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Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

(originally published May 26, 2009 @16:12 EST)

All day long yesterday for Memorial day I found myself recalling various men I have felt proud to know in my lifetime and the stories they would tell; at fishing camp, at hunting camp, around campfires, over beers, among friends. Stories of their time in the service and in some rare cases of their times on the front lines. (although those recollections were more frequent in the old timers, and even then generally focused on things that had happened only to them)
It didn’t occur to me to pass any of them along until this morning, so I thought I would go over some of them in brief to share their tales (as I recall them) and pass them along.

So here’s to Reese from Sheep’s Pasture, to the stories he would tell of a bunch of young marines trained in Florida deep in the everglades running on unseen boards made to resemble walkways in rice paddies, feeling their way with sticks and risking splashing down with not only the murky waters, but the gators hiding within.

US Marine Patrol

US Marine Patrol

To stories of young leathernecks going on first leave after having it drilled in their heads for weeks that they were the meanest, roughest, toughest, baddest sons of bitches to ever walk the face of the earth – and to the stories of the fist fights and timely flights (from authorities) that soon ensued.
Here’s to the young marine finally coming home after his tours in Viet Nam in a full leg cast who got off the plane to see his family across the tarmac and becoming delighted, only to be confronted head on by two dirty, long haired protesters who spat in his face screaming baby killer.
And here’s to the two cops who scooped him up after he busted the first one’s face open while balancing on his crutches and was already going after the second, who in spite of the screams from the activists to “arrest him!”, brought him through the security entrance, smiled and said “semper fi brother, now get the hell out of here or we ‘will’ have to arrest you”
(Reese told no stories of the time between basic and coming home – Rest in Peace)

Here’s to Smitty, also from fish camp at Sheep’s pasture, a thin older gent who told us of the time he was brought before his superiors for a samurai sword he had found. It turned out to be an officers sword that he had picked up after entering a cave to see a smiling Japanese soldier holding his hands up in the air saying in broken English “I surrender” – and here’s to the fellow soldier behind Smitty that caused him to look down only to see the tip of a Thompson open fire from where it had been inserted under his arm, and to the hand that grabbed the back of his neck to fling him back out of the mouth of the cave just as the grenade the Japanese officer was holding in his upraised hand fell free and detonated.

Okinawa Beachhead

Okinawa Beachhead

To the story he told of when the zeros buzzed the Okinawa beachhead and he took (he thought) two shots in his arm, to the medic that bandaged him up and secured his arm to his side so he could, with the help of another soldier that was wounded in the opposite arm, still manage to assist in moving wounded on stretchers for the remainder of the hours of fighting that ensued. Only after which did he think to seek out a field surgeon to actually get treatment, where they discovered the third shot that had gone right through his lower abdomen.
Upon hearing the shot was more than 4 hours old and seeing where it passed, the triage nurse pronounced him essentially ‘already dead’ and went to attend to other ‘more hopeful’ patients. Obviously he was not about to settle for this and had to argue considerably to even be treated due to all the other wounded on the beach. He was made to wait even longer and eventually wheeled in to a dirty side room, given no anesthesia, cut the length of his side and ‘sloshed back and forth’ with a liquid poured into the incision that he described as having the look and smell of urine. (it wasn’t, but was some low-frills antiseptic that they could justify ‘sparing’ on a ‘dying man’)
He showed us the scars including the marks where they had sewn him back up with wire staples, as they didn’t want to waste any sinew on him either, hoping to spare it for men they actually thought could be saved.
And here’s to that stubborn man who passed out only to wake up 3 hours later in a hospice wing of a makeshift tent, damned them for leaving him to die and walked back into the OR where he finally received proper sutures and ultimately got a real bed in intensive care to continue his recovery.
(rest in peace Smitty! And thanks for the hand made net, it’s still one of my most prized possessions)

And here’s to Kenny from Spud farm who told us of how he was on board the USS Franklin when a Japanese Kamikaze nearly broke her in two.

USS Franklin listing

How he and some of his shipmates had to navigate a catwalk on the backside of the control tower to avoid the flames, suspended on nothing but a 6″ ledge more than 4 stories above the ocean. About how he turned just in time to see one of his best friends for the very last time falling to the ocean below after a secondary explosion shook the whole ship.
Here’s to the three hours he spent in near freezing waters after the second kamikaze hit sent him into the frigid waters as well. And to the simple apple that helped keep him alive – as when he would grow tired and almost give up, he would see the apple bobbing 2-3 wave crests away, just briefly enough to give him something to keep swimming after.
Here’s to the guys that eventually showed up to scoop up the dead bodies onto their already overflowing flatboat, only to tell Ken that they would send a crew back for him as they had no room. And here’s to them agreeing to pick him up after hearing him say “if you do that, you’ll be picking me up instead along with the rest of the dead!” (try to imagine that ride back, where the only room is on top of the bodies!)

