Best & Worst, Good or Bad
The quote, “There is so much good in the worst of us, And so much bad in the best of us, That it ill behoves any of us. To find fault with the rest of us,” is often wrongly attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson. It was actually written by Historian James Truslow Adams (1878-1949) who penned observations worth repeating, like: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that man can alter his life simply by altering his attitude of mind.”
On the surface that seems to be a bland benign insignificant statement, but “attitude” can be the cure or the disease. A bad attitude can become part and parcel of a personality that defines the persona; positive or negative can affect the outcome of the life of the person.
A bad attitude colors and distorts every word, thought and deed, causing a divide that is always confrontational and defensive, turning people away, turning friend into foe.
Regardless, the first two parts of the worst and best of us quote are correct, as there is good and bad in all. Mankind bears the burden of having a fallen imperfect nature that, though good, is often inclined to the opposite. Perhaps it is appropriate to recognize the good wherever it is found, and not take false pride in pretentious status of high and mighty while looking down on the lesser gods. The Bible offers a caveat, “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth,” marking indifference as intolerable and the worst and most offensive grievance.
Truslow notes, “There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.” Making a living is only one part of life that. Money is a necessity, but dwelling on that part, and the education that generates money, is not fulfilling, and the only thing generated is the lust for ever more money.
“Age acquires no value save through thought and discipline,” as learning how to think is an art acquired over the years, an art that if ignored leaves one as an empty sounding barrel emitting meaningless noise that contributes nothing. Truslow’s advice is to “[s]eek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me,’ and when you have found that attitude, follow it.”
The problem is the worst kind of life to lead is the life of the lie. “To thine own self be true” is a most famous Shakespearian line, and the question to life is, “Who is Thine own self?” A life-long question, the answer to which may not be found in the individual lifetime.
Who is the real ME is too often a question and the answer is elusive, mainly because the question is not honestly faced or considered, but real freedom is a major current issue. “The freedom now desired by many is not freedom to do and dare but freedom from care and worry.”
Actually, the Bible approach to care and worry supersedes that of Truslow: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Another case against worry was stated by Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
Another take on worry is, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” Old time immigrants from Europe delighted in the expression, “Tomorrow never comes, because it is always today” – or as stated in the Bible, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” The last quadrant of the spiritual sums it up beautifully: “One day at a time sweet Jesus that’s all I’m asking from you; Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do; Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus and tomorrow may never be mine; So for my sake teach me to take one day at a time.” The first quadrant is equally significant: “I’m only human I’m just a man. Help me to believe in what I could be and all that I am; Show me the stairway that I have to climb; Lord for my sake teach me to take one day at a time.”
Life is a journey that began without each of our individual direct involvement, but the path forward is a journey to the final destination, that, regardless of beliefs in the hereafter, one thing is certain: No one from the poverty-stricken to the rich and powerful will survive, as death is a natural consequence of life. We begin to die the day we are born. No one is immune from the sting of death that may come in a nanosecond or a century as assigned.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” and as a comedian would say, mostly the Lord taketh away. Eventually all life is taken away, but that should not be a worry, but a concern as to how life is lived and how life is comported as much as it is under individual control of the mind and free will, or choice. Like the carnival games operators would say, “You lays down your money and takes your cherce.”
A serious question arises: “Does God mark on a curve?” The normal curve in academia is bell-shaped because when the data is plotted on a graph, the line created usually forms the shape of a bell. Normally most of the data will be near the middle with most exceptions on the outsides of the bell. That means nothing concerning eternal destiny, and pass or fail judgment will no doubt be based entirely on what was done with what each was given. Those to whom much is given, much will be expected, and that should be the primary driver of a person’s lifetime and related decisions, “accident of birth” notwithstanding.