Saturday, May 21, 2011
Man's Greatest Gift
Much has been written in the previous centuries regarding man's inhumanity to his fellow man. As technology and science has advanced, his ability to inflict horrors upon his fellows has also grown exponentially. Hitler executed men, women, and children to the tune of more than six million. Joseph Stalin executed around thirty million. Mao Tse-Tung slaughtered about 80 million in Red China. Pol Pot slaughtered about 4 million in Cambodia. In Rwanda, around 800,000 were butchered after they had been told beforehand that the slaughter was coming. Why is all of this important?
Because for each and every evil act committed by man, there is an equivalent act that is noble and pure in nature. The deepest and darkest depths of man's heart is only matched by the soaring height of his virtues. It has been said that a man will tell, on average, eleven others about a bad experience, but he will only relate a positive experience to three. This is why the bad gets so much more press than the good that man does and bad memories tend to stick with us longer as well.
But for each bad memory, I will wager that there is a good one that is it's opposite if you would honestly give it a chance. If not, you may find yourself mired in negativity and that will cast a veil over your perspective of this life. It will eventually make you bitter and life is far too short for that. As the spirit of man is quenched, we lose our true heroes and worse, we lose our drive for exceptionalism.
By divesting ourselves of our traditional values we have also thrown away our heroes. Heroes are important because they serve as examples of what we can aspire to be, to do, and to think like. Back in the day, we used to cast our gaze to the stars and wonder how we would one day conquer them. To that end, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy challenged America to put a man on the moon. He said that it wouldn't be easy, but the very declaration of his desire fired our national imagination and challenged us to do the seemingly impossible. The Soviets had already had their triumph with Sputnik, making them the first in space followed by the historic flight of Yuri Gagarin, but America would outdo the Soviets by putting a human being on the moon 235,000 miles away in the night sky.
When President Kennedy stated his goal in May of 1961, he had no idea that his challenge would become a reality on June 26, 1967, with the landing of Apollo 11's lunar excursion module on the surface of the moon. That one act sealed America's leadership in space and gained a reputation for NASA as the "can do" agency of the government. When Apollo 13's oxygen tank ruptured in space, NASA stepped up once again and brought our explorer's home because according to NASA, failure was not an option.
It was no single man that accomplished that feat, but the synergy developed from a group of competent professionals determined not to lose a single man in space that brought them home. Thinking outside of the box, NASA earned a reputation for creativity, dedication, and determination. But in today's world, we are unlikely to believe that man is capable of such drive and nerves of steel.
In Ron Howard's movie of that event, there was a scene when the astronauts have a go at one another. Jim Lovell said that it didn't happen, but the film maker thought that no one would believe such calm resolve under intense pressure and so included such a scene in the film. That one fact speaks volumes about us as a society.
We are a people who no longer see ourselves as the resolute hero standing firm against incredible odds. Our grand parents had Audie Murphy and Sergeant Alvin York as models to inspire them. Unfortunately, our children only have Charlie Sheen, Paris Hilton, and Tiger Woods to model themselves upon. So it should come as no surprise that most people would hardly believe that three men in a tiny capsule thousands of miles out in space gazing into the face of death could be so calm, so survival oriented, without letting the stress get to them. In short, we have become lost on the path to our destiny.
Man is a spiritual being, regardless of what people say and it is our faith that can indeed move mountains. President Kennedy spoke, and America fulfilled his pledge to place a man on the moon in six years. Alvin York was a conscientious objector to World War I, but when he saw his friends being killed by the Germans, he picked up a rifle and defended them and won the Medal of Honor for his actions. There are similar tales from the American Civil War.
Colonel Chamberlain defended tough ground at Gettysburg. His men were on Little Round Top on the far left of the Union line and it was expected that the Confederate army would attack in order to flank the Union forces. In the end, it came down to hand to hand combat and when it was over, Chamberlain held the field. He remarked, "My God, where do we get such men? If we were to go, but a single generation without these giants among men, we would be both damned and doomed." The Colonel's men had withstood Confederate charge, after charge, they had little ammunition with which to repel multiple assaults and yet they stood and fixed bayonets and did their duty. Colonel Chamberlain was right to feel pride for the dedication of his men. They went into battle tired, ill equipped, and weary of fighting a war that kept them so far from their homes and families in Maine. But their sacrifice may very well have saved the Union from destruction. The common theme that runs through all of these tales is one of honor.
