If you ever played any team sports, you’ll be familiar with motivational quotes. Successories kicked things off in 1985 as a catalog company. There are entire campaigns and web sites devoted to it now. See here. And here. And here. And here. I’ve even got John Wooden’s book on my shelf, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. Somehow, I can’t bring myself to indoctrinate my children with those adages. Perhaps I don’t really believe them.
I don’t mean to say it’s all bad; but, I’ve learned that perhaps other models might be more useful and lead to more happiness. The competing philosophy of previous generations seemed to be more of “be happy with what God gave you.” I heard a tape (yes, a cassette tape) from a speaker where they said they fought that advice – “Don’t get above your raisin’ ” In other words, if God gave you one talent, don’t covet the one with five talents. Be faithful with what you have. I think it was also referenced in the movie Gladiator. When Commodus spoke to his father, the dialogue attached the virtue of Ambition to the antagonist and by implication, that Ambition was not a virtue. He didn’t have the gifts and talents for leadership that Maximus had. Nor did he have the honor or fortitude to wield power judiciously as Maximus would, and had proven as a general.
“Commodus: You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues: Wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness, courage, perhaps not on the battlefield, but… there are many forms of courage. Devotion, to my family and to you. But none of my virtues were on your list. Even then it was as if you didn’t want me for your son.”Gladiator (2000)
The point I’m making is that yes, God made some to be Carpenters, others to be Architects. To be envious of another’s station is a “grass is greener” sort of longing that is actually a sin – Covetousness. Hasn’t our faux Meritocracy bred that in all of us? What if we reverted back to aligning our gifts and talents with where we find ourselves? Would that lead to more happiness? More satisfaction that we were in God’s will?
I’m loathe to bring it up, but even atheist rock stars can see the natural order of things. In this song, certain trees in the forest are envious of others:
But the oaks can’t help their feelingsThe Trees, Rush
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade
We’re not supposed to notice but different races have different gifts. The movie “The Jerk” comes to mind – Steve Martin’s character followed the ugly duckling story. He adopted their habits but was never one of them. Music was different to his character. He was just born differently.
Ah, but now we see the slight change of path can lead to sweeping societal consequences. Books like 1984, Brave New World, Allegiant, The Time Machine, and many others are written to segregate and divide us into classes and sects. The books warn of unchecked power by the Oaks who would presume to rule the rest of us. In Lois Lowry’s, The Giver, we see a similar plot line. While society tries to rebuild from some calamity, we try find happiness by sorting ourselves into neat categories. Of course this fails as well as we follow the protagonist from the oppressive governance of the elders to freedom down the mountain and into separatist society.
In the U.S. we’re taught that we can make of ourselves whatever we want. If we want to change social or economic classes, we can do that. Women have been especially targeted with this propaganda. They’ve been enticed with the same lie Eve was assaulted with: You can be as God. But as many feminists have discovered later in life, the promised freedom came with a cost injurious to their souls. They either left husbands and children through female initiated divorce, or forewent a family altogether. The effect on our western culture has been devastating in its effects. A tsunami of decadence has washed over our shores for two or three generations now. William Bennett compiled the following statistics:
And why? The fault does not lie with women alone. Far from it. Another reason is this idea that we can be anything we want. When enough people choose ambition over responsible decisions, the result is what we see in the now vilified Baby Boomer generation. They too answered the siren song of freedom, willing to pay any price, and damn the consequences. But some of the rest of us are just as guilty. What started as an idea has worked itself into a way of life for every generation since.
The God of the Bible proscribes a different path. In its pages we see God raising up nations as tools of punishment. But even then they have the option of repentance, as Nineveh wisely did. The Bible says God makes nations. God makes kings, and the rules by which they govern. We would do well to heed the wisdom speaking to us today from ages past. Forgo Ambition. Seek obedience and righteousness.