Thursday, September 24, 2020

Life Lessons Learned from Dr. Seuss

 

Few children's authors or illustrators can match Theodore Geisel's (Dr. Suess's) ability to obliquely teach life lessons. His unique pedagogical approach is rarely explicit and never didactic or preachy. Despite this fact, he still manages to compellingly convey storehouses of wisdom to young (and not-so-young) minds with iconic creativity and remarkable cogency.

A few days ago, I read a Dr. Seuss story to my daughter with which I was unfamiliar. It was called Horton Hatches the Egg.

On the surface, this story seemed rather silly and one-dimensional compared to other Suess classics I have come to adore for the richness of their character education and life lessons. You know, like O The Places You'll Go, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, the latter of which possess an unmistakable Christian redemption motif in my view.

I felt very differently after reading the story of Horton to my daughter, Kara, and was able to add yet another Seuss Classic to my growing list of animated character education treatises.

Horton Hatches the Egg is the story of an elephant named Horton who resumes the responsibility of sitting on (protecting) the egg (offspring) of a lazy and irresponsible bird named Mayzie. Tired of the patience and hard work required by her task, lazy Mayzie abdicates her duty and heads off to Palm Beach where she can escape her responsibilities and relax and goof off for a while. 

Now I've been to Palm Beach a number of times in my life, so I get the draw for Mayzie. The problem is, of course, that she has "Promises to Keep" back home in her nest, which is located in a much less hospitable climate—as one discovers later on in the story. Seeking a path of least resistance without completely abdicating her duty, Mayzie recruits Horton to sit on her egg for her.

At first, Horton thinks it rather silly for Mayzie to suggest that he—an elephant—could possibly take her place in such a role. But Mayzie is insistent and Horton is both willing and creative, so a method is concocted for Horton to accomplish his task without smashing Mayzie's egg.

Then, Horton begins to sit. And he sits, and he sits, and he sits, sits, sits, sits! He sits through a thunder storm. He sits through the burning heat of the summer and early fall. He sits all day and all night—week-after-week and month-after-month.

In the meantime, Mayzie has become so entranced with the ease and pleasures of Palm Beach that she forgets about her egg and decides to stay for good. Horton, on the other hand, keeps to his duty. Day-after-day through the autumn, winter, and spring. Every time he starts to feel tired, bored, frustrated, discouraged, anxious, depressed, or cold (the winter brings much snow) Horton says to himself: 

"I meant what I said

And I said what I meant....

An elephant's faithful

One hundred percent!"

After the frigid winter has passed and springtime finally arrives, the reader hopes that Horton will finally find some reprieve from his troubles. But it is not to be as Horton begins to be hounded by the other animals who come to tease, taunt, and mock him for what they see as a ridiculous quest that is clearly a waste of his time and an embarrassment to himself and his kind. 

"They taunted. They teased him.

They yelled, "How absurd!"

"Old Horton the Elephant

Thinks he's a bird!"  

Through it all, Horton remains true to his word and his quest. He was tired. He was lonely. And he was probably very bored. Despite it all, he doggedly demonstrated complete fealty to his task, intention, word, and purpose. Perhaps he was privy to a vision of what could be that others simply could not see. Maybe something deep down inside of him whispered to press-on in pursuit of unseen rewards that awaited him at his journey's end. Whatever his motivations, Horton remains intractable in his pursuit. Come what may, he stands (sits) at his post, true to his duty, and circumspectly fulfills his responsibility.      

Later, Horton is captured by some big-game hunters who, instead of shooting him, decide to transport him across the sea and sell him to a circus. It is an awful journey filled with trials, troubles, humiliations, and seasickness. And if it wasn't enough to have animals jeering at him back in the forest, Horton now has throngs of people gawking and laughing at him in his silly egg-sitting exhibit in the circus. But through it all, Horton never deviates from his intended course. He cares more about what is right (duty and responsibility) than he does about what other people might think or say about him.  

One day, a full year into Horton's egg-sitting commitment, Lazy Mayzie hears the Circus is in town and decides to fly in to see the exhibits herself. In the process, she unexpectedly bumps into Horton! The two are very surprised to see each other. Then, shortly after Mayzie's unexpected arrival, the EGG, which Horton has so faithfully guarded, protected, and loved, starts to crack!  

At that moment, Mayzie becomes more than lazy; she became greedy as well! Growing angry and impatient, Mayzie demands that Horton return what so long ago had once been hers. But to Mayzie's astonishment and dismay, when the egg finally bursts, a little baby elephant emerges in place of a baby bird! And there is no doubt to whom it belongs!

In an instant, Horton the narrow-minded fool becomes Horton the heroic demigod, and the crowd loudly cheers its enthusiastic approval.

