Monday, January 31, 2005


I just got an email from an old friend of mine -- we'll call him "Byron" -- reporting on a dinner he had last weekend with another guy I and the other recipients of the email had known in college. Byron's email reads as follows (names changed to obscure identities):
Had dinner with him Saturday (during yet another snow/ice storm). Well, he has sold his business and his suits and [Huge Bank] pedigree, grown a pony tail, sworn off the GOP and adopted Howard Dean. He runs his successful wilderness training venture, has been to Antarctica (climbing an extinct volcano), is planning an Everest ascent (and is no longer w/his wife, clearly). Is writing a nice non-fiction account of all of this. All proving that bromide that we men never, ever lose the ability to step outside the boxes we or others build and surprise ourselves every now and again. Bravo, ["Mark"]...

I had a number of reactions, the first of which was to wonder whether Byron's concluding "Bravo" was straight or sarcastic. I think it was straight.

If it was straight, I then wondered what was so challenging about quitting a job, growing a pony tail, divorcing a spouse, and non-stop expeditioning? However one judges the morality of all of this -- and I am most emphatically not judging it at all* -- what is it about Mark's decisions that deserves a "Bravo"?

Now, Byron sent this email to a lot of people -- all friends of Mark -- and he would not have done so if he did not expect fairly widespread agreement with his point of view. He is probably to some degree correct in this expectation: I daresay that most of the recipients of the email thought for a moment that they envied Mark's life.

The further implication of Byron's "Bravo," though, is that most of us do not abandon ourselves to our fantasies because we are afraid or otherwise deterred. If that is what Byron is implying, I think he is wrong. Those of us who do not abandon ourselves to our fantasies refrain because we derive greater satisfaction from living up to our obligations in this life. Fear has nothing to do with it. So while I hope that Mark is happy in his new life and part of me envies his new freedom, I do not see how he has earned a "Bravo."
*I'm not judging the morality of Mark's actions (other than to object to Byron's applause) because I do not know most of the facts. It is very hard to judge a person fairly -- especially in matters of the heart -- even if you think you know them well and see them at the office every day. It is impossible to judge a person fairly on the basis of a single heresay email.


By Blogger Patton, at Mon Jan 31, 11:30:00 PM:

Funny, this might not be apropos, but I think it is:

The other day, my wife asked me if there was something I wanted to do that I couldn't, because she and my daughter are holding me back.

I looked at her like she was nuts, because, in this case, she was. I'm with you - I "derive greater satisfaction from living up to [my] obligations in this life", even when the result would be different (as opposed to better), under other circumstances. Heck, while I was at it, I could wish to be 25 again, fercripes' sake.

Without seeming to judge "Mark", or "Byron's" huzzahs for Mark's antidisestablishmentarianism, I'm reminded of the old saying: "You're only young once, but you can be immature your entire life".  

By Blogger Sluggo, at Mon Jan 31, 11:33:00 PM:

'I do not see how he has earned a "Bravo"'

He hasn't. You're quite right that it's impossible to judge him without quite a few more facts. Was he childless? Was his wife glad to see the back of him? Were people involved in the business he sold taken care of?

If the answer to all these questions was yes, well, then, he's probably done no serious harm and a mild, ironic yes may be due to him for doing what we all wish we could do, and leaving all responsibility behind and indulging our inner adolescent. If any of the answers was no, then he's a dick. He's worthy of scorn, but won't get any.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Feb 01, 08:48:00 AM:

It sounds like both friends are reaching milestone birthdays or something. The former maybe firmly in crisis, the latter merely envious of his friend's courageous step towards...childhood and, some would say, immaturity.

My only gripe about your posting is you make it sound like if you "stay in your current life" you are "living up to obligations." It sounds like such a grind. My guess is your current life is excellent...very satisfying. You have happiness. Hence no change required. Your buddy (or buddies) may lack it, so they need to make a change.

Bravo is definitely the wrong word if meant seriously. It's too bad the guy was unhappy in his marriage. Period. Without more details, who can judge?  

By Blogger Jehane, at Tue Feb 01, 03:04:00 PM:

Whether one decides to color inside the lines or out, events still have a way of driving one's decisions. That is the last great illusion of the immature.

If you take risks, you will still be driven and hemmed in at every turn - only by the risk factors in your life and the consequences of your own acts, instead of by rules, regulations, and obligations.

It is merely a question of which you prefer.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Feb 01, 07:24:00 PM:

Eh? My take: I agree that “Mark’s Bravo” was sincere. However it is not a question of whether the change itself was difficult or responsible or moral or whatever enough to warrant such praise. Rather, it is a delightful observation of one instance of that seemingly never-ending ability of humans to enact behavioral change. Sometimes dramatically and sometimes not so dramatically, and sometimes even to become completely content with the new outcome.

So I read it as one friend’s happy announcement of another’s success with this change.....rather than a challenge to my own state of life satisfaction.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 02, 05:40:00 AM:

Byron's single statement "Bravo," tells us more about Byron than his e-mail tells us about Mark.

Parkway Rest Stop

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 02, 04:23:00 PM:

Two things:

(1) The email says that he is no longer with his wife, not that he left her. Might have been her choice.

(2) Fear has nothing to do with it for you, but my sense is that you underestimate the number of people who do fear change, especially change of the magnitude described. The guy chose to sell one business, run another and try to write -- plenty scary without the mountain climbing. MCU  

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