

A New Way Of Thinking

Month: May, 2012


I love my older brother in the greatest sense of brotherly love.  He is not only a brother, but a friend.  He has had many roles for me during our life which have included: teacher, role model, organizer, entertainer, and even fierce competitor.  In fact, our relationship was not always the closest, but I think provides a great illustration of one of the toughest subjects in the political arena–competition.  I say this is a tough subject because it is viewed so differently from people of different perspectives that it is difficult to bring each vision to the other.

My older brother is 16 months older than I am.  The closeness in age made us natural rivals at many things in our younger years.  The gap in age (and the fact that he is naturally a much better athlete than I am) made my attempts to compete with him in sports futile.  We played, and I got beat.  Every time.  Winning comes at a cost, that is there must be a loser, and that seemed to be my role.  I hated competition.  I hated sports.  I would vow never to play again, just to end up playing again, with the same results.  If that wasn’t bad enough, my brother was a natural leader and entertainer.  My friends were seemingly always more interested in what he was doing than what I was doing, so I had to compete for friends as well.

Slowly, over time and as I grew, there came a change.  I began to realize I could compete with kids my age, so I decided to practice and play.  I was somewhat tall, and learned I could play defense and rebound in basketball, simply by putting in the effort.  A few offensive moves eventually came.  My younger brothers and I began to analyze the complex game of street football and design plays that could be successful using the advantages of our knowledge of what play we were doing and even utilizing the smaller size of the younger kids.  I don’t know if I ever got to winning half of the games or not, but I learned to enjoy the competition.  I learned to put full effort into something and accept the result and realize that win or lose, I was improving.

My view of my older brother was also changing.  Rather than seeing him as a competitor and someone I was against, I began to see him as a friend who I played against.  I also realized and learned some of the things that made him great.  His leadership stemmed from a love of all people.  The poor kids down the street, the rich kids up the street, the minorities, the churchgoers, the non churchgoers, any division anyone can think of didn’t exist in his mind, and doesn’t to this day.  He is literally the friend of everyone.  I didn’t need to compete with him for friends.  I needed to be like him and I would have friends.

I also realized that while there was constantly a large crowd of kids at our house playing sports and games of all types, everyone got along really well.  Fights were few and far between.  Friendship was always grown.  This was due to his leadership and example.  He didn’t put up with exclusive groups or cliques.  Our neighborhood avoided many of the troubles that often inflict working class America because everyone was accepted and welcomed and knew it.  Competition in our neighborhood built character and friendship, it didn’t destroy it.

These are points that have blessed my life greatly.  For a number of years I played basketball with a group of friends at the local church.  We competed with all our hearts against each other, but were always the greatest of friends.  I believe there is something god-like in being able to play a game of basketball, and play to win, do your best to stop another player doing his best to score, and stop and say “I fouled him.”

My basketball career over, due to knee injury, I recently have taken to running.  My team competed in the Red Rock Moab relay a short while ago.  We knew we wouldn’t be anywhere near the front of the race, but we ran the race.  We didn’t win, but left with that great feeling of leaving all that we had on the pavement.  Near the end of my first leg of the relay, I was side by side with another runner.  Neither of us wanted to let the other win, so it turned into a 25 yard sprint to the finish.  After catching my breath, I found the other runner and offered my thanks and congratulations for a wonderful finish.  I didn’t know I could do that (run at a sprint after 5.3 miles uphill) and wouldn’t have known without that person’s competition.  The talk was friendly and we both gained more than either of us lost.

My brother and I are both raising families now and live far enough apart that we don’t see each other too often.  When we do, I am grateful to see him.  My children love his children.  We go out and play street football sometimes to invoke old memories and pass down traditions that have shaped us into who we are.  I see him sharing those god-given abilities he has as a school teacher.  I know he is inspiring young people to be better than they would be, because I know him.  We still compete, though not in the same way.  As I wrote my review of Tragedy & Hope, he read it and gave feedback.  He took the time to understand what I was trying to communicate and on a number of points suggested that I hadn’t taken this or that into account, or that people who hold a certain perspective may misunderstand what I was communicating.  This isn’t cut-throat competition, but I am grateful that he offers me competing ideas because such communication is for both of our good, and reinforces our friendship.