Here’s to Mike who’s story I almost didn’t want to include as I didn’t want to make him look bad, but the state of mind it details I doubt anyone reading could imagine doing otherwise.
Still trying to shake off the experiences of combat, he decided to accept an invitation to ‘relax’ by going hunting on a friend’s private property. As he walked to his blind, some ‘slob’ who was trespassing and poaching on this friends private land, apparently thought it was a good idea to shoot at any sound of movement.
Being fresh out of the service, Mike told us (trying to be funny but still showing in his face how much it disturbed him) the sound of the shell hissing by his head caused instinct to take over and the next thing he knew, he was hiding behind a 5″ ball of dirt and had emptied his shotgun in the direction of the fired ‘near miss’. (fortunately enough missing as well)

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

(thank you Mike for teaching me your variant of Darwin’s rule, “people that are prone to do stupid, dangerous or self-destructive things…. should!”)

Here’s to my cousin Jim who also didn’t go into a lot of detail about his experience in Iraq, but did comment on the frustration he and his other marines had when coming within sight of Baghdad during Desert Storm – only to be pulled back at the last minute. I still remember the certainty in your words back then that “we should have been allowed to finish, we’ll only end up having to come back”.

To my namesake Webster Abial Wood who dodged musket fire and cannon balls at Gettysburg in the war to preserve our union. Who at first I wondered about his ‘bravery’ as he was a member of the drum core and played the fife in the 24th Michigan band.

Thomas Nasts Drummer Boys

Thomas Nast’s Drummer Boys

That is until I read more on the civil war… about the battles on fields covered in white smoke from black powder muskets and cannons. Story after story where men wrote in their diaries of looking to their immediately left and immediately right to barely make out just one of their fellow soldiers through the smoke and to hear the pace of the drum to match their steps as they had been trained. The drums marking the pace to keep the line in step, the steady beat as a heart to the line signifying their ranks had not been broken. And the stories of returning fire where the sounds of the ‘enemy’ drums and the bugles on the other side of the field often gave you the only point of aim through opaque clouds of smoke.
To stories of friends, neighbors and brothers meeting as opponents in our nations bloodiest war, but still being civil enough to pass letters, foodstuffs and other token items in small boats across the blood stained rivers separating their lines after the sun set and fighting subsided for the night.
And to the knowledge of Webster leading the army band for the melancholy honor of playing for an assassinated president’s funeral procession in Illinois.

Here’s to my grandfather ‘Woody’ who also didn’t speak to much around me about his time in the first world war while in the Navy. But who raised my father and consequently passed on to me an understanding of the values that made this country great and an appreciation for the men that helped make it that way.

—-

You may have noticed by now what I already eluded to. These men would tell stories of the good times, of the times before the war or immediately after. Of things that happened only to them where they got out alive in spite of adversity. But many of such a story would bring up a name, or refer to a person and the story would finish, the men would either bow their heads or stare off into space and go silent for a long time. After which they would turn to one another as only their fellow veterans could understand, raise their glasses “To them!”

There was yet another theme that ran through the stories as well. I ran across an interesting quote yesterday from none other than George Orwell:

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

All the men I named believe in their country, treasure their freedom and would fight for it with their lives. Some of them signed up voluntarily out of a sense of duty and honor, others out of little more than need and no where else to go, and still others were drafted and answered the call. None wanted to repeat their ‘unspoken’ experiences, but I have no doubt any one of them would join up with such a cause again if the need arose and our country was threatened.

But don’t be mistaken!

The only man standing is in a wheelchairAs every one of them told their stories, it was easily understood. When they were in the line of fire, on the front lines and in the middle of a firefight, they no more fought for ideals of freedom or country then they did out of a sense of duty or honor. No, they fought for their fellow soldiers – their friends, and for the hope that someday soon they would be home with people they loved.

So most of all, here’s to the men I never met, to the stories I never heard, to the laughs we never made about the good times. Here’s to the horrors I never learned from those that did return, from the stories they kept to themselves and their sleepless nights. Here’s to the silent moments, the hung heads and the solemn toasts. Here’s to the old man in his dress uniform shedding a tear over some memory only he holds – always trying to keep it out of his mind but making sure he never forgets. Here’s to the unknown soldiers in the unmarked graves on battlefields far away, and to the events that never made best sellers or Hollywood movies.

I never met any of you, never heard your stories but be damn sure, I will never forget you!
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After hearing of the passing of two of my teachers this week, I was again considering something I learned from the movie ‘Big Fish‘. At the end of the movie, after struggling with his relationship with his father, the son says of him:

“… a man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories.  They live on after him.  And in that way, he becomes immortal.” – Will Bloom, Big Fish
  (written by Daniel Wallace (novel), John August (screenplay))

I am a story teller, a skill I learned by watching my father. My father is also a school teacher. I would say ‘was’ a school teacher, as he is retired. But I don’t really think that good teachers ever stop teaching and they don’t even necessarily need to seek that as a profession to be a good teacher.