A man used to have honor. That meant that his word was his bond, that he spoke the truth, and that he held fast to his beliefs regardless of circumstances. A man with situational ethics was not a man, but a wastrel and a libertine. He is someone who seeks hedonistic pleasures while attempting to gain advantage over others. But there are few men of honor left today.
Honor arises out of faith. Faith that God always sees our actions and judges them according to His dictates. Faith does not leave the door to mischief ajar. This is because God is always on watch and therefore, man cannot keep a secret from his Creator. Faith keeps us honest men and women in this regard. But even faith, as mighty as it alone can be, is not the sum total of humanity. While faith and honor can certainly lead one to a just life, they are only matched by man's insatiable curiosity and daring.
Our human curiosity takes us to places that no man has ever been, causes us to broaden our understanding of the world, and turns our collective gaze toward the last, unconquered frontier of space. Those who have been to its shallowest of depths, wonder when we will return to that frontier. The strange thing about curiosity is that it does not go away. As man is a thinking animal, curiosity burns within his shell and drives man to seek out that which he is curious about. That drive, to answer the question circulating in the mind is what creates the desire to know and to understand, but when our pedestrian efforts to answer the question comes up short, daring steps in.
Daring is nothing more than the courage to think outside of the box and to go there. Those who have accomplished great things have little use for the common wisdom. Because if the common wisdom could have solved the riddle or accomplished what no other has done, then it would have.
Where would man be today if Pasteur had never discovered the cause of infection or if Lister had never considered the use of antiseptic? How many more lives would have been lost had Alvin York remained true to his pacifistic beliefs and remained passive in that fusillade of machinegun fire? It was desire combined with daring based upon the foundation of faith and honor that allowed all of these people to succeed. But somewhere along the way we have become lost.
When the Nobel Prize committee awards a Peace Prize to an American President for nothing more than base words, when Academy awards are given to the makers of propaganda films disguised as documentaries, when everyone is awarded a blue ribbon for just showing up, when the American military seriously considers giving a medal for cowardice on the field of battle, then we begin to see the damage that we have done to ourselves because we have lost faith, honor, and courage. We did not lose ourselves in one titanic change of culture, but in the slow progression of inches and degrees of change over time.
We are abandoning our beliefs in something greater than ourselves and declaring ourselves free from primitive behaviors for divesting those beliefs. The sad fact is, that merely saying something does not make it true. If we allow the near constant and pervasive attacks upon our very foundation as a society, then why should we be surprised at the results? Did we not allow it to occur?
Be descending to the lowest possible denominator, we hobble ourselves and our minds severely restricting our noble natures and by so doing we affix yet another attachment to government upon ourselves because the government is viewed as more noble and stronger. This is the lie of the collective and it is not who man was meant to be.
With individual freedom comes empowerment and that is the final key to unlocking man's destiny and greatness. Man can never attain the heights of his imagination if he is forever mired in the crass, self indulgent, hedonistic world of today. He remains locked in fear of the unknown. Afraid to step out of the warm and confining light of the collective in order to investigate what is outside of his experience. He will not stand against the common wisdom in order to defy it. He will simply go along, to get along. That is not who we were meant to be.
Man's destiny is larger than the planet on which we live and survive. Our destiny is to seek the stars. To find new worlds and to grow in both experience and knowledge. To brave dangers never imagined by our ancestors. To be more than we ever thought that we could be. Man's destiny can be found in the stars, not swirling in the dust at his feet. But in order to achieve this destiny, we must first master ourselves and insure that man lives with the freedom to choose his own destiny.
God gave us our intelligence, creativity, and nobility for a purpose. To explore, to stand for what is right, and to grow as a species. But these gifts come with a cost. They are not gifts that were bestowed upon a collective or on a government, but instead meant for the individual. We are a species that is meant to stand as individuals. Strong, resilient, determined and daring are our trademarks. To that end we are supposed to possess self discipline and responsibility for ourselves. Only when such people are grouped, does true synergy emerge. That was why NASA was able to accomplish the impossible and why they could bring our astronauts home when no one else could, and that is why the reputation of NASA is legendary even today.
Legends aside, each and every human being has this potential written in his genetic code. We are born with the promise of greatness if we choose to pursue it. Thus, there remains only one question.
Who do you choose to be?