I’d like to say a big Thank You to everyone who commented on ‘The Moderates’ blog post. The thoughtful, detailed, and articulate insights are greatly appreciated. It helps me learn more and exposes all of our readers to different points of view. With all due modesty, I must say that we are so superior to the Sunday morning political television talk shows.
I know that most of you are not tweeting, posting, liking, sharing, and ghosting with abandon. Still, as the drip, drip, drip of allegations and condemnations of politicians, artists, authors, and celebrities living and dead continues in the media and on social media, I’d offer a word of caution to those who troll on social media: before you throw your two-cents worth of ‘cancel culture’ vitriol into the stream of digital consciousness, be certain you are perfect.
Because there is nothing like throwing stones from a glass house, if you get my drift. It is probably best to leave accusations, prosecutions, and judgments to actual victims or parties to an incident, law enforcement agencies and investigative journalists, and courts of law and historians. As Samuel Johnson once said, Even God waits until a man is dead before he judges him.
And as I’ll say now, everybody has their faults and makes mistakes. And anyone with two eyes and half a brain can point them out, especially if the person in question is in the public eye. The current practice of devaluing or discarding a person’s tangible contributions to society because they fell short in their personal lives or didn’t adhere to a contemporary (i.e., present day) standard of what is right, wrong, or acceptable, is an adolescent and short-sighted way to look at humans and history.
I’m not making excuses for sexual predators or any kind of bad behavior. I am suggesting a little maturity from people online, which may be too much to ask. Yes, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. He also tried to pass legislation several times to repatriate African Americans, all of which failed. More importantly, he contributed mightily to creating a country where the idea that ‘all men are created equal’ actually took hold and grew.
So judging him harshly might be technically an accurate thing to do, but it’s not exactly the fairest thing to do. It’s easy, looking back on his life from 250 years in the future, but when we do, we often fail to consider all of his contributions to what was then, and is now, the United States of America. So I’m not on board with taking down his statue, minimizing his efforts, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Likewise, I’m not supportive of condemning J.K. Rowling for whatever comments she made about a fictional character she created in one of her books. It was probably a mistake on her part to engage with people on social media and try to explain whatever it was that people took issue with. (I’m still not sure what it was all about.) But she created a very popular book series that inspired a generation to read. That has value, as do the massive charitable contributions she’s made over the years.
Of course, the jury’s still out on Governor Mario Cuomo. It’s not on Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. So encourage your friends and family who rage online (or at Sunday dinners) about this person or that, to consider things in context, wait for all the information to come to light, and reserve judgment.
I think we’ll all do better if we become more accepting of the contradictions that exist in every person. With a little effort, we can look for the good, be aware of the less-than-stellar, and realize that most of the time hating someone is a waste of time: it probably won’t matter to them and it only makes us feel worse. People are a mixed bag.
That said, I still have not abandoned the idea of right and wrong: we must maintain a moral center that our daily lives can at least revolved around if not inhabit every moment of every day. Our society can’t function without ethics, the beliefs we hold and adhere to that are above the law.
I think I’m just approaching values and behavior in a more practical way. Perhaps this non-dogmatic approach is due to the fact that I’m currently rereading Sarah Bakewell’s excellent biography of Michel de Montaigne, How To Live. Or that I’ve experienced a substantial lack of control regarding the events of the past year: months in lockdown or with a curfew, with little opportunity to travel or socialize during this pandemic, and from the looks of things right now here in Paris, not much change on the horizon.
My evolved perspective is that we most honestly and effectively adopt and maintain higher standards of behavior if we simply keep our values in mind. This is better than diving into a dogmatic, teeth-grinding regimen with the mindset that we’re going to transform ourselves overnight.
Most people never transform themselves at all. They simply become fuller, more visible, more predictable, and less flexible versions of themselves, shaped, swayed, and nuanced perhaps by education, travel, reading, or the odd and rare life-changing event.
Still, I believe that people can adopt the Core Values that I talk about in The Old Money Book and, over time, improve their lives. And yes, there is the epiphany, that Ah-ha! moment when readers tell me that they finally ‘got it’, the revelation of how to not just have a higher standard of living, but a better quality of life. That instant awareness is often followed by gradual, determined steps to set aside some bad habits and pocket some better ones for the journey forward. That’s the way people change.
The Core Values of Old Money probably work better if we think of them as a magnet that pulls us toward our better selves rather than a hammer we use to beat our ‘bad’ selves into submission. (Bad Byron! Bad Byron!)
As I’ve said before, it’s easy to toss all the cheap, trendy clothes out of your closet, buy some button-downs, khakis, and a pair of penny loafers, and call yourself Old Money. It’s much more work to take these Core Values on, keep them in mind, and, over time, make conscious choices that sculpt and polish your life into something worthwhile, enduring, and rewarding.
Drastic change is seldom permanent change, and superficial change is not really change at all. Being exposed to a new way of thinking is first. Having awareness about how this information can be applied to your life is second. Implementing the information into your personal situation is third. And there’s nothing quick or guaranteed about any part of this process.
So let’s relax, focus, do our work, and keep our values constantly at the forefront. Much of the rest is out of our control.
Be safe this week.