After hearing of the most recent passing of professor Ron DeRoo, whom served as an accompanist and co-clinician for a music group I was involved with in High School and from whom I also took jazz piano instruction later on while attending college, I got to pondering those words from the movie again.

Specifically, I got to thinking about what kinds of pursuits in life are most prone to fit with the nature of the Big Fish ‘story telling’. I came to the conclusion that the three that most stick out in my mind are those of teachers, writers and philosophers.

Teachers

More so than any other life pursuit or profession, (good) teachers will influence the most lives. The nature of teaching is to influence others. To provide them with information to help form their thoughts and ideas. Of all the teachers I can think of, those who influenced me the most were those that did not simply provide me with information in a given subject but instead provided insights in a way that they could be applied to any subject.

A truly good teacher, whether by vocation or their very nature, will lead you to look at life and reality in a different way. They will not simply provide you with information and knowledge, but will help you to formulate how you absorb such knowledge and further teach you how to continue to do so when you are no longer benefiting from their direct tutelage.

When you watch others speak fondly of people they have known, people that have had the greatest impact on their lives, they more often than not speak of people that taught them things or gave them insights that helped improve their minds, their lives or there way of approaching any variety of circumstances.

Writers

I originally considered ‘artists’ in general for this grouping, but decided instead to focus just on the art of writing. Writing consists of using words that represent concepts to convey ideas. Even if writing fantastic fiction, the author above any other art form, has the most direct connection to specific concepts and manners of creating and influencing thoughts.

The practice of any art form that is well mastered will require that the artist puts a great portion of their heart and soul into the results of their art. But where an actor can only show you their skill in portraying a role, a painter can only show you their mastery of creating images with their pallet or a dancer can only express ideas through motion, the writer has to convey those concepts and conceptualizations that they possess through combinations of words directly representing those concepts.

Other mediums fall short of passing along such vivid combinations of ideas. The use of words, word phrasings, combinations of perceptions and circumstances, and the ability to portray all of them only through the written form requires a direct link into the mind of the artist writing the words.

Philosophers

The category of philosopher is actually a bit of a redundancy when included with the other two, as the best teachers and writers generally will also require a foundation built upon a good philosophy. Actually all of them are somewhat redundant, as they all tend to overlap — even someone who’s primary means of communicating their ideas is through telling them directly must create those ideas not-unlike a writer does. Even if they are doing so in-the-moment.

Philosophy, directly translated, means the ‘love of knowledge’. As a branch of scientific examination, it is the study of knowledge as it relates to reality.  As Ayn Rand (the philosopher who has had the greatest influence on me) once said (paraphrasing), everyone has some kind of philosophy – a way of living, dealing with their surroundings and making choices – whether they choose to see it that way or not. Some of us  spend more time and effort defining and examining our philosophy, and some arrive at distinct conclusions that they communicate to others who find them worthy of consideration.

So whether they are formal or informal philosophers, it is those who help us to form our way of interacting with the world that will ultimately influence us enough to spread on part of their own essence and way of thinking in us. Thus, I am reasonably certain that those who will live on the longest after they perish from this world will be the teachers, the writers and the philosophers.

As a final thought, I’d like to re-post my statement in the guestbook for my beloved teacher:

… I remember Mr. DeRoo fondly from my [many years of knowing him.] It is quite sad to hear of his passing, but he was the sort who touched many lives and inspired many smiles. He shared his love of life and his joy and knowledge for music with many and will be remembered by all.

Whenever I hear of someone passing, I reflect on a lesson I learned from the movie ‘Big Fish’ – those people who touch the most lives, live on forever in the hearts and minds of those they influenced and never die so long as people speak of them or share and pass on what they gained from knowing them.

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Back when I was in high school I was doing quite a bit of bird hunting.  That also meant I was doing quite a bit of shooting practice.  I had gone out and picked up an entire box of 20 gauge shells to use for both practice and for hunting.

Bald Mountain recreation area was the closest range to where I lived and all they had for shotgun shooting was a skeet range.  So once a week I would stop by to shoot 2-4 rounds of skeet.

Skeet involves shooting at various ‘stations’ at a total of 25 targets.  The score is based on the number of targets hit.  The targets are launched from two towers on either end of a half circle.  Some targets go one at a time, depending on the station, some are launched simultaneously from both towers, one high and one low.  The final station is in the middle and thus involves half the distance and therefore half the time to hit the target launched one at a time from each of the two towers.

Although the rotation around the various stations provided different combinations of target motion and shooting angles, skeet is not the best possible practice for hunting type scenarios.  For one thing, the targets are rather predictable and they are launched when the shooter calls ‘pull’.  But, I wasn’t there as much to shoot a flawless round of ‘skeet’, as much as I was to keep my shooting skills up.  The end result was that I would usually shoot around 18-19 out of 25 targets on average.

