Pathway to hope, wisdom and a better life: My letter to the future

Greg Cusack
We each have this choice: to give up, to cooperate with those who demean and destroy or to take the moral high ground and begin creating the pathway to a more inclusive future.
Greg Cusack

DEAR family members and friends:

Mindful of the onrushing years of my life, I intend to occasionally put some thoughts to paper, as I do today, that I hope may have some value for you.

The struggle to become genuine, authentic persons is no less difficult today than it was thousands of years ago. Surrounded by the constant “noise” of our busy lives, tugged this way and that by our responsibilities and the urgings or demands of important others, most of us have little time to even think about who we really are (or want to be), let alone how well we are doing in becoming that imaged person.

With all of this in mind, I hope you will take a little time to chew over the thoughts that follow. I am deeply mindful that I still manifest numerous personal flaws even after all these years; I am also aware of the many occasions in my life when I have let others down or stumbled in becoming the man I wanted to be. It is with humility that I wish to suggest some things that may be of help to you as you chart — and weather — your own life’s journey.

Greg Cusack

How to live

Since my retirement, I have spent some time studying the great truths long embraced by our Eastern cousins, of which I have found those of the Buddha and Confucius to be the most appealing. Interestingly, like the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, these traditions emphasize how one is to live.

Confucius, for example, counseled that if one wished to be an important and useful servant of the entire state, then he or she must first be a thoroughly balanced and sound person: a loving and responsible child, a faithful and caring spouse, and a participant in forming a sound community. In other words, our inner world is connected to our outer presence. What we are to and for others is who we are within ourselves, and vice versa.

A republic requires that we all be grown-ups willing to confront reality, including our personal shortcomings. To regain our democracy will require us to reject the slothful habits into which we have sunk and to regain the vital threads of community.

There never was an “ideal” time in which to live, and the United States has never been a “perfect” union, and things have been worse before. Yes, this is an exceptional time, in which politicians have pledged their souls to a seemingly unstoppable alliance of moneyed interests. But it is not the first time in our history that this has happened.

In his famous beginning to “A Tale of Two Cities” — “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” — Charles Dickens captures the dual way we can regard any time for there was never a “golden time” somewhere in the past when life was easier and things were in balance.

The truth of American history is not that we are a “bad” people, nor is it — equally importantly — that we are a “uniquely good” or “divinely blessed” people. Rather, we are as fully human — with all the nobility and frailty that implies — as any other people on the face of this beautiful planet. Our inclusive history consists of tremendous achievements — of the spirit as well as of technology — and horrendous deeds: including our near genocidal treatment of Native Americans and the deeply evil practice of chattel slavery of black people. We are both a peace-loving and violent nation; we have sought to heal and to divide; we have befriended and warred upon others.

But our country resists acknowledging how money power — the wealthy and their favor-seeking facilitators among us — never rests, always seeks greater power for itself, and tirelessly works to undo egalitarian measures. We have naively placed too much trust in believing that the last-erected barricades against selfish greed will continue to hold when, as history reveals, they never do.

Benjamin Franklin had warned us that the Founders had created a republic, but one that could survive only if we had the will and courage to sustain it. If we today can realize that all who preceded us had to tackle problems in their time of equal or greater magnitude, then perhaps our own difficulties will seem less impossible.

‘Right the ship’

Our own history can show us how our ancestors successfully challenged the entrenched powers and social order of their time. Like us, they had to deal with their numerous personal flaws and shared prejudices, but they also learned the power that comes from reaching out to others so that the cause is no longer fought alone. If we roll up our sleeves and fight together for needed changes, we can again “right the ship.”

But first, we are all going to have to endure a sort of “boot camp” refresher course for the soul. We are willing to work hard to discipline our bodies in order to achieve muscle tone, lose weight, or just feel better about ourselves. In the West, we have too often and for too long forgotten the importance of also giving equal attention to the inner fabric of our being. Our culture places great emphasis upon what you should “be” in adulthood, but this is usually framed in terms of what you should do — as in vocation or profession — and not as whom you should be.

The person you become, however, is of far greater importance than the jobs, positions, or plaudits you may experience in your work life because it involves your totality — who you are at work, yes, but also who you are when you are with a partner, family, friends, or even alone.

I encourage you to read some of the wisdom stories about boys becoming men or girls becoming women, for you will likely find in them some important themes very relevant to you (no matter what your current age). But nowadays, childhood is packed with “things” and events; we rush our way through high school and puberty only to plunge rapidly into college or work. And yet, during these years, much has happened to us, but when do we take the time for ourselves to think about and integrate them?

I assure you, in the distant future, when even you have passed from the scene, you will be remembered much less for your job titles than for the impression you made on others: were you kind, receptive, present, and loving to those you encountered? Or were you stuck on yourself, angry, dismissive, or curt?

Most of us start out in life hoping that we will accomplish “great things” but end up settling for more modest roles, though not, if we are wise, less meaningful ones. (In my own case, I seriously considered running for governor of Iowa when I was in my mid-30s — a not impossible goal given my prominence in the legislature at that time — until I recognized that I would go nuts living in a glass house day in and out.)

So, from the vantage point of one who is 74, I ask you to remember this linkage between yourself and possible futures: while nothing is inevitable, some kinds of futures are made much more likely by the choices each of us makes today. If we want a more peaceful and inclusive future for all, then every word and action of ours has to contribute to that.

We each have this choice: to give up, to go with the flow, to cooperate with those who demean and destroy or to take the moral high ground and begin creating the pathway to a more inclusive future.

The author was a member of the Iowa State House of Representatives and also served in the Iowa executive branch. He retired in 2004. Shanghai Daily condensed the article. For the original version, please contact the author at gregcusack43@gmail.com


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