Excuses

My grand­pa used to say to me: “You have more excus­es than Wrigley has chew­ing gum”. He grew up dur­ing the Great Depres­sion, fought in World War II, sup­port­ed 4 kids and a wife run­ning a postal route, was a city coun­cil­man, et cetera, et cetera.

I can’t think of one time that I ever heard him com­plain or offer an excuse or fail to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for some­thing that was brought to his atten­tion — whether or not if it was his prob­lem to begin with.

My life has been extrav­a­gant­ly deca­dent com­pared to his, but when I’ve been faced with adver­si­ty or failed at some­thing I’ve always kept that say­ing of his in mind, and his exam­ple.

  • If you’re held respon­si­ble for some­thing that isn’t your fault; there’s no point whin­ing about it — you’re already blamed. Clar­i­fy the sit­u­a­tion and help solve it. Take steps to ensure it doesn’t hap­pen again.
  • If you’re in any posi­tion of lead­er­ship, the fail­ures of any part of your team are your fail­ures. The instant you shift blame, you’re a whin­er, not a leader. Spread­ing blame is worse than a waste of time, it is counter-pro­duc­tive. Are you here to find a scape-goat or get some work done?
  • Don’t com­plain that real­i­ty gets in the way of your goals. Don’t invent real­i­ties that jus­ti­fy your fail­ures. Be hum­ble, be hon­est, work hard, and know your capa­bil­i­ties.
  • Admit your mis­takes but don’t give up; have anoth­er idea ready at hand. Ask for help, guid­ance, or feed­back.
  • It’s okay to express frus­tra­tion, but it should be done in pri­vate; and the next step after that is called “get­ting back to work.”
  • The dif­fer­ence between an excuse and an expla­na­tion boils down to respon­si­bil­i­ty. An excuse avoids it, an expla­na­tion owns it.

When I have inter­ac­tions with peo­ple who do not seem capa­ble behav­ing in the man­ners described above, I feel pret­ty safe in assum­ing that they’ve nev­er tru­ly been held account­able to oth­ers & prob­a­bly won’t be able to hack it when they final­ly are.

Quote from Helioscope

The agnos­tics con­tend that pain has evolved blind­ly as a means of caus­ing us to avoid injury. There are two things that might be said about the the­o­ry: the first is that a few moments’ thought will pro­duce half a dozen bet­ter ways of achiev­ing the same objec­tive (one of them is intel­li­gence — but the more intel­li­gent the organ­ism, the more pain it is capa­ble of feel­ing). The sec­ond is that by and large it does not work — human beings jump their motor­cy­cles over the foun­tain at Caesar’s Palace; dogs chase cars.

What pain does do is act as a moti­va­tor in all sorts of less than obvi­ous ways. It is respon­si­ble for com­pas­sion and the hot foot; it makes peo­ple who do not believe God would per­mit it think about God. It has been remarked thou­sands of times that Christ died under tor­ture. Many of us have read so often that he was a “hum­ble car­pen­ter” that we feel a lit­tle surge on nau­sea on see­ing the words yet again. But no one ever seems to notice that the instru­ments of tor­ture were wood, nails, and a ham­mer; that the man who ham­mered in the nails was as much a car­pen­ter as a sol­dier, as much a car­pen­ter as a tor­tur­er. Very few seem even to have noticed that although Christ was a “hum­ble car­pen­ter,” the only object we are specif­i­cal­ly told he made was not a table, or a chair, but a whip.

Cas­tle of Days; Helio­scope by Gene Wolfe pp 218–219

Quotes from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

A ratio­nal anar­chist believes that con­cepts such as ‘state’ and ‘soci­ety’ and ‘gov­ern­ment’ have no exis­tence save as phys­i­cal­ly exem­pli­fied in the acts of self-respon­si­ble indi­vid­u­als. He believes that it is impos­si­ble to shift blame, share blame, dis­trib­ute blame… as blame, guilt, respon­si­bil­i­ty are mat­ters tak­ing place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being ratio­nal, he knows that not all indi­vid­u­als hold his eval­u­a­tions, so he tries to live per­fect­ly in an imper­fect world…aware that his effort will be less than per­fect yet undis­mayed by self-knowl­edge of self-fail­ure.”

[…]

My point is that one per­son is respon­si­ble. Always. […] In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Indi­vid­u­als. Each respon­si­ble for his own acts.”