There were young guys that worked out at the range who would load the ‘houses’ full of the clay pigeon targets and then serve as the range ‘puller’, pushing the buttons to release the targets when the shooter called ‘pull’.  (it was kind of a standing joke that the guys guy so used to pushing the button on the word ‘PULL’ that if you walked into the office and shouted ‘pull’, their thumbs would involuntarily twitch as a result)

Most of the young guys were easy going and a fun bunch, but there was one young guy that I didn’t particularly like.  He was a good shooter, and he knew it, but he wore it like a chip on his shoulder and it tended to rub me the wrong way.  But there was a fun bunch of guys that would show up regular on the days I would shoot and we’d have a good time regardless who was pulling for us.

Well, one particular day we get lined up with the arrogant young kid.  I tended to avoid him so as a result I tended not to have him as my puller.  I missed one of the targets on the second station and showed a little frustration and he decided to proffer me some advice without my prompting it.

Mind you, I’m there to practice for hunting.  So my shooting style wasn’t the same as most of the other guys.  I would hold my gun at my hip not much unlike I would walking through the woods.  You don’t hunt walking through the forest with your gun at your shoulder waiting for a bird to pop up on command!

His advice dealt with this unconventional stance.  Without knowing (or caring) what my motivation was for being there shooting, he decided to criticize my stance first then suggest that I start with the gun on my shoulder.  He was right, but he took no consideration for my goals in being there.  I was in fact frustrated at my miss so this just irked me off more.

I decided that I had to shoot better than I ever had.  But I had to do it my way.  I wasn’t going to walk through the woods with my gun already on my shoulder and my finger already poised on the trigger.  But the thought had occurred to me that if the bird dog got on a scent or a bird had already gone up, I wouldn’t walk around with my gun at my hip either.  Instead I would hold it in a ‘ready to shoot’ position part way between the two.  So this was how I shot the rest of the round.

I’d already missed two targets by that point in time so the best I could possibly shoot the rest of the way around the course was a 23.  My end score was 22 of 25.  After that incident I only missed a single target and there was some doubt as to whether or not I didn’t put a pellet through that one as some of us saw dust fly off it but it didn’t ‘break up’ as they were supposed to do.

Initially I rebuffed the puller for opening his ‘trap’ when it wasn’t solicited.  I stuck by that.  As I pointed out, he had no idea of my motives and he didn’t care.  So my hackles going up as a result of it I still considered justified.

As a general rule they put a puller out with 3-4 guys to shoot a single round of skeet.  As a general rule, each of the guys throws in a buck at the end of a round to give the puller as a tip.  I can’t remember the exact conversation I had with the kid when I came in (I say ‘kid’ – at the time he was only 3-4 years younger than I was) but it went something like this.

I set a $5 down on the table in front of him and I told him:

“Your ‘pointers’ took no consideration for my reason in being here.  I’m not here to shoot skeet, I’m here to practice for hunting.  I don’t hunt with my gun on my shoulder so I sure as hell am not gonna do it here, skeet or no skeet.  I wasn’t seeking advice, didn’t ask for advice, and your advice was and still is unwelcome when it takes no consideration what-so-ever for my own goals and desires.”

“But this $5 is yours because that’s the first time I’ve ever shot a 22 score, and I want you to know right now – now that you know my goals and desires, don’t EVER be afraid to give me advice again.  But if you ever want a tip from me again, don’t EVER say another word that only serves to air your own opinion of my style.”

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About a year ago, a thread I had started rather innocently ended up into a heated debate.  The initial message started as a desire to share a couple of pro-reason images with some of the objectivists on my Facebook friends lists.  It ended up with a couple of the more ‘fundamentalists’ members of the list taking issue with some of the things I was trying to hash out about a particular moral issue.

By the end of the discussion I ended up conceding one point but said there was still some conflict buried in there that still seemed to me to revolve around a fundamental morals issue.

Well, I have good news and bad news for my detractors from that thread.  The good news is, I need to concede one more point – that being that you were in fact right.  (but I rather said as much at the time anyway) The bad news is that in fact, I was right also.

The discussion revolved around some examples that I raised in regards to exploiting the ignorance of others in a business transaction.  (mind you, I do not by default define ‘exploit’ as a negative)  The contrary responses to my supposition generally revolved around notions of ‘Caveat Emptor’ (buyer beware).  But I still saw a problem in someone that holds ‘virtuous’ the notion of an ‘equal exchange of value’ and an exchange that involved an obvious inequality of value that only results from the one party being ignorant of the commonly accepted value of  one or more of the things exchanged in the transaction.

