Make us a king!

Those who initially think you can do no wrong are the most likely to eventually think you can do nothing right. These are the two-sides of the coin of any elected leadership position.

In the vacuum created by people who refuse to mature into responsible adulthood, children in adult bodies set out to find someone to make them like others, represent them, fight their battles and provide for them wherever they are unwilling to provide for themselves. This, more than anything, is why we have big governments. This is also why, despite it’s obvious advantages over other systems of government, representative democracy is so popular.

It’s a strange psychology, really, but we as a race have been plagued by it for most of the written record of man. One of the clearest descriptions of this fatal flaw in reasoning is found in The First Book of Samuel, way back in the Old Testament.

[1] And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.
[2] Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beer-sheba.
[3] And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
[4] Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
[5] And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
[6] But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
[7] And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
[8] According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
[9] Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
[10] And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
[11] And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
[12] And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
[13] And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
[14] And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
[15] And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
[16] And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
[17] He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
[18] And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
[19] Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
[20] That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
[21] And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
[22] And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

Even if you are not religiously inclined, Samuel’s personal experience with this ugly meme in the people for whom he was responsible at the time is extremely instructive. To be sure, this not a religious problem or a problem of insufficient faith; it is a self-induced psychosis.

We’ve all likely had the experience, on one side of the coin or the other, of this pointless and discouraging self-destructive tendency. Lovers, fans, apostles and devotees are prone to become haters if the allegiance is based in getting and not giving. As my wife’s grand uncle once said about such ersatz relationships, “the screwing you get ain’t worth the screwing you get.”

Until we come to the point where we truly grow up, where we move from a state of collective self-centeredness to a state of refined and transcendent selflessness, we will forever be stuck in the terribly frustrating loop described by this passage. It is one of humanity’s greatest challenges, but rest assured, it is not an impossible situation; it is a Gordian knot just waiting to be met with the sword of truth.

Self-Reliance I

My uncle and I had a short discussion about the Bildungsroman the other day, a genre of novel that focuses on the moral and psychological development of its main character. It is what we might call a “coming of age story,” where the protagonist matures to find his place in society. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister is the prototypical example of this genre as is its descendent Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. These stories provide useful guidelines and currents of inspiration for anyone who is desirous of coming into his own.

There are many forces at work which conspire to prevent the individual from realizing his full potential. These forces notwithstanding, there are many tendencies within the individual himself which, like weeds in a garden, lead to a tangled mess if handled improperly. Coming into one’s own is not a sure bet, for potential must be consistently and repeatedly translated into action, many times against all odds.

The character qualities of self-confidence and self-reliance can go a long way to overcoming the many obstacles to a complete transition from childhood to adulthood. Each one must live his own life and coming to that realization is paramount to successfully navigating the transition. William George Jordan provided an excellent framework for the importance and cultivation of self-reliance in the individual in his book “The Majesty of Calmness”:

Self-confidence, without self-reliance, is as useless as a cooking recipe,―without food. Self-confidence sees the possibilities of the individual; self-reliance realizes them. Self-confidence sees the angel in the unhewn
block of marble; self-reliance carves it out for himself.

The man who is self-reliant says ever: ‘No one can realize my possibilities for me, but me; no one can make me good or evil but myself.’ He works out his own salvation,―financially, socially, mentally, physically, and morally. Life is an individual problem that man must solve for himself. Nature accepts no vicarious sacrifice, no vicarious service. Nature never recognizes a proxy vote. She has nothing to do with middle-men,―she deals only with the individual. Nature is constantly seeking to show man that he is his own best friend, or his own worst enemy. Nature gives man the option on which he will be to himself.

All the athletic exercises in the world are of no value to the individual unless he compel those bars and dumb-bells to yield to him, in strength and muscle, the power for which he, himself, pays in time and effort. He can never develop his muscles by sending his valet to a gymnasium.

The medicine-chests of the world are powerless, in all the united efforts, to help the individual until he reach out and take for himself what is needed for his individual weakness.

All the religions of the world are but speculations in morals, mere theories of salvation, until the individual realize that he must save himself by relying on the law of truth, as he sees it, and living his life in harmony with it, as fully as he can. But religion is not a Pullman car, with soft-cushioned seats, where he has but to pay for his ticket,―and someone else does all the rest. In religion, as in all other great things, he is ever thrown back on his self-reliance. He should accept all helps, but,―he must live his own life. He should not feel that he is a mere passenger; he is the engineer, and the train is his life. We must rely on ourselves, live our own lives, or we merely drift through existence,―losing all that is best, all that is greatest, all that is divine.

All that others can do for us is to give us opportunity. We must ever be prepared for the opportunity when it comes, and to go after it and find it when it does not come, or that opportunity is to us,―nothing. Life is but a succession of opportunities. They are for good or evil,―as we make them.

We certainly need one another, but the individual must come to terms with his own participation if the synergies of the whole are to be realized in full. If the number of immature, self-centered and dependent adults outweigh those who have come into their own, who have embraced a magnanimous spirit of serve and who have grown into a state of self-reliance, a society, family, company or group is no longer tenable. The quality of the parts determines the integrity of the whole and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.