The Moon is a Harsh Mis­tress by Robert Hein­lein pp 84–85

I’m struck at how very exis­ten­tial­ist that quote is. Just as I’m struck at how very apro­pos the fol­low­ing quote is to the #occu­py move­ment.

A man­aged democ­ra­cy is a won­der­ful thing […] for the managers…and its great­est strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is defined as ‘respon­si­ble’ and the man­agers define what is ‘irre­spon­si­ble.’”

The Moon is a Harsh Mis­tress by Robert Hein­lein pg 256

Advertising versus Lyric Poetry

There are only so many peo­ple capa­ble of putting togeth­er words that stir and move and sing. When it became pos­si­ble to earn a very good liv­ing in adver­tis­ing by exer­cis­ing this capa­bil­i­ty, lyric poet­ry was left to untal­ent­ed screw­balls who had to shriek for atten­tion and com­pete by eccen­tric­i­ty.”

Mitchell Courte­nay in Fred­er­ick Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Mer­chants

Old and Young and Old

I remem­ber when I was a bat­tal­ion intel­li­gence offi­cer in World War II, in North­ern Italy.

[…]

We were pass­ing through these lit­tle old towns. The hous­es weren’t big, but all the gen­er­a­tions were there. The old weren’t put out to pas­ture. They were our best means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They were what civ­i­liza­tion is about: human his­to­ry, work, gen­er­a­tions. Old ones, grand­par­ents, even great-grand­par­ents, talked to the lit­tle ones, and fas­ci­nat­ed them. It was the oral tra­di­tion, gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion. Instead of watch­ing tele­vi­sion, the child lis­tened to the old one, learn­ing his his­to­ry of dreams and won­der.

Our young haven’t lost their his­to­ry, it was tak­en from them. We’ve stuffed them into a pro­crustean bed. Remem­ber him? Pro­crustes? If the guest didn’t fit, he’d cut him or stretch him. That’s what we’re doing to our young, mak­ing them fit.

Here is a child, born with a sense of won­der, ready to admire and love what is seen and expe­ri­enced. We say, “Watch it now, a lit­tle bit less, cool it, cool it,” until this extra­or­di­nary sense of won­der is reduced to noth­ing.

[…]

If the old per­son can’t lis­ten any­more, he per­pet­u­ates the errors of his ances­tors. You don’t need him. You need to say, “All right, Grand­pa, when did you last change your mind about any­thing? When did you last get a new idea? Can I help you change your mind while you help me change mine?”

David Brow­er, as quot­ed by Studs Terkel in his book of oral his­to­ry, Com­ing of Age

If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are los­ing theirs and blam­ing it on you;
If you can trust your­self when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubt­ing too;
If you can wait and not be tired by wait­ing,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hat­ed, don’t give way to hat­ing,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your mas­ter;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with tri­umph and dis­as­ter
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spo­ken
Twist­ed by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to bro­ken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your win­nings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your begin­nings
And nev­er breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is noth­ing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the com­mon touch;
If nei­ther foes nor lov­ing friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unfor­giv­ing minute
With six­ty sec­onds’ worth of dis­tance run -
Yours is the Earth and every­thing that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man my son!

Rud­yard Kipling

My mom gave me a framed ver­sion of this poem on my 16th birth­day. I wasn’t a man then, so I didn’t real­ly under­stand it. Lat­er, when I thought I under­stood it, I dis­agreed with it on all points. It sat in the clos­et in my old room until I turned 30, at which time my mom gave it to me again. I flipped it over and on the back was the note she’d writ­ten my for my 16th birth­day, the note she’d writ­ten for my 30th, and the hand­writ­ten poem my Grand­ma wrote for me on my 16th. Read­ing “If” at 30 is yet again a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence. Now I feel like I under­stand it; now I strive for these list­ed virtues.

Now it hangs in my son’s room, and I hope as he grows that he will feel the same ways I’ve felt about it over the years.

Amor fati

My for­mu­la for great­ness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants noth­ing to be dif­fer­ent, not for­ward, not back­ward, not in all eter­ni­ty. Not mere­ly bear what is nec­es­sary, still less con­ceal it—all ide­al­ism is men­da­cious­ness in the face of what is necessary—but love it.

Ecce Homo — Friedrich Niet­zsche