One such example I brought up was in relation to when I used to buy used computer items to resell on eBay.  I would occasionally find people listing items in the local paper for well below what they might be easily able to get for the item.  Although I generally did not correct their price specifically, I felt inclined to either throw them a few extra dollars or to at least to suggest the possibility that they might be able to get more for it if they tried harder and asked for more money.

The concession I made at the time was that it was my choice and that to do so wasn’t an ‘absolute’ moral condition for every exchange – and I still hold to that concession.  One party in the transaction with knowledge is not necessarily morally obligated to fill a void in the knowledge of the other.  (only if the other party has made clear they are coming to said person specifically ‘because’ of their knowledge would that be an obligation – which I also pointed out in the original argument)

But what I ultimately settled upon was that I found it ‘wise’ for me to behave thus in such transactions as it served as a demonstration of integrity to the person selling the used item.  In turn this demonstration would often translate to them contacting me again and/or offering me other goods they were willing to sell, thus increasing my chance to profit from the relationship.

This concept became clearer to me today when the following concept hit me after turning around the anti-altruistic principle that ‘no one should be obligated to provide charity‘:

“You are under no obligation or duty to accept any form of charity offered to you.”

Before I go on, I would strongly suggest at this point to review my posting on The Nature of Value.  More specifically, you might refer to this ‘Nature of Value’ concept as ‘relative value’ – as the title of this post suggests.

In that prior post, I used the example of the penny, which to the world at large is worth it’s face value – one cent – but which (relative) to it’s possessor could be priceless based on the sentimental value they place upon it.

In that example, regardless of the ‘market’ value of the item, the holder of it should by no means be duty bound to exchange it for less than the value they perceive of it.  By that same token, regardless of the sentimental value that one person places upon it, no other person should be obligated or forced to offer them a ridiculous amount to possess it.  This is a moral exchange of value.  And the nature of such a moral exchange is a key tenet of Objectivist philosophy.

But consider for a moment another fundamental pillar of Objectivism.  That being ‘rational egoism‘.  Rational egoism, (sometimes referred to as ‘rational selfishness’) as described accurately by Wikipedia is the principle that an action is rational if and only if it maximizes one’s self-interest.

The way I like to describe egoism (both the rational and irrational) is that “everyone, everywhere, always does everything they do for either maximum self gain or minimum self loss.”  In the case of the Objectivist, they will always try to take the most ‘rational’ course that maximizes self gain or minimizes self loss.

Now let’s go back to the example and my corresponding conclusion above.  My preference was to at least acknowledge to the other party in what I ‘knew’ to be an unequal exchange that they at least were aware of the fact they were potentially missing an opportunity to get more for their part.  I dubbed this as ‘wise’.  But what is wisdom in this case?

In my particular business at the time, my reputation as a buyer made a difference in my future ability to do more business.  If I found a source for items to sell, it was in my ‘best interest’ to try to encourage that person to offer me more items from which I could profit.  In short, it had ‘value’ to me to do maintain a good reputation.

As a ‘rational egoist’, can it not be said that to take a course of action that is contrary to my ‘best interest’ is not only irrational but could be dubbed immoral?  With that said, is it absolutely necessary for every type of business involved in trade to place an emphasis of ‘value’ upon their ongoing reputation in regards to making a ‘fair’ deal?

One of my own concerns in regards to my reputation was based on the fact that I had heard stories from people who felt ‘cheated’ by others that had offered them a given dollar amount only to find out later that it was less than they could have gotten for it.  They ultimately resented the person that they felt took advantage of them.  Rational thinking says they were in no way obliged to accept the offer from a position of ignorance.  Rational thinking says if they were in no way obliged to do the exchange, they are irrational for resenting the other party when they themselves accepted the terms.

In my particular business, it was worthwhile to me to avoid upsetting people who might behave irrationally if I could afford to do so.  I could still make a profit, for example, on an item I would normally pay $50 for that someone was selling for $25 if I threw them an extra $10 for the sake of demonstrating an (non-obligated) admission of my own non-ignorance as to the market value of the item.  In said case, I could still make a considerable profit and would often profit further by way not risking them leaping to the irrational notion later that I ‘cheated them’.

In short, it was of value to me to make such admissions or concessions, therefore it was in my best interest for me to do it.  And since it was in my best interest to do it in that particular industry, it was in fact the ‘moral’ choice for me to make.  For another person or business with different concepts of what is of value to them in their particular industry, making such un-obligated gestures may not hold as much value and thus ‘not doing so’ could in fact be their most moral option.

Initially when I looked upon this (before running through the thought process demonstrated above) I considered this to be a ‘relative’ moral system.  Such a concept is a contradiction from an objectivist perspective.  In fact, the moral issue isn’t over the options itself but over the (relative) value of various practices to the individual involved.

The moral decision is absolute – the moral choice is maximizing one’s self interest.