"My goodness! My gracious!" they shouted, "MY WORD!

It's something brand new!

IT'S AN ELEPHANT-BIRD!!

          AND it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that!

                    Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat!"

It is with this exceedingly unexpected conclusion that the story ends, with Horton heading home happy and triumphant—the hero of his own story. What happened to Mayzie, you ask? We don't know; she just sort of fades away into the background and is forgotten while everyone cheers Horton and his new little baby elephant.

On its face, this story is unrealistic and absurd—kind of like most of Dr. Seuss's characters and illustrations. Dig a little deeper, however, and the tale paints a rather precise picture of the way things really are in life in the long-run.   

Paraphrasing The Good Book, there are many people in this world who are "Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of [duty]." Mayzie was that kind of person. Horton was not. He understood the importance of duty and responsibility. As a result, he was richly rewarded for his self-discipline, personal sacrifice, and undying love and devotion to others.  

Each day of our lives we have choices to make. Many of those choices will be between "pleasures" and "responsibilities."  While there is nothing inherently wrong with many pleasurable activities, there is a time, place, and extent to which pleasures ought to be pursued, and whenever they are pursued out of place—or in the place of duty and responsibility—the end result is usually not pretty or happy. In the words of Goethe: "Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least."


"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least."

Johann Wolfgang von Geothe


The people I love, respect, and admire the most are the ones who put duty and responsibility before pleasure seeking and other self-serving activities. Such persons are not boorish prudes. Nor are they condescending or self-righteous characters. In fact, they are usually people who enjoy pleasures (properly enjoyed) the most of all! They are the ones who know how to play hard as well as work hard. They understand that the best way to maximize life's pleasures is to first attend to one's duties and responsibilities. By so doing, they actually maximize both their freedom and pleasures (many fold) over the course of their lives. As a result, they live happy, healthy, full lives—just like Horton—lives that are replete with blessings they have rightfully earned as a result of their faithful attendance to their duty.

Those who seek pleasures first and foremost at the expense of duty ironically end up like those sad and sorry souls who, at the end of their lives, come to see that they actually spent most of the their time doing neither what they liked, nor what they ought (Lewis, The Screwtape Letters). Indeed, it is the Hortons of the world who end up not only living rightly, but living well—and pleasurably too!  

In the end, we really do reap more or less precisely what we choose to sow in this life. In the short run, life can be very unfair. But in the long-run, life has a way of sorting things out and righting the score over time. And it has been my ongoing observation—both from my own experiences and from the experiences of others—that those who live positive, productive, conscientious lives in fealty to duty experience the most happiness, success, and inner peace over time. The price required to enjoy such life luxuries may sometimes seem heavy, and I'll be the first to admit that it isn't always easy to pay that price. It was not, after all, easy for Horton to stay faithful to a task so mired in drudgery as to sit on an egg for an entire year! But he earned a BIG reward at the end of his task because he was willing to stick with that task through thick and thin.

The same can be true for each of us.

Just as time is a vital variable in the compounding of interest in one's financial portfolio, time is just as vital a variable in the change, growth, evolution, or achievement of any significant accomplishment in your education, career, relationships, or life. Those who are willing to "put in the time" are the ones who win in the end. Those are aren't, and are continually taking short-cuts and the "easy way out" are the ones who, like lazy Mayzie, fade away into obscurity, loneliness, and eventual despair. That is not a pathway that anyone wants in the end; but for those who choose the path of least resistance—like Mayzie—it will be one's destined lot.  

Don't be like Mayzie.

          Follow Horton's example instead!

Mayzie's pathway was a LOT easier in the short run; but she likely had deep regrets about her decisions later on. Horton, on the other hand, faced a more difficult journey initially, but ended up happy, prosperous, and at peace with himself in the end. As Jerzy Gregorek so succinctly surmised: "Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life."

"Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life."

Jerzy Gregorek


Combatting Jealousy by Maintaining Perspective

Another lesson gleaned from this story can give us added perspective to help us combat jealousy in our lives.

It is easy to look at someone who has a desirable circumstance, possession, opportunity, relationship, or talent and say: "Man that guy is lucky! If only I had been born under the right star like he (or she) was, then I'd have it easy too." There were surely some who saw Horton's good fortune at the end of his story and thought, "Wow, what a lucky Elephant"! But those were the people who knew nothing about Horton's 52-week crucible sitting on Mayzie's egg. Look a little closer at any successful person's story and you will almost always find that there is much more to the situation than meets the eye. 

For Example: there are undoubtedly those who look at me and think, "Man, Jordan's got it made in the shade. He struck it rich when he married Lina and now he gets to avoid the hassles of working at a traditional job while he stays at home with his kids pursuing his dream career on the side." 

