Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for November, 2023

A Follow Up On Gratitude: Sunday musings…11/26/2023

1 Brand. Why do vaccines now have brand names? Seriously. What possible reason is there to breand something that, by its essential nature, will never live long enough to face a generic equivalent.

Salk is spinning in his grave.

2 Advertise. Along the same lines of for-profit conversions of mutual health insurance companies, who thought it would be a good idea to advertise branded medications to patients? Often very complex medications prescribed for very complex, typically dastardly diseases. Stuff that is challenging for docs who treat it to understand.

A pox on the FDA, FTC, and every drug company involved in this travesty.

3 Powell. As in “Powell Doctrine”. A nation should never enter into war unless they do so with overwhelming force and a clear, unambiguous, specific outcome in mind.

A corollary is likely: do not enter into war without both.

4 Success. Here is a re-post of a prior “Sunday musings…” in which I expounded on a close friend’s thoughts on the relationship between gratitude and success.

“My friend David Granetranet posted a little thoughtlet on “success”, and it started a very nice conversation about what actually constitutes success and why. Thinking about success may provide us with a platform from which we might think about the other issues that may be orbiting our little personal planets. Dave’s post was this: “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” To parse this one must begin with a definition or at least an understanding of what success is, and equally importantly, what it is not.

There are many terms that are often associated with success, things like wealth and power and fame. Is it necessary to have any, or all, of these to be a success? Can you be successful in the absence of any, or all, of these? Where would one fall on the gratitude/entitlement continuum if one were to have any, or all? This is really tricky, and I’m afraid that when I’m done you will likely have more questions than answers, maybe even more than you had when you started. That may actually be the point now that I think of it.

Success probably relates to what I shared somne time ago about “All” or Everything” in that the proper definition of success emanates from within, not without, and this I think is what Dave is implying when he makes the distinction based on gratitude vs. entitlement. Let’s use an example, a very famous example, to try to illustrate this and prompt some thought: Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs as you know was cut down in the prime of his life by a disease that has no known cause. Was he a success? He was wealthy, famous, and wielded great power both inside and outside his company. He was married to his only spouse, and together they had healthy children (2, if memory serves). A life to be envied, no? One to which many (most?) might aspire. A deeper dive at least suggests another story, though.

It appears that Mr. Jobs, unlike his one great peer Bill Gates, had few if any close friends. Indeed, within his company and his industry he left behind a trail of despair. All one reads about is how hard it was to work with or for him. He won…for sure he won way more than he lost…but did he succeed? Was he successful? I never once read or heard anything from Mr. Jobs that implied that he was grateful for either any of his wins, or any of the spoils of his victories. There were a couple of whispers about an end of life wistfulness about a paucity of connection, though. I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Jobs, and Heaven knows his family surely misses him. I think his example might soften the “entitlement” part of the equation a bit as I never really got a sense of that from him (as opposed to, say, your favorite rich and famous Kardashian).

Being grateful, however, bespeaks connection, a very certain acknowledgement that the concrete parts of success–money, fame, power–are without any real value unless they somehow allow you to share them. This, in turn, brings with it the humility that comes from realizing that you can’t be truly successful if success is only something you can count rather than something you can feel.

No one is entitled to victory, let alone success. In order to feel successful you must be able to admit that you neither did it alone, nor can you truly enjoy it alone. The gratitude felt by the successful is one born of thankfulness for the opportunity you must have been given, and borne aloft by the desire for your success to be one that is felt by not only you, but by others you are thankful to have in your life. What does being successful mean to you? Rich or poor, famous or anonymous…are you successful?”

And to bring this Thanksgiving weekend to a close, if you have been successful, no matter you you may define it, are you grateful?”

Whether or not this little corner of the internet is successful, I am deeply grateful for any of you out there who’ve made a little time to read it. I’ll see you next week…

Enough! Thanksgiving Musings…

Once again, here is my sorta annual “Thanksgiving musings…”

For pretty much my entire adult life I have tried very hard to live by one of the core tenets of Taoism: the man who knows when enough is enough will always have enough. Through times both thicker and thinner, the more closely I’ve been able to hue to the intent here the happier I’ve been. Today, Thanksgiving Day 2023, I once again reflect upon a companion piece that may very well bookend a philosophy for life.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” (HT Mrs. Bill Livingston)

Enough is a truly powerful thing. Enough is the portal to satisfaction, if not happiness. Enough is the antidote to yearning, to wanting. Once you have enough there is no reason to covet. After enough anything else is a bonus, life’s equivalent of that overflowing Holiday cornucopia. Gratitude is a straight shot to enough. On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for all that I have, for as long as I have had it. On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for all whom I have in my life. My family and my friends.