To conclude my thoughts on competition, I hope that I have communicated my feelings somewhat.  Many in our society see competition as an evil, the elbow from Artest knocking Harden to the floor and potentially causing serious injury.  Scrooge creating a financial empire while Tiny Tim prays for a crust of bread.  Others see only good in competition.  Apple can make a better computer.  With an I-pad or I-phone, even the better computer may be outdated.  Henry Ford’s assembly line put cars in the driveways of the common man.  Man walked on the moon. 

I believe that competition is an amplifier of the hearts of people.  The prideful society will through competition have Scrooges and Tiny Tims.  Not only will a prideful player attack another, but prideful people will, in the end, kill each other and feel justified.  On the flip side, I’ve seen a humble rich man use his wealth to create factories and good jobs for people in poverty stricken countries while donating his excess to find a cure for cancer.  I see humble working class people every week who find a way to give charitably to those less fortunate.  Competition for the humble gives the opportunity to learn and grow.  This is the basketball game where we really do call our own fouls.  We would never try to swing an elbow at our brother, but love him for helping us sharpen our skills.  Is this too high of a goal?  I say no!  My brother taught me that.

The Meltdown

 I thought this article by Bill Fleckenstein of MSN Money was interesting.  He looks beyond the normal drumbeat we usually hear about our financial situation and focuses on the obvious–we can’t continue to overspend as we do and avoid extreme inflation and eventually skyrocketing interest rates.  If we do what Greece did, we will get the results Greece got.

I will make the case that the real problem here is our pride.  We think we deserve things–benefits, governmental rights, safety nets, the welfare state, etc., but we don’t think we have to pay for them.  The proof of this is found in our constant budget deficits.  A deficit is really nothing more than a belief that we deserve to receive more than we give.  For me, this is the definition of pride.  When people are caught up in pride, they also seem to have a really difficult time recognizing their errors, and the obvious, inevitable consequences they bring.

In the end, life is simple and is about choice and accountability.  No one can escape this for too long.  If we don’t want a financial meltdown, then we need to choose fiscal responsibility.  If we don’t choose fiscal responsibility, then we are choosing a meltdown at some point.  Anyone who says differently is either a salesman or a politician, or deceived by them.  I would encourage us to be honest.  To pay our debts and put our fiscal house in order.  In the long run, this will happen.  The question is will we go through a (now seemingly inevitable) meltdown to get us there?

Lazarus Lives

I hovered over the work bench with the zeal of the proverbial kid in a candy shop, not quite able to hide the smile on my face.  This was really fun!

“What are you trying to do, bring Lazarus back to life?”

Clearly, my co-worker didn’t have as much appreciation for the old generator as I did.  He was right.  The 20 year old Honda powered freebie had spent the last decade in a hay loft, and it looked like it.  It was too worn/rusted/covered in muck to know anything more than it was apparently a Honda 9 horsepower engine, and this only because it was marked on the recoil starter which was no longer attached to the engine.  On the other hand, the only thing more fun than spending my breaks and lunchtime pontificating on the state of the world would be fixing up ‘Lazarus’. 

So, after blowing some compressed air to get rid of the hay and loose dirt, fixing the recoil was the first item of business.  The spring was loose on one end, and couldn’t be bent back to stay in place.  I drilled a hole in it and secured it with a small piece of #12 wire, tightened it up, rethreaded the pull string, and it worked like a champ.  Next, the fuel tank and line needed to be cleaned and it was ready to dump in some gasoline and get a preliminary test.  On the second pull it choked, and on the third it started!  I only dared run it for a few seconds without any good oil, but knew victory was at hand.

