Saturday, April 22, 2017

Courage (or better yet, Fortitude)

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My beautiful muse (right shoulder) and back scratcher 
Iggy -- Designated Sticky
Dana -- Designated gentlereader (left shoulder)

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies and Great-Grandstickies,

"Your Majesty, if you were King, you wouldn't be afraid of anything?" -Dorothy
"Not nobody, not nohow!" -Cowardly Lion

"99% of life is showing up." -Woody Allen

Courage, or better yet, fortitude, is the fourth and final cardinal virtue that all virtues hinge on. For the record, as best as I can tell, what Mr. Allen actually said was, "80% of success is showing up." However, there are many variations of it floating around and the one I like best is the one above.

My personal variable variation, which varies according to mood, energy level, and pending or potential crisises (I know, I know, it's technically crises) is, "99% of life is showing up, be prepared for the worst but hope for the best and you will occasionally be pleasantly surprised." I then kick off the covers (well, usually), get out of bed, and launch another day. Fortitude.

If we consult Wikipedia we find, "Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation." Also, "In some traditions, fortitude holds approximately the same meaning.

Fortitude: strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage (Merriam-Webster's definition, my italicization).

[Waitwaitwait, fortitude? You think that getting out of bed in the morning requires fortitude? Dana, imaginary gentlereader, speaks/sneers.]

Yes. Many people, not you and I, or most of my gentlereaders of course, but for many people, yes. Many people, upon awakening, will in short order be subject to a set of feelings that can be measured on a sliding scale that ranges from a general uneasiness at one end to a full blown panic attack at the other.

[The why and wherefore of this phenomenon (that is, why our brains are wired this way) can be discovered in one of the best books you've probably never heard of titled, "The Neurotic's Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment" by Chris Niebauer.]

"Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it." -Scott P. Richert

The Cowardly Lion's version of courage is a rather traditional one, heroic courage. And who doesn't like, or want to be, a hero? Well, mostly -- context is everything.

I'm so chronologically old that as a callowyute I lived through the transformation of the American hero to the American anti-hero. We went from one extreme to another in a remarkably short time. No, I'm not saying that we should turn back the clock to the era of John Wayne, Roy Rogers and happily married young couples with twin beds. Of course, the Duke did make some great movies but there's much to be said for more realistic heroes and more realistic entertainment.

Most of us are unlikely to ever be traditional heroes, that is, a rescue a child from a burning building/medal of honor/Iliad-Odyssey/famous for at least 15 minutes sort of hero. Also, in my semi-humble opinion, thrill seeking is thrill seeking. In the (often imprudent) pursuit of an adrenaline rush, there's a fine line to be drawn betwixt courageous fun, and stupid.


[Iggy, imaginary grandsticky appears and asks for permission to toss tiny toy parachutists off of the (sorta/kinda) balcony (it's complicated) of my third-floor lair/garrett. Marie-Louise, my drop dead beautiful muse strolls in, displays her newly manicured and elaborately, but tastefully decorated fingernails for my approval and begins to scratch my back with her left hand as she reads over my right shoulder.]

If, "Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation." Also, "In some traditions, fortitude holds approximately the same meaning.

And if, "Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it."

Then I maintain it's possible to be a courageous hero, with a small h, every day. Do your job.

Now, I'm not only talking about dragging your butt to your crappy (hopefully not, but not unlikely) job or your politically correct, hidebound, chock full of unionized/tenured mediocrities (hopefully not, but not unlikely) school.

Doing your job means taking care of business, doing the right thing, get 'er done, _______ (insert your favorite motivational cliche, here).

Or, choose not to. Just be honest about it and stop making excuses. Refuse to be another boring victim with another boring victim story. There's always going to be someone else that's worse off than you, lots of them in fact. Given that that's a given, the only question is, now what?

Let us consider the unhappy student and the unhappy employee mentioned above.

If you're callowyute and in school, and even if you're smart in non-intellectual ways, or majoring in partying, or are clearly destined to be an athletic demigod, or just too damn cool for school -- here's a cold/hard reality check for ya' honey.

Three things.

One, your head ain't gonna start to pop outta your ass until you're at least 25 and you're not gonna realize just how true this is until you're at least 25. This ain't a matter of opinion, this is scientific fact. This radically increases the chance that choices made before/if this happens are potentially fatal. Please be careful.

Two, you're probably not going to be rich in a minute because you are your generation's answer to Bill Gates or Michael Jordan. It's not because you're not special, it's because this is the nature of reality.

Three, welcome to the global economy. A college degree, other than for STEM majors, is in most cases what a high school diploma used to be (usually with student loan debt) -- it might qualify you for a retail management trainee program.

And no, you don't necessarily need a bachelor's degree for a decent life. But without at least a high school diploma and technical training in a skill that's needed in the real world, or unless you're one of the minority of entrepreneurs that aren't ground to dust in the marketplace, will need to master the intricacies of the current version of the welfare state if you wish to avoid living under an overpass.

Do your job, which is learning to do a job.

[Dana, imaginary gentlereader speaks. Yeah? well, I have an OK job but I hate it. I'm a grup. I don't cheat on my spouse. We take care of my mom 'cause we're trying to keep her out of a nursing home. I "take care of business," But I'll tell ya' what, I'm tired most of the time. I sure don't feel like a hero.]

Well, if it makes you feel any better, according to the Gallup people you have a lot of company. They consistently report that less than a third of your fellow Americans feel engaged at work. Which means (says Mr. Obvious), most of us are faking it. Which means, lots of chances to choose to be a hero.

For most of us, most of the time, life's hard. It takes fortitude to keep going once we realize that we aren't going to wake up one morning and suddenly be HAPPY (or rich, or good looking or _______). At this point, we make a choice, whether we realize it or not. We choose to be victims or heroes.

Victims choose: excuses, never actually choosing, suicide (quick or slow, gun v. addiction), ignoring the fact literally millions of others are worse off than they, passing on their misery to others whenever possible, victimizing others whenever possible, etc.

Heroes choose: Simply to make the best of any given day, person, or situation while often falling short. Kicking the covers off every morning knowing that while the day may suck sweaty socks odds are they'll get through it and if they look hard enough odds are there will be something to smile about. Poppa loves you.

Have an OK day.

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©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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