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises.” – Ayn Rand

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I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.
– Stephen Leacock
in Literary Lapses (1910)

I was having a discussion the other day with a friend on facebook about life’s lessons (both good and bad).  The subject of some things at least ‘seeming’ to have some kind of ‘fate’ tied to them and the lessons that we take from them came up.  I commented that basically, ‘yeah, it sure seems that way sometimes’ but acknowledged that I don’t entirely buy into a notion of fate in regards to that perception.  The entire conversation culminated with my interjecting the famous line from the song popularized by the Rolling Stones:

You can’t always get what you want.  You can try sometimes but you just might find, you get what you need

I thought deeper on this today and realized a couple of things that steered me considerably more away from any acknowledgment of  ‘fate’ playing a role in the things we experience.  (thus the quote from Leacock at the start of this entry)

The topic in question is how the life experiences we have contribute to the people we become.  More specifically, the focus was on the lessons we take from them and how sometimes, the combination of our successes and failures seem to almost have a purpose to them.  ‘Sometimes they seem to be what you needed.’ Akin to being subject to some kind of outside (mystical?) influence, purpose or design.  Upon reflecting further about this a number of other factors came to mind that are quite interesting to consider.

The first is how our minds work.  Let’s take some very simple examples of positive and negative experiences.

1. You stub your toe.  How do you react?

Well at first you would probably pull your foot away instinctively before even becoming fully aware of any pain.  You might hop around a bit until the pain subsided.  Eventually when the pain stimulus abates, you are going to likely walk around more carefully.

2. Someone brings you a treat (can i has cookie?) because you did something (without really thinking about it) that helped them.  How do you react?

At first you might be surprised, especially if whatever you did just seemed to be the right thing to do.  You may tell them “you didn’t need to do that!” and you will probably thank them and ultimately enjoy eating your treat.  After that you will probably be more inclined both consciously and unconsciously to help them more often.

What am I getting at here?  The mind has a great many built in functions, reward/punishment type responses not being the least of them.  Many of these ‘built ins’ are things we don’t have to think about.  Memory is also influenced by this instinctual nature of how the mind automatically emphasizes focus on positives and negatives.

Experiences that result in positive outcomes are generally going to result in a memory recall of the ‘good’ things related to those successes more so than the negative.  Conversely, negative outcomes will end up with memories that focus more on the bad results of our failed attempts.  Our minds are going to automatically store the most relevant information that we ‘need’.  Not fate, mere survival instinct.

If we stub our toes, the pain response that results is going to tell us that stubbing toes is a bad thing.  It’s akin to our nervous system alerting our lower brain functions to the fact that; ‘You can break bones that way.  Broken bones can limit your movement.  Limited movement can threaten your survival!’ Of course it’s not as complex as this, these are just necessary results of selective development.

The monkey that learns not to stub his toe has a higher chance of survival, therefore the monkey who’s nervous system tells his brain ‘it hurts’ and who’s brain stores that event with the appropriate ‘negative’ recollection of the stimulus is going to be more prone to avoid making that mistake twice.  The same happens for positive recollections.  The taste of the cookie is a good thought as is the feeling we got from social feedback that emotionally makes us feel good.  The recollection of those two positive results will lead us to repeat them and maybe get us more cookies!

Some other factors that play a role are more complex in the examination of the nature of a ‘belief’ in fate or an understanding of  the results of our willful choices and hard work.  More specific to the failures themselves there are some other factors that may play a role in how we deal with them.

  • Recalling the negative facets of our failures can lower our self image (of course recalling the positives of our successes can increase self-image also).
  • Failures can also lead to regrets or guilt, especially when it may have effects on relationships we have with others socially or even to our own self-image as described above.
  • Rationalizing about failures can help relieve some of that regret or guilt; “Well, it wasn’t completely my fault because…”

Considering these contributors as part of our more complex psychologies and combining them with false assumptions which overlook how our minds tend to predominately recall the most relevant stimuli from events instinctively (to improve our chances of survival) says a lot about the ‘desire’ to attribute things to mystical sources.

Rational or not, it can be very comforting to think that things are attributed to some kind of mystical ‘fate’ even if it is just a factor of how our brains recall the events we have lived through and our desires to want to be ‘guided’ to self-improvement.

Yeah, it would be nice to think that some well laid out plan placed certain lessons before me to teach me the things I ‘need’ to know to make me who and what I am.  But it is far more reasonable to conclude that the nature of my own mind instead takes from the events that happen (resulting from those things I have already done, steps and changes to steps I make as a result of them, as well as whatever unrelated external circumstantial events come along only by pure happenstance) the lessons that I need to continue on, all the wiser for how they turned out on my behalf.

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In memory of Mr. Gene Grier, a teacher and mentor of mine that I learned recently passed away.  A challenge to start a new weekly tradition.
Gene Grier - composer, teacher

Gene Grier - composer, teacher

Let’s get a new online tradition going and maybe it will spread across the net. Encourage all your friends to do it (and feel free to link to this post).