There was still a lot to do.  Changing oil, cleaning the air filter, making a gasket to solve a fuel leak at the sediment cup, changing the spark plug, degreasing, cleaning, painting, and re-wiring the generator end (farmers have a way of rigging just about everything).  To get an idea of the final product, here’s a view of a brand new version of the same model:

Where am I going with this rambling?  Today, looking at the restoration of ‘Lazarus’, I’m questioning the value of our throw-away society.  When something doesn’t work right we just toss it aside and get a new one.  The attitude sometimes seems to spill over into our friendships, marriages, and many other aspects of life.  What if we changed our view of things and people?  What if we saw them for what they could be, instead of dusty, dirty garbage?  What if we put a bit of effort into making things better?

I could have purchased a brand new generator (though I must say, not for the $25 I invested in this one).  It wouldn’t have a few dings that I couldn’t fix.  It would be a bit quieter.  But, to be honest, I wouldn’t care for it the way I care for Lazarus.

The Most Amazing Victory

The 1980 U. S. hockey team has nothing on this story.  The best I can tell, it was quoted from the book The Best of Success, A Treasury Of Inspiration. 

 The year was 1983.  In Australia, the long-distance foot race from Sydney to Melbourne was about to begin, covering 875 kilometers–more than 500 miles!  About 150 world-class athletes had entered, for what was planned as a six-day event.   So race officials were startled when a 61-year-old man approached and handed them his entry form.

His name was Cliff Young, and his “racing attire” included overalls and galoshes over his work boots.

At first, they refused to let him enter.  So he explained that he’d grown up on a 2,000 acre farm, with thousands of sheep.  His family could afford neither horses nor tractors so, when the storms came, his job was to round up the sheep.   Sometimes, he said, it would take two or three days of running.

Finally, they let Cliff enter, and the race began.  The others quickly left him behind, shuffling along in his galoshes.  But he didn’t know the plan included stopping each night to rest, so he kept going.

By the fifth day, he had caught them all, won the race, and became a national hero.  He continued to compete in long-distance races until well up in his seventies.  He was an inspiration to millions and a great encourager of younger runners.

In his honor and memory, in 2004, the year after his death at age 81, the organizers of the race where he first gained fame permanently changed its name to the Cliff Young Australian Six Day Race.

The Problem With Subsidies

I was walking through the Church History Museum by Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, when I saw something that made me smile.  There is a small space dedicated to each leader of the church that contains a few items to sum up some aspects that would be attributed to him.  As I walked by the space for Ezra Taft Benson, there was a Time magazine cover, which he was on as Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture.  It had a quote of his:

“No real american wants to be subsidized.”

I had to smile because I, too, have a problem with subsidies, a few problems actually.  The first problem is that people quickly become more interested in the subsidy than the actual business.  It is often far more lucrative.  It often makes a losing business a profitable losing business at taxpayers expense.  This leads to the second problem:  Business is started simply to gain a subsidy, or it shifts its business model from a successful, profitable one to a model set up to gain subsidies.  We see this in the alternative energy field.  Now we have the third problem, which is when companies, such as General Electric, find out that it is so much easier to gain taxpayer’s money than consumer’s money, that they flex political muscles to get the right subsidies offered to make huge profits.  I call this blatant theft.

Finally, the biggest problem I see with subsidies is that they distort the outcome of choices.  I believe that God sent us here to earth to learn by our own experience.  This means that we are to make choices and learn by experience the results those choices bring.  We often call it “choice and accountability”.  I believe evil is not found so much in making a mistake, but in not learning from a mistake.  When we subsidize business or behavior, we are taking the accountability away from the choice.  We are causing a mistake to have incorrectly good results or causing an OK decision to have amazingly great results.  Either way, we have ruined the equation of choice and accountability.  We have ruined freedom, because without the knowledge of true choices and true results, we are not able to make decisions based on what we really want and are really able to do.  This, as Bruce R. McConkie explained (The Millenial Messiah, pg. 666-667), was the major opposition to God’s plan.

Back to the real world, it was refreshing to see the Canadian mainstream media explain the results of their poor decisions on subsidies.   See:

I hope we can have the foresight to see that freedom is based on not manipulating the results of decisions.  Failing is a good thing when failure has been earned.  To have sympathy for failure and take away the consequence is a cruel thing to do.  To have empathy for failure and help someone to truly succeed requires more effort, but is the correct and charitable way.  In the long run, our freedom depends on learning these simple concepts.