Some Thoughts For Tomorrow


A friend and I were discussing some of the finer points of sportsmanship. We disagreed on one point; his view, expressed quite fervently, is that winning is worthless unless you’re a good sport. My point was that, on some occasions, winning is more important, and sometimes it’s all about how you play, but that it entirely depends on circumstances. Upon hearing this, he proceeded to berate me, opining that I’d never teach a beloved child such drivel.

As it happens, I don’t have children, but if I did, that’s exactly what I’d teach them. Winning is its own reward; losing is its own reward; being kind is its own reward. You reap what you sow, and you earn more than you’ll ever get — and anyone that tells you differently is doing you no favors. There’s no fairness in nature, and if your opponent happens to not cheat you then life will. And none of that matters one whit, since your job is to play the hand you’re dealt, and if you lose, to do so with grace.

I’ve lived my life by this philosophy as best as I’ve been able; sometimes, I’ve lost with less grace and on occasion I’ve won entirely without it. I have few regrets, not because I’ve done nothing regrettable but rather because, by and large, they’re a waste of time and attention. A person only has just so much time available, and after deductions for work, commuting, sleep, showers, and unavoidable family gatherings, there’s usually only a few bare scraps remaining. You’re lucky if you’re awake for them. Those scraps are far too precious to expend on pointless fretting over a long-gone past.

One of the regrets that does keep nagging at me, however, is that there’ll be no next generation. It’s the burden of a debt unpaid to the human race, if you will; I have excellent genes, and they’ll die with me. It’s not that my health is great or even good, but rather that my constitution was designed to bear up well under the inevitable burdens of sickness and pain that comes along with living. I’m very good at being ill, thanks in part to long practice but due, I think, more to my ancestry.

No, when I die — hopefully many long decades from now — I’ll leave nothing behind but a vast and well-read library that a niece or nephew will have to sort through, perhaps a very few dollars, a near-empty wine cellar, and several hundred thousand words worth of original compositions that probably won’t ever be read again.

It’s not a bad legacy, if I do say so myself. I’d love to inherit it.

Admittedly, I’ve never earned a Nobel Prize. I haven’t cured any diseases or been elected President or even saved a cat from a burning building. On the plus side, I haven’t hurt many people even accidentally, I’ve helped where I can, and I’ve done some minor good deeds here and there. I may not have earned a vast fortune, but on the other hand I also haven’t contributed much to pay for my country’s War On Drugs, serial invasions, or drone strike program.

Kind of a no-score win, really. A lot of people have done worse.

Even so, it strikes me that I ought to make at least a token effort to improve my legacy. That way, it lessens the chances of my own personal game being called a draw by those who follow me, if in fact they bother to total up the score at all. (I confess, I wouldn’t do anything of the sort myself; it seems somehow impolite. Nevertheless…)

George Washington famously kept a notebook; in it, he wrote short proverbs and rules of decorum to help him behave as befits a gentleman. He carried the little book with him most of his life, and I daresay it served him well enough; he’s remembered for his grace and self-control as much as for anything else, and he accomplished rather a lot.

For myself, I have only a few basic rules. I choose to worship and revere God; if He exists, it’s his proper due, and if he doesn’t it can’t hurt me. I do my best to cause little harm, to speak truth whenever I can, and to do what I say I will. But all that is personal; the decisions that led me to these habits were subjective in nature.

The only three rules I have that are, as one might say, absolute — logically arrived at from first principles — are as follows:
(1) Be kind.
(2) Be polite when you can.
(3) What you choose to do, do all you can; if you can’t, do what you must.

Being kind is important — more important than being nice, or even being good. I’ve rarely regretted a kindness done, even when it went awry.

Being polite costs nothing, and it can bear good returns. It’s not an investment that pays only me; I’ve found that a little courtesy pays its own way forward for a goodly while.

There comes a time when, having set out to do something, you’ll find an obstacle. It’s often best to continue through it rather than give in to discouragement, but from time to time, the obstacle will defeat you. At that point, the course between where you are and where you initially intended to go may well be impracticable; instead, I’ve often found it wise to choose another destination, or just extract myself from my present predicament, and wait and see where I end up. There’s no shame in it, and no failure; your path merely diverged from your plans, is all.

Having written my rules down and explained them a very little, I now leave them to whomever may find them. That way, the good they do isn’t limited by consanguinity. Hopefully, we’ll both survive long enough for you to try them out for yourself and see how well they serve. Then, you can tell me all about it; I do love a good story.

Stop on by. I’ll have the kettle on.

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