Monday, January 28, 2008

Chesterton's Wisdom

Almost everyone can agree on this observation: Wisdom and common sense are dying.

We see it everyday. We would cry if weren't so funny - or rather - we would laugh if it weren't so sad. Thankfully wisdom and common sense are not suffering from a terminal disease, they can be resurrected.

Let me re-introduce you to a brilliant and sage man who could - if we let him - bring common sense and right thinking back to life. G.K. Chesterton was a profound thinker and inspired an entire generation of thinkers a hundred years ago. His work absolutely stands the test of time. He had something to say on nearly every subject important to mankind. Today I'd like to look at one profound point that strikes to the heart of my life and maybe yours as well.

Chesterton said that when a man leaves his little house to go off to work in the big city he is leaving the larger world to enter a smaller one. This of course seems patently counterintuitive. Consider: a man would rather go to work and deal with the small and trivial problems of a large enterprise than deal with the huge issues facing him in his small house.

Think about that for a minute.

Our personal lives can be overwhelming, our problems intransigent, the solutions profoundly difficult to come upon. On the job our complex daily tasks and frequent juggling acts are child's play in comparison. We would rather take on more responsibility and stress on the job than face the responsibility and stress of - say - raising a teenager. The two are not even comparable.

I can relate. There was a time in the not too distant past when Monday was my favorite day of the week. When I would actually say this out loud people would say I was sick. Unfortunately it was true. I was more bruised by the huge problems in my little house that literally overshadowed the business critical duties I was ultimately responsible for on the job at a multi-billion dollar corporation.

This phenomenon clarifies what is really important. It is also the reason we can be one kind of person at the office and a different kind of person in the living room. We tell our teenage children that friends are great and that having many friendships is a good thing, but when the chips are down it is your family that is there for you. Long after high school and even college the people who they thought were so important will be gone, but their parents and siblings will still be there.

Human nature leads down the path of least resistance. No one wants a hard life. Still, everyday, at home or at work, someone wants a piece of you. Your wife and children (dogs and cats too) require all of you not just the "professional" you. For me personally, it is the most difficult thing in the world to give anyone, including myself, "all of me".

We are often defined by the world and by ourselves by what we do instead of who we are. Our families know who we really are, our bosses see only what we do. In reality we are both. Ultimately we need to be successful at both... Not impossible, right?

It's no wonder people drink, divorce and deny themselves. Pleasing the boss is easy, pleasing your family can be hard. If you focus too much on pleasing yourself everything suffers. On Sunday the priest offers this: Try pleasing God and all else will fall into place. Not impossible, right?