Here’s how it works, Mr. Grier used to say:

“If something good doesn’t happen by Friday, make it happen”.
He would also go around the room and ask everyone what great happened to them that week. Well, guess what, it won’t hurt anyone to remember the lesson because it reminds us to do things:
  1. Stop feeling sorry for ourselves when things aren’t going right or good, and empower ourselves by putting events in motion to make them right or good on our own.
  2. (and less obvious) causes us to re-examine the things that really did happen and to find the few good ones we might have overlooked!
So start your status messages (Facebook, yahoo, skype, etc.) at some point in the day with “Something Good Friday:” then list either what you had great happen that week, or what you’re gonna do by the end of the day or weekend to make up for it!
The best way to honor our teachers is to pass along the lessons they taught, so pass it on!

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Hunting was in the blood I was always told. It was always there. I was said to take after my grandfather; “The Great White Hunter!” I was a natural with a gun, well oriented and stealthy in the woods, and I was even said to have looked a little like old ‘Woody’. Yep, I fit the bill all right. I was sure to be the next in line.
I can’t remember when I got my first gun. It’s like I just suddenly realized one day that it was in my hands. It was a lightweight, hammerless Savage. A model 219 with a slight (very slight mind you) bulge in the barrel to give it a touch of character and a curious history. A nice, “safe” gun. Perfect for a youngster, but long since still in my personal collection and frequent use.
I was good with it too. By the time I was ten, I could shoot 45 out of fifty clay pigeons. Even through conveniently timed distractions from the other shooters, who found it a little embarrassing to see a little guy shoot so good.
For a full choke gun, I was shooting far and beyond what someone my age should have been able to do with that gun.
But the true spirit of the thing was the hunt. I often heard it put, “Well what’s a gun good for if you can’t kill something with it?” After which my father would put on his anti-gun banning face and go into a long drawn speech to the inquiring party to justify himself and his sport. He termed it, “…enlightening those _damned_ bleeding heart liberals!!!”
He justified himself well too, and thus there was nothing stopping me from joining the hunt, if only at the observation level, at an early age.
Often I would tromp through the woods, with Red Ryder in hand (being too young to have a hunter’s license and thus too young to bring my trusty Savage) and generally go about disrupting the whole forest, to make shooting, no less seeing anything, near to impossible.
But it opened my eyes to the woods, to nature, and to the animals. At least the few we did see. And eventually, I got rid of a little of my zealousness, and settled into the standard hunting style: A little less green, but a little more bored.
By the time I came into my own, I found that I could no longer stand the long sitting waits involved in deer hunting, so gradually, small game hunting became the thing. I did not have much success at that though, because for one, I was out of practice with my gun, and for another, I was always too wrapped up in the forest around me. I loved nature, and began to consider it as my true home. Clarkston was just a place to stay between vacations.
My fourth year of hunting, I began to get down to some serious hunting. I had been out so many times, and the only game I’d ever brought back, was stuff I was carrying for someone else. All I ever returned with was empty shells, and perhaps a little swamp water or sand in my boots. It was about time I got down to business.
It was the height of bow season, and though I was out at the break of dawn with my compound, what I was really waiting for was when the sun came up. Then I would make my way back to the car and get my .410, and head for the oak ridges on the other side of the road. We were hunting around rye field #1 that day. A little bit out of our normal bow hunting routine, but I knew the hills were good for squirrels, and occasionally a good spill of partridge.
So off I went, about an hour after sun up and a reasonably uneventful day of bowhunting. I would go a little south of where I normally got for partridge.
Squirrels were more south, and they don’t fly away before you can get a clear shot. They were there too, I could hear them. But as always, they would see me and hide before I could get close enough to see them. so it would come down to the sitting game again.
Not much time had passed and I came to notice not one, but four squirrels running around in a clearing just up the hill. A few steps got me within range without causing a major panic of chattering and scurrying.
The largest squirrel sat in the middle of the clearing. I drew the gun to my shoulder and quickly squeezed of a shot. In the excitement I didn’t even hear it go off. It hit below him, and made him jump. I missed, or at least I thought so. I quickly put another shell in the chamber as he bee-lined for a
nearby tree.
When he started up the tree, I rounded off another shot, but this one I heard. It echoed through my head at the realization of what I was doing. Never had my small gun sounded so loud.
Bark shattered around the squirrel. Another miss….
…or was it? How could I be sure?

With that doubt in mind, I couldn’t stop now. The worst thing in the world was to leave an injured animal to suffer.
As the squirrel raced up the tree, I hastily reloaded for one more shot. As I drew my gun, I caught the squirrel, now perched on the farthest reaching branch he could find, looking at me. A look of terror and fright. It cut right through me. My finger froze. I almost couldn’t shoot, but then I noticed the
look was also of pain. I let instinct take over and the gun went off.
This time it was a hit, and I was sure of it. I caused him to lose his footing and he was now hanging desperately on a branch.