I am grateful, especially today, for a life where for so very long enough has been enough.

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll see you on Sunday…

Veteran’s Day and Patriotism: Sunday musings…11/12/2023

My Dad was a patriot. So was Beth’s. For any disagreements either man may have had after his years of service were long past, both men really did believe that the United States was a country that deserved the support afforded by patriotism. To be sure, both of our Dads had periods where they were more than a little unhappy with those who may have been running the country and how they were doing it–not surprisingly for those who knew them, these periods rarely coincided for both men–for the most part they found much more to be worthy of their support.

I don’t remember my father-in-law’s “origin” story as well as I do my Dad’s. Lifted out of the trades track in high school and placed in the college prep course by a guardian angel teacher, Dad went to UNH on a 1/2 football scholarship. Without the other half of a scholarship Dad pretty much starved. He dropped out, joined the Army, and then after his tours in Korea he mustered out and headed back to college. He landed at UVM with a 1/2 football scholarship and the GI Bill in hand. In stark contrast to these heady days of NIL payments for college athletes Dad still needed to take a part time job as a short order cook in his first two years of school to be able to afford to eat. He retained equal parts proud to have served, and grateful for the support given to him for that service.

The simplest and most accurate definition of a patriot is one who loves, supports, and defends his/her country. Full stop. Patriotism of this sort is quite different from the false patriotism manufactured by, say, Vladimir Putin, whose call for a return of Russian glory is more about self-interest than fidelity to his motherland. In a country such as the United States (or Canada) that lacks the advantage of shared ancestry and history that extends to the beginning of civilization, patriotism is often demonstrated by its smaller alter ego “civic duty” or devotion. In the absence of ancient commonalities a citizen must consciously choose to seek to come together with his/her fellow citizens as a concrete manifestation of patriotism.

How do we do this? How do we encourage a greater degree of patriotism from a broader swath of American citizenry? I think three simple things would get us off to a good start. First, let’s stop giving a free pass to people who are enjoying all of the benefits of citizenry and yet miss no opportunity to denigrate all things American. You know who they are. The so-called cultural elite, especially those in the academic community who never miss a nit to pick, always on the side of putting down America and things American? Blowhard politicians at every level of government who can barely muster a kind word for the country they supposedly serve? There’s a difference between constructive criticism in an attempt to promote a better country to love and an open contempt for not only country but the very idea of love and support for your country.

Why should these people be our national thought leaders if they care so little for our nation?

By the same token, too much emphasis is placed on issues and ideas on the margin at the expense of elemental, more global ones. Take, for example, the Pledge of Allegiance. Why is it an issue at all whether or not the words “…under God,…” are in our national declaration of fidelity to country? The Pledge is a declaration of our patriotism, our love and support for our nation. This would constitute such an overwhelming majority of the purpose behind the Pledge that we should relegate the distraction of the debate on these two words to the periphery of the discussion where it belongs. We ought neither to allow ourselves the luxury of such selfish discussions, nor others the privilege of driving discussions away from the importance of such a primary issue, patriotism.

Lastly, we should return to a time when each of us made it a point to think of the success of our country as something to which we, as individuals, must attend. Pride in nation and sincere hope for national success must no longer be something looked down upon, but rather something that each of us learns and practices. Our leaders must begin to work toward more than their own self-interest and that of their peers, but also to that of country.

For the rest of us, it is enough to look at our own little parts of the country and make whatever small effort we can to make them just a tiny bit better. We should call out those who seek to tear down our nation and make them uncomfortable in that effort, just as we should lift up those we see working for a better, more unified whole. Patriotism is neither trite nor trivial. All it might take is to think for a moment before you act or speak about being a patriot, of supporting and loving and defending your country when you do so, even if you truly believe that what you are doing or saying is to right a wrong.

