Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 - 1882
She vividly described that moment of utter dismay. Her children were nonchalantly and contemptuously talking about children at school who were less privileged than they, and it struck her that they were talking about herself, for when a child she was one of 'them.' Even more startling was her realization that she herself had slowly, subtly adopted that same attitude so prevalent in her affluent segment of society.
A chemist, receiving basic training in California during the Korean conflict, knew that the programmed messages given to him and others concerning Chinese troops possibly landing on the California coast were absurd. However, with only filtered news from the outside world, he found himself emotionally responding to what he mentally knew was an absurdity.
A young graduate, imbued with the exciting knowledge that the Bible was an enticing mixture of history and poetry, metaphor and myth, found herself as minister of a church whose members frowned on any but the most prosaic expression of traditional beliefs. Competent and compassionate in carrying out her ministry, she nevertheless found herself incrementally conforming to others' expectations, and her passion ebbed.
The story of the erosion of dreams and values is not new, nor is it exclusive to the three individuals mentioned above. For all of us--the ideals that we bring into marriage and the raising of children, our convictions concerning the conduct of our professional life, the ethics by which we set standards for our personal behavior, and even the values we hear in church and then try to apply--are worn away and ground down over time. How we keep our idealism and passion alive and not have them absorbed into cultural expectations is a perennial human problem. To partly offset this, I rely on a statement and a story.
Helpful to me is Ralph Waldo Emerson's statement: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Keeping alive to life-sustaining consistencies, and wrestling with the foolish consistencies, keeps me aware of, and somewhat resistant to, such erosion.
Also helpful is an old story that clings to my mind. A new preacher came to a community and said, "Remember." The words that followed, recalling golden times and esteemed values and virtues, were gladly embraced. The same message, repeated weekly, became routine and wearisome, even meddlesome. Soon no one came but the speaker. "Why," he was asked, "do you continue to preach that which no one cares to hear?" He replied, "I came to remind others. I continue, in order to remind myself."
Seeking reminders, I treasure those persons, books, and places where
I am 'reminded.'
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