“Why don’t you die! Just die!” I thought to myself. I was now shaking nervously and was already reloaded and sighting the squirrel for another shot.

“Die!”

He lost his grip and almost fell, then grabbed back on, only his front feet gripping now.
“Die, damn you! Die!! DIE!!!” By the last one I had shouted aloud.
My finger tightened on the trigger as instinct still carried out procedure. If I let myself think, I would be too horrified to finish what I had begun. He lost his grip again. Then one by one, his fingers gave way from the branch. At last he fell to the ground without another twitch.

I slowly moved my way over to the little corpse. All the justification, all dad’s reasons did me no good now. Even though, I had used his words many times myself to justify our family hunting to outsiders, I had failed to realize it for myself.
My heart beat was now swelling in my ears. Sweat was breaking out all over me. Remembering the standard hunting rites, I bent over the animal and said a short prayer. Then I picked it up. It was warm. I could feel small drops of blood wet against my hand. I couldn’t leave. Not yet. I just stood.
Tears tried to well in my eyes, but I wouldn’t cry and that made things worse.

So I just stood.

I stayed until the small animal was cold and beginning to stiffen in my hand before I went back. No one suspected anything was wrong, so no one asked. I spent the whole of that evening meticulously cleaning the animal. Taking care to see that no useful part was wasted. The others enjoyed a
campfire a few places down and swapped stories.
It would be a while till I could enjoy hunting again. It would be a while before I would even go. I went a few times and didn’t load my gun. This helped me avoid suspicion from the family. After all, hunting was always there. It was in the blood, and I fit the bill. I couldn’t deny them of that. And eventually I did come to terms with it.
I had to put aside what others say about hunting or about not hunting and go with what I really want. But so is the way for the rest of my life. No one will be able to tell me not to hunt or how to hunt, nor will I try to justify it to others. I have seen it through both eyes, and I choose to hunt.

Genesis – 1:26
God said, “Let us make man in our own image,
in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be the masters
of the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heaven, the
cattle, all the wild beasts and reptiles that crawl upon
the earth.”

Scott W. Wood
1988

(Afterward: [1993 ammended 2009] Since the time of this writing, I have become much more involved in hunting and even become exceedingly active in pro-hunting activities. The peice was originally written as a writing assignment for a college creative writing class. The assignment was to write about some ‘epiphany’ we had experienced at some point in our lives.
At the start of the assignment we were asked to state out loud what we planned to write about. When I announced mine would be about the “first time I killed something hunting” I immediately got glares from just about every girl in the class as many of them said in a snotty, whiny tone “Hunting?!?!?” in unison. Condemned by their prejudice and ignorance before they even knew on just what about that experience I was planning to write.
This particular teacher made it a practice to pull out one good and one bad example from everyone’s paper on basic writing style to read before the class as examples. She then would pick a section from two of the pieces that demonstrated what she considered truly good creative writing style. She read the moment of the kill from my paper and later told me in private that she wished she could have read two sections from my paper instead of using the other student’s piece she also read.
And when the assignment was complete and many had read the story – and those that hadn’t heard the parts read by the teacher – I don’t think a single of the previously ‘snotty’ girls in that class would have challenged me again on my purpose for hunting.

The story as read above was also submitted to an outdoor writer’s contest with Ted Nugent’s World Bowhunters for their monthly publication. At the time I was doing some website work for them and didn’t notice the contest until a few months after it had begun. Upon sending it to them I got a call directly from the office manager. She was chewing me out for not sending it in sooner and told me they had just sent the first batch of winners to the printers the previous week – then she suggested I probably would have won had they gotten it sooner. Oh well, I ended up with the ‘next’ available slot and got a free autographed hat out of the whole she-bang as well as the chance to see my story in print.

While I used to hold my hunting privately as not to offend, I now take the risk of offending to inform. Most peoples’ problems stem from ignorance and lack of true understanding, thinking hunters to be heartless and cold killers rather than concerned and responsible human beings.
What I have discovered in retrospect is that what I feared most of this incident was the first look at death, least of which by my own hands. For many this first glance can be very upsetting and misleading, and I have heard of more than one person that has not ‘recovered’ from this shock and has fallen into the disillusion of animal “rights” and hands-off approaches to animal management.
For me, however, it has increased my awareness of same. I rarely put a piece of meat on my plate or even do something as mundane as going through a drive-through window without stopping and thinking of (and in my own way, thanking) the animal that had to die so I could eat.
Death happens! It is a part of nature, and death can not be expected to be pretty. Watching something die cleanly might not have as full an impact on someone as when it is long and drawn out. But for the most part, the games the mind will play are not truly based in logic or reality. The fact remains that things will still die whether man hunts them or not. -SW)

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