I will be the first to admit that I am indeed a very blessed man. Moreover, I am one who believes we do not earn everything we get in our lives. Some of our blessings come by virtue of Divine Grace or serendipity.

But in the long-run, it is also true that we do more or less "reap as we sow." 

It is easy to say I got lucky when I married Lina—a brilliant and beautiful mechanical engineer who graduated from a Top-5 University and works for a Fortune 100 Corporation. But what most people didn't see was the journey I had to take that led to Lina. That journey included over 700 dates with 101 different women over the course of 13 long years. 

Along the way, I was rejected 130 times by 80 different women. The emotional and egotistical trauma of those experiences was inexplicably excruciating—and often lasted for months at a time. Only my most severe symptoms of OCD and depression produced deeper and more poignant pain than the anguish I suffered over my seemingly endless episodes of "despised love" (Shakespeare). I never had a girlfriend in high school or college, and it wasn't because I didn't want one; it was because I couldn't get one where the romantic feelings were mutual!

After college, I took a huge personal, social, and financial risk by moving to the other side of the country (two time zones away from my home state) to start a business. It was there (in Georgia) that I met Lina.

Even after I met Lina, the going was rough. Leading up to our exclusive dating relationship, I experienced such extreme anxiety that I lost 13 pounds—and I was already an unusually lanky and skinny fellow. After we started dating, we waded through two heart-shattering breakups and it took an entire year (think Horton) before she agreed to marry me.

Was it worth it? Of course it was! But anyone who claims I merely got lucky in romance and marriage doesn't know my history. 

A similar story has played out with my career. I will be the first one to admit that I currently find myself in an unusually blessed circumstance as a stay-at-home Dad with the freedom and resources to pursue my dream career as a thinker, teacher, and entrepreneur. But if you had to endure the journey I had to face to get to where I am today, I can guarantee that very few people would want to trade places with me. And that's usually the way it is with anyone you may feel jealousy towards. You may passively envy what someone else has, but if you had to actually pay the price that they paid to be where they are, chances are good you would pass on the opportunity; not because you are a weaker person, but because in reality you are almost certainly better suited for (and would actually prefer) to take a different pathway.   

While my journey has been fascinating, fun, and an adventure of a lifetime—and the right journey for me—it has also been fraught with debt (nigh unto bankruptcy), rejection, ignorings, disappointments, disillusionments, temporary failures, anxiety, and even depression. And if anyone thinks being a full-time stay-at-home Dad to three children under the age of eight is easy, then you are either completely inexperienced or a far better parent than me! 

Bottom Line: If you pick up one side of a stick, you pick up the other side right along with it! And unfortunately, the world is filled with people who want only one side of any given stick—a completely untenable option.  

I have taken BIG risks in my personal and professional life, and while my rewards have been (and will yet be) commensurately sizable, they have not come without a heavy price in time, effort, money, and stress. Moreover, while I may appear very talented and successful on the surface, the reality is that my business—which I've been pursuing now for nearly two decades—is still not off the ground. In at least one narrow and superficial sense, one might quite accurately posture me as a profound failure, speaking professionally and not personally or familially.

Fortunately, I understand that the only true failure is to give up on a worthy goal or quest. So in this sense, I feel unusually successful because of how long it is taking to realize my ultimate objectives. I also feel very successful because I have had many smaller publishing and other "victories" along the way. 

I know that someday Freedom Focused will finally leave the ground. I further believe it will grow into a sizable organization of considerable significance and influence throughout the United States and World in the next two decades. But for now, despite tens of thousands of hours of effort, I am still just a stay-at-home Dad trying to make a name for myself as an author and speaker.

Then again, as a Previous Blog Post made clear, no is a "just-a." In truth, the work I am doing as a stay-at-home Dad is even more important than the work I am pursuing with Freedom Focused. But you get the point I am trying to make. 

I have earned much of whatever I have achieved in my life, and have a long back story to prove it. And while I will be the first to admit that my life has been richly blessed by Grace and Mercy (serendipity) all along the way, anyone with the temerity to claim that I just "Got Lucky" in either my personal or professional life better be prepared to hear an earful back about "the rest of the story."

So... the next time you see someone who appears highly successful or unusually lucky, look a little closer and you will almost certainly discover that there are concrete reasons why that person has what she has, or is what he is. You just never know the extent of the price that someone has had to pay to be who and where they are at any given point in time.

To the wise, LUCK doesn't really exist. What does exist are those things that one rightfully EARNS by virtue of one's own hard work, discipline, diligence, and focus—coupled with the serendipitous grace and mercy of Providence—over time.  

And that's just the way things are!

Click HERE to learn more about our Vision and Mission at Freedom Focused.

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