To those who have served, and to those who serve today, I leave you with a tiny prayer I heard first from Beth: May peace find its way through your courage.

I’ll see you next week…

Historic Times?

“…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” –George Elliot (HT to my friend Bruce K.)

We in the U.S. have been bombarded of late with missives that declare that we are living in “historic times”. Among that which might make this true is that we have another “historic opportunity” to participate in an election that will “determine our fate as a country in historic ways.” But is that really so? At the moment it appears that we will simply re-run the last election, albeit with all semblance of nuance peeled away in the acid bath that has been these last four years.

Are we truly at an altogether unique inflection point, one so different from all that have come before that our fate, our daily experiences to come, will be affected in ways that we cannot miss or ignore? In ways that we as a people, nay, as a species, have never encountered before? Or is this particular upcoming election occurring as it will simply the next in an unbroken series of political or governing evolutionary steps that has been unbroken since the end of the Civil War? (We must note that despite the upheaval at the Capital in 2021 the handover of the Presidency proceeded as always). Is the excitement and the drama simply another extension of the “Techquake” and its always on firehose of information?

Seriously now, if you are one who is on your soapbox (facing in either direction), are you really telling us that upcoming Election Day, likely pitting two men well past their expiration dates, is going to change our nation to a greater degree than the one that brought us 4 years of LBJ and the Great Society? FDR’s command of the nation through WWII? Heck, do you think it will really end up in the upheaval wrought by Reagan that resulted in the dismantling of the USSR?

As a people the citizens of the developed world have been swept along in the great rivers of effluent poured forth from that firehose of information spawned by the internet. Goodness, unlike even 4 years ago we have an even smaller ability to parse the accuracy of literally anything we see on the various coms brought our way along the interwebs. Have we forgotten the accuracy and truthfulness of Elliot’s words above? If so is it because we simply cannot get even a single pupil above the torrent of information to see what he saw? Or is it more that we have lost the ability to paddle even the tiny amount necessary to do so? No matter, the result is the same. Legions of people who have lost the will to see another person as more than an idea, opinion, or meme.

Literary fiction is taught as the study of quiet acts of desperation and the fall-out that follows. Life, on the other hand, is made up of quiet acts of little distinction one way or another, made out of sight of nearly everyone. Anonymous acts carried out with neither malice nor benevolence. These are what constitute the reality of life. It seems to me that at least a (very loud) portion of our people have lost the appreciation of this reality. For them each act is either an existential affront or a tiny step toward canonization. I do not believe they are correct. Elliot is only wrong in that he underestimates his object; that things are not so ill with you and me, is not half but mostly owing to those who lived that faithful life.

To what, then, is this anonymous majority faithful? This is quite simple, and because this is so it is all the more painful that it must be pointed out: they are faithful to one another. They live lives that are faithful to the belief that it is another person with whom they are living, not an opinion or a belief. This anonymous mass lives lives that are intertwined with other people, not other opinions. When they look to their left or to their right what they see is not a position or a platform, but a person. It is this, the acknowledgement that we are surrounded first by other people, that leads to peace and salvation in this life.

You and I are surrounded by people who are faithfully living quiet lives, anonymous to all but a handful of others, whose lives will be remembered by even fewer, if at all. Unbeknownst to one another they likely crossed paths with someone with whom they would find little common ground in belief, someone who is close to you, about whom you care very much. Despite this lack of commonality the crossing was uneventful. It was peaceful. On balance it was marked by quiet goodwill, if it was marked at all. It was a moment that will have passed directly into an unvisited “tomb” in the memory of each of these individuals. If they saw anything at all, they simply saw another person.

And yet it was that quiet faithfulness that behind whatever disagreement might exist between the two there lived much more than another opinion or belief. There lived another person. Another person living a life largely unnoticed, hopefully a quiet one with less desperation than more, on their way to an end noticed by few and mourned by fewer still. Lives that were lived in the faith that there exists much, much more good in others than not. Lives lived with a faith that no real ill lies between them, or between us.

A faith that we, the living, must endeavor to keep alive.

I’ll see you next week (which will surely arrive